Advent Devotional | Christmas Day | Year C | December 25th, 2015Read More
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
"Comfort, comfort now my people; tell of peace!" So says our God.
"Comfort those who sit in darkness mourning under sorrow's load.
To my people now proclaim that my pardon waits for them!
Tell them that their sins I cover, and their warfare now is over."
These are the opening words to Johannes Olearius' beloved hymn, "Comfort, Comfort Now My People." It speaks to the comfort intended by the author of what we call Second Isaiah (we think the book of Isaiah was written in at least three different stages by different authors). This section of the book of Isaiah was written to the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity. Today's passage was meant to give comfort to a people who had been taken away from their homes, their families, their ways of life. Isaiah 40 tried to encourage the Israelites to keep the faith amidst times of darkness and deep theological crisis. Had God forgotten them? Had God every really loved them in the first place? How could God let these atrocities happen to them?
"God still loves you. God hasn't forgotten you. God has heard your cry and comfort is on the way."
This is the message of Isaiah 40:1-11.
For many, the holidays are a time of joy and mirth. For others, the holidays can be difficult - especially those who suffer from depression or have lost loved ones in the recent years (just to name a few).
Perhaps you need comfort right now. Know that it is on the way.
Perhaps you know someone who needs comfort right now. Know that God frequently calls people just like you to be the vehicles of such comfort in a weary world.
Prayer of the Day:
God of Comfort,
be with me in the sorrow I have
and help me to be present with others in theirs as well.
Help me to trust in the comfort proclaimed by your prophet,
and to know that pain, grief, and tears will come to an end,
and the joy we will know in your Son, Jesus Christ, will reign forever. Amen.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
Traditionally, the second Sunday in Advent is when we light the candle for "peace." I've always found it strangely ironic that the Sunday that we focus on peace is the Sunday that the Revised Common Lectionary has us listening to a voice of one crying out in the wilderness. This doesn't sound very peace to me!
Peace is something that I truly believe most of us want. We want peace in our lives. We want peace in the Middle East. We want peace in our marriages, in our families, in our communities. The Church is called to be a peaceful voice in the midst of a world infected with violence.
Sometimes, to get to peace, we have to listen to voices that are difficult to hear. John is one of those voices. Born by the Holy Spirit by his father Zechariah and his mother Elizabeth, John knew that the world needed to prepare for Jesus' arrival. So too do we need to prepare ourselves for the peace to which Jesus calls us. To prepare ourselves for peace, we must first repent of our sins and, in doing so, understand our deep need for it.
John the Baptist echoes the words of the prophet Isaiah when he says that "every valley shall be filled and every mountain made low." The people who often seek violence to get what they want tend to be the people "on the mountains," the people with the most power to lose by sharing it with others. Do we who are on mountains have what it takes to be made low? That is a question that those of us in power need to ask of ourselves. Churches, although we might like to think otherwise, are in positions of power and we must ask ourselves this question before we ask it of anyone else.
Speaking up like John the Baptist takes courage and wisdom. I would hope that our congregations are also institutions of courage and wisdom that can help prepare the way of the Lord. What are our congregations doing so that the work of the Lord might thrive? What are the institutions in the community in which you live doing so that those "in the valleys" might live with the same quality of life as "those on the mountains."
What is this voice crying out in the wilderness saying to you as we continue this Advent journey? Food for thought as we begin the second week of preparing for the coming of the Christ-child.
Prayer for the Day:
God of Every Mountain and Every Valley,
help me this day to prepare the way for your coming.
Make the rough ways in my life smooth
as I seek to be your disciple in a world that needs your work so desperately.
Forgive me of my sins that I might, with your help, overcome them
and do the work that you are calling me to do. Amen
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
Periodically, during the season of Advent, we look forward to what God will do by looking backward to what God has already done. In today's text, we hear of instructions that Jesus gives to his disciples as they go about doing the work that they are called to do.
Yesterday, we journeyed with Zechariah and learned that there is a time for silence. Today, we journey with Jesus and are reminded that there is a time for action. (NOTE: the two do not have to be mutually exclusive!).
Advent is a time to practice prayerful actions. The disciples were called to preach the gospel in word and in deed. A case can be made that the disciples' primary job (or, at least, the one they do the most) is the latter of the two. They go from village to village doing good deeds, healing the sick. Sometimes they are welcomed. Sometimes they are not. Regardless of the way they are received, they are called nevertheless to practice their faith with concrete acts of justice and reconciliation.
What concrete acts of justice and reconciliation is God calling you to embody this advent season? Maybe it's bringing a broken family together. Maybe it's volunteering at your local homeless shelter. Maybe it's not speaking to someone but, instead, listening with an intentional ear. Maybe it's just doing something kind to someone who looks like they could use it.
Whatever it is, know that God has commissioned you to do particular acts of goodness and grace.
Prayer of the Day:
God of Justice and Joy,
help me practice what I believe in the coming day.
Give me confidence to follow your Word into the world,
and to go where it leads.
Thank you for your son, Jesus Christ,
who teaches us to be attentive to the needs of the world. Amen.
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
This song from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke comes from the mouth of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. These lyrics come from the lips of a man who had not spoken for some time. When an angel had visited Zechariah while doing his duties as a priest, he did not believe the good news that he received, that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son and that this son would turn many people to God. Because of he did not believe, he was made mute until the time of John's birth.
Having his speech temporarily taken from him, I imagine Zechariah had a lot of time to ponder and listen. Sometimes we need one of our senses taken from us in order that the others can do their work. One of the challenges I have always had during the season of Advent is finding time in the hectic holiday season to shut up and listen to what God is doing in my life!
Once Zechariah's speech returns to him, the first words that come from his mouth are the words of praise that we are given in Luke 1:68-79. Often called "the Song of Zechariah," this hymn glorifies God and blesses God for the mighty acts that have been made known to God's servant. May we, too, be silent enough that we may find the wisdom to sing about what we've heard. A time will come for singing; but first must come the time for listening. That is what the season of Advent is all about!
Perhaps, then, Zechariah's imposed period of silence was not a punishment but a gift!
Prayer of the Day:
God of Sound and Silence,
as I begin this day,
give me ears to listen to your presence in my life.
Like Zechariah, I am witness to how you are moving in the world.
Send your Spirit this day that I might wonder and ponder
and, when the time comes, give me words to sing and rejoice! Amen.
I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.
Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,
The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about proclaiming good news amidst hardship. His letter to the Philippians was written while he was imprisoned for his faith. However, rather than sit in prison and feel sorry for himself, he proclaimed the joy he had in Christ and others took notice. Through his proclamation in hardship, complete strangers came to have confidence in the Lord.
A few weeks ago, there was a horrible coordinated terrorism attack in Paris, France. Hundreds of people were killed in senseless acts of violence by those who would have us live our lives ruled by fear rather than the peace to which God calls us. Just yesterday, yet another mass shooting happened in San Bernadino, CA. (Click here for a prayer for the people of San Bernadino).
Like the apostle Paul, we find ourselves in times in which the joy found in Paul's letter can seem counterintuitive. Why should we rejoice at a time of such pain and suffering? As Christians, we are called to affirm that now is the most important time to proclaim God's goodness. In doing so, we preach that evil and suffering, while being very real, are nevertheless opposite of God's intention for God's creation.
During this Advent season, may we remember that to proclaim the joy we have in Christ does not discount the reality of evil in the world. Rather, to do so affirms it and fights against it! So may we continue the work that Paul began. Let us proclaim God's goodness in the midst of a world that desperately needs it. That is your work as a disciple of the Risen Christ!
Prayer of the Day:
God of peace,
as I begin this day, help me proclaim the peace to which we are called.
Help me stand against the fear that seeks to invade my life.
May I be a vehicle of your peace that is soon to be found
in the birth, body, and being of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lord, you have been our dwelling-place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are consumed by your anger;
by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you.
So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!
"Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home."
Isaac Watts wrote these words to his beloved hymn in 1719 while paraphrasing Psalm 90. In it, he speaks of the incredible depth and breadth of God's presence in our lives. Psalm 90 reminds us that "a thousand years are like yesterday" in God's sight. I don't know about you, but that's a humbling thought for me! How many times do I fret and worry about so many small things that, in the grand scheme of things, are truly inconsequential in the larger plan that God plans for humanity!
During this season of Advent, I remember that I am a very small but significant part of God's work in this world. I am a small part because I am but a grain of dust in the larger creation. I am a significant part because God calls me child and God charges me to be a disciple of the one Living Lord. How blessed is our God that we are called to be a part of such a cosmic plan for hope, peace, joy, and love!
My prayer for you this day is that you would be reminded that the God that holds you and protects you each and every day is the same God that calls you beloved and that has been your help in ages past. And just as God has been our help in ages past, so too will God be our help in the exciting future that we will find in the birth of God's son, Jesus Christ!
Prayer of the Day:
O God, my help in ages past,
be with me this day as I prepare for all that is before me.
Help me to remember what is important,
that I am your child and you are my God. Amen.