One verse, one minute to prepare you for each day of Advent 2021. Readings are taken from the ELCA Daily Lectionary, Year C. Listen to the podcast at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1894141/.
December 23: Thank you for journeying through Advent with me.
May we continue to seek our Lord and Savior in the mystery of his Incarnation and find him within our hearts.
Peace be with you!
Wednesday, December 22: Psalm 113:7
7He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
I discovered this verse buried in the exuberant song of praise that is Psalm 113. Doesn’t it feel some days like that is where you have collapsed, into the dust of the ash heap? Our best efforts have come to nothing, or maybe we were defeated even before we got started. But here is the amazing truth of our God, in whom all the world’s expectations find themselves reversed: It is precisely in the ash heap that God can find us, or rather, that we find God. What need of a deity do princes on thrones have, when they already sit in the seats of supreme power? When you have crumpled into the rubble, as you face your physical death or the death of a hope or aspiration, keep your heart open to the One who will always find you and, on a path that is uniquely yours, lead you home.
Tuesday, December 21: Romans 8:24-25
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Patience does not exactly describe the spirit of the American Christmas season. We are focused on getting things now, on merchandise being available, packages arriving on time. The Christ child is already present in outdoor manger scenes that have been up since before Thanksgiving. Even the wise men have already arrived in those displays when actually they didn’t make it to Jesus’ home until months or maybe even a couple of years later, so great was the distance they had to travel. But the mystery of the Incarnation, which we cannot see, must wait to be revealed, and in fact the entry of God into human history is a wonder and mystery that informs every day of our lives. Perhaps we can think less about Christmas as a date on the calendar and more about how we embrace the timelessness of God’s greatest gift.
Monday, December 20: Colossians 1:15-20
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
We are so familiar with the story of salvation, as we blithely call it, that we fail to take to heart what a risk God was taking by sending his Son into human history. Not only would God’s Son be flung into the chaos of human will run rampant, but even with the reconciling act of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, what would humanity do with this incomparable gift? Down through the ages, what would become of the body of Christ that we know as the church, sorely tested by human selfishness, pride, and greed as we know all too well that it has been? Although the outcome of God’s great act of reconciliation is assured, the details of the story are being written even at this very moment. Especially as Christmas approaches, let us remain vigilant in our welcome of the fullness of God into all aspects of our lives.
Saturday, December 18: Luke 13:31
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
The Pharisees weren’t interested in protecting Jesus. They were just trying to disrupt his mission. Jesus had been performing miraculous cures and presenting hard teachings about the kingdom of God. All this threatened the insulated world of dominion the Pharisees had built for themselves among the people of Jerusalem; they paraded around in their importance so people assumed they must in fact be important. But really they were getting in the way of the unfolding of God’s plan. How can you discern when critics are trying to disrupt your work rather than shepherd your ministry in more fruitful ways? When are people helping you and when are they hindering you? Use that same yardstick we talked about a couple of days ago. Is what they are doing or saying representative of God’s all-loving sacrifice of his Son for the sake of the world? If not, send them the same kind of message Jesus sent to Herod and be on your way.
Friday, December 17: Hebrews 10:34
For you…cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting.
It’s hard to resist the focus on gifts at this time of year. What do you want for Christmas, my loving family members ask? Try as I might, I cannot make up much of a list. Mainly socks, which are hard to find in the kind I like. Things come and things go. I have broken far more than my share of dishware, some of it quite useful, because I’m not paying attention. Sometimes even cherished treasures are lost through carelessness. My possessions are being plundered! I don’t mean to make light of the persecution that the early Christians endured as detailed in this chapter of Hebrews. But when things get lost or broken those little calamities call us to focus on what is better and more lasting–the love of God and the promise of God’s faithfulness, with the assurance that nothing, neither powers nor principalities, can intrude on that. God’s love is forever!
Thursday, December 16: Psalm 80:3
Restore us, O God; let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
This stirring verse echoes through Psalm 80 as a steady refrain, making this psalm perfect for the season of Advent. These 15 words — just 5 in the original Hebrew — harbor the entire longing of a people who recognize they have strayed far from what God desires for them. For us this is not just the hope of an age but that of a day. How often do we approach a new day of life full of anticipation of what we plan to accomplish, our to-do list in our hands or at least in our heads, only to end up at the far side of that day realizing we never even got started on the important stuff? God is always calling us to that which is dearest to his heart, yet how often we fail listen! Every day is precious. Begin each with this prayer and it will turn your face back to God’s own.
Wednesday, December 15: Luke 7:33-34
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
In the ruthless power politics in our time, to defend themselves tyrants and bullies will throw around all kinds of wild accusations that have no basis in fact and make no sense to begin with. But because they have the bully pulpit, they grab headlines. Here Jesus is challenging the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. They criticized John the Baptist because he didn’t eat and drink; they criticized Jesus because he did eat and drink. Of course dietary habits were not the issue–it was that John and Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God threatened the fortresses of power the religious elite had built for themselves. God’s truth must be the gauge for any claim that affects human lives. Here is a useful yardstick: Is it consistent with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ? If it isn’t, then walk away; if it is, rise up and follow!
Tuesday, December 14: Acts 28:30-31
He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
We arrive here at the end of the Book of Acts, whose last 15 chapters provide colorful and exhaustive details of Paul’s missionary journeys by which the Christian church came into being. What amazes me most is Paul’s boundless enthusiasm even in the face of tremendous calamities. We pastors talk a lot about burnout, the demands of our calls, the stress under which we must continually recalibrate as the pandemic continues. I am sure Paul never complained about burnout, but I am equally sure that he spent plenty of time in prayer getting recharged. His call was really no different from our own. We are each called to promote the growth of the church. Let us make time each day to pray so that we, too, can carry out our missionary journey with boldness and without hindrance.
Monday, December 13, 2021: Hebrews 13:8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Change is a fact of life. The universe is changing, our bodies are changing, our lives are going through constant transformation. The pandemic has taught us flexibility. We must adapt to changing circumstances. The climate has become unpredictable. Tornadoes in December? There’s not much we can count on.
But Jesus Jesus Christ is the Word who was with God at the beginning. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Nothing can change his love for us, his promise of faithfulness, his assurance that he will be with us always. You can count on it!
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Saturday, December 11, 2021: Isaiah 12:2
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid.
Just before this in Isaiah 11 we had the magnificent vision of the reconciliation of all things, when at the coming of the Lord “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid…The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” On that day, Isaiah goes on to prophesy in Chapter 12, the formerly faithless will recognize that through their sin God remained faithful. Fear evaporates because they finally come to trust that God is the source of salvation.
But we don’t have to wait for the last day. Through Jesus Christ we have this promise now. Let today’s verse be our cry of confidence in God’s promises in a time when so many seem to have given up on them.
Friday, December 10, 2021: 2 Corinthians 9:7
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
We’ve all heard, or at least imagined, this verse used as a weapon. God will love you more if you give, especially if you do it cheerfully. And of course the opposite is implied–God will not be happy if you don’t give. Now, it’s true that God does judge us–only God can judge–but we don’t have to do anything to earn God’s favor because we already have it. This is the very meaning of unconditional love. What Paul is telling us in this verse is that God is delighted when we happily return to him in greater measure that which God has entrusted to us. Ourselves, our time, our possessions–signs of his gracious love! And how could we not do this cheerfully? It is the joy of the Christian life that we don’t just “give back” but cultivate God’s gifts into greater abundance so we can joyfully return them to him.
Thursday, December 9, 2021: 2 Corinthians 8:
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
At church we are developing a new processional cross. I am very excited about this project and have asked that it be as simple as possible. “A plain wooden cross on top of a plain wooden pole,” I told our member who is a skilled woodworker. When I first started thinking about this project I went online and found only what I thought were absurdly ornate processional crosses with price tags to match. What’s the point, I wondered, of the silver, gold and glitz? This is not who Jesus was. Son of God, yes, enthroned in glory. But to find us in our places of brokenness he had become like us, stripped bare in the depths of our despair. And yet through him we gain not just our lives but all of eternity. I think the simple wooden cross is going to be perfect.
Wednesday, December 8, 2021: Luke 7:18-19
John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
This is really kind of amusing. John has surely heard of the miracles Jesus has been performing–in fact, Luke tells us in the next verse that Jesus had “just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind.” Plus didn’t John already know who Jesus was, from the very start?
I think John simply wanted the disciples to hear this from Jesus for themselves, that he is in fact the one. So often the truth is right under our noses but we lack the discernment to see it clearly for what it is. We are distracted by sensationalist claims–who knows, there might have been some charlatan going around trumpeting that he was the Messiah. It’s always best to stick with the facts. In this case the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the poor had good news brought to them. That sounds like the real thing.
Tuesday, December 7, 2021: 1 Thessalonians 5:8
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
The battle imagery is clear and necessary: We are doing battle daily now to stay safe, to keep others safe, to shepherd those who are ill, to get through each day so we can get to the next and continue to work for God’s kingdom.
We fortify ourselves for this daily task not with weapons of war but with but with armor of hope–the conviction that God loves the world so much that God would break in as one who always appears to be less than he is—a penniless man riding on a donkey, a beaten, tortured man put to death as a criminal—so that we can come to know him through images that resonate in our own lives. Armor of hope–the assurance that this love brings healing when we allow it to flood our places of brokenness. Armor of hope–the fact that simply by faith we have been put right with God. Let us take up that armor and use it for the sake of the world!
Monday, December 6, 2021: Romans 8:24b-25
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
In our community Christmas tree lighting on Saturday night we were all ready for Santa. His grand entrance had been cued and the crowd went quiet. We were all waiting, eager but not impatient. We knew he was coming but all of a sudden we weren’t sure exactly when–5 seconds, 30 seconds? Then when his red suit finally appeared in the distance, the mood suddenly shifted to excitement and impatience. We couldn’t wait! He was almost here!
In this passage Paul is talking about something much loftier–the redemption of our bodies. We wait patiently, because we have no idea when this will take place. But what if we suddenly saw Jesus coming in the clouds? That patience would go out the window. Until that happens, though, let us cultivate the virtue of patience that, as Paul says elsewhere, builds character.
Saturday Dec. 4: Luke 9:5
5Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.
This is a fantastic image that we can replicate in our daily lives in any number of situations. Whenever you find that a gift you come bearing in Christ’s name fails to be recognized or is refused, do not be dismayed. It isn’t about you. For whatever reason, the recipient wasn’t equipped to honor your gift of time or service. Shake the dust off your sandals and be on your way. And here in Luke, what was the gift that the disciples came bearing to towns throughout the region, which was not welcomed? None other than the kingdom of God and to heal, which Jesus had sent them out to proclaim! Who in their right minds would refuse that? Well, they weren’t in their right minds. Fear was driving them, not love. So don’t be discouraged. If this is your experience, let it strengthen your resolve for the next stop on the road of your discipleship.
Friday Dec. 3: Philippians 1:21
21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
Paul’s words are challenging. It is hard to understand what can be gained by dying unless we are talking about a martyr, which we aren’t. What he is talking about is dying to things of the world that separate us from Christ. We must be particularly alert to the distractions of this holiday season when there is such a temptation to shop, because the lure of shopping tempts us to live for things other than Christ. And by the way, according to the new book “The Day the World Stops Shopping,” consuming less is our best strategy for saving the planet. I am finding that I spend a lot more effort seeking out cute little gift shops than I do looking for signs of Christ’s coming. When we can die to those temptations and turn our lives fully toward Jesus, we will find the fullness of life in God’s kingdom that is already ours.
Thursday, Dec. 2: Philippians 1:12
12I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13so that it has become known…that my imprisonment is for Christ.
It is a fact of life that bad things that people do to others often end up bringing about long-sought justice. A good example is the recent case of Ahmaud Arbery where the perpetrators’ flimsy claim of trying to make a citizens’ arrest spurred the governor of Georgia to overturn the dangerous Civil-War-era citizen’s arrest law. Here in Philippians, sensing his execution is close at hand, Paul here in Philippians articulates this truth once again–that his arrest actually stirred up many more to proclaim the Gospel of Christ than would have otherwise. And why? Because Paul spoke the truth–the truth about Christ, the truth of his suffering, the truth of the human condition that Jesus enters into for our sake. Cling to the truth especially in the midst of adversity!
Wednesday Dec. 1: Luke 11:30
30For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.
When Jonah finally decided to pay attention to what God was calling him to do, he was incredibly successful. As he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”, immediately the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. Even the animals were part of this repentance–the king orders that they put on sackcloth too, although it’s hard to imagine what wrongs the cattle had committed. Because the people listened and repented of their sinful ways. Nineveh was not overthrown. The Gospel writers clearly interpret Jonah as a precursor of Jesus, and of course John the Baptist prepared the way. If only it were so clear-cut today! If only people listened to John and immediately repented because they trust his words are true just as the Ninevites trusted Jonah!
Tuesday Nov. 30: Revelation 22:13
13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
Here we are in Advent, counting the days. Perhaps we’ve begun peeking behind the flaps of our Advent calendar. Or calculating how many shopping days we have left. Or how long we have to finish our Christmas worship planning. In so many ways this time of year is about getting from here to there. Jesus Christ as the Alpha and Omega sounds like the same thing — from front to back of the Greek alphabet – but really it’s the opposite. Christ doesn’t take us from beginning to end, he IS the beginning and the end and everything in the middle. Jesus is the living Word of God from before time who endures to the end of the cosmos and in midst of it all makes all things new. In our time-fractured lives, hold this truth close in these busy days.
Monday Nov. 29: 2 Peter 3:9
9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
We are a culture of immediate gratification. We want to see results. We are not great at waiting for things to happen that we think should happen. Mainly we want to get back to the life we once knew. Here on the first Monday in Advent, as winter is looming, the virus numbers are up. We are facing the fact that this is not going away anytime soon. 2 Peter exhorts us not to give up or give in. God desires for us to return to him with our whole hearts, whole and alive. So when your spirit weakens, cling to God’s promises of life and grace that transcend time. Blessings on your day!