“Our journey sets out from God in our creation, and returns to God at the final judgment. As the bird rises from the earth to fly, and must some time return to the earth from which it rose; so God sends us forth to fly, and we must fall back into the hands of God at last. But God does not wait for the failure of our flight and the expiry of our days to drop us back into his lap. He goes himself to meet us and everywhere confronts us. Where is the countenance which we must finally look in the eyes, and not be able to turn away our head? It smiles up at Mary from the cradle, it calls Peter from the nets, it looks on him with grief when he has denied his master. Our judge meets us at every step of our way, with forgiveness on his lips and succor in his hands. He offers us these things while there is yet time. Every day opportunity shortens, our scope for learning our Redeemer’s love is narrowed by twenty-four hours, and we come nearer to the end of our journey, when we shall fall into the hands of the living God and touch the heart of the devouring fire.”
Austin Farrer, The Crown of the Year: Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us;
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art,
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit,
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Merciful God, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation. Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Long-awaited Savior, you are the promise of the prophets, and we are witnesses to your work - vision, movement, healing, music, new life, good news. Enlighten and enliven us, send us out to spread the word so that all may see and hear and know and believe that you are the coming of God, the Messiah.
Holy one, though the earth trembles and the stars shake like leaves, your word will stand forever. Keep us watchful for the day when you will gather the faithful from all the ends of the earth, so that we may greet you in glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Holy God, heaven and earth may pass away but your realm is eternal and your promise is sure. Leaven our hearts with hope as our redeemer draws near. Help us to heed the signs of the times, so that we may be ready to stand before Christ, our judge and Savior; in whose powerful, glorious name we pray. Amen.
These verses help us understand just how glorious Jesus is. He is a “Wonderful Counselor.” People who heard Jesus teach often marveled because he was so wise and understood everything. He is also called “Mighty God”. Even though Jesus was born fully human and grew up just like you and me, he was fully God! He is also called the “Prince of Peace.” Peace refers to everything being the way it is supposed to be. Jesus puts things right between God and us by dying for our sins and rising again from the dead. He promises to make everything right when he returns. Can you think of some things that are not good in the world, in your life, or in the lives of other people (e.g. people who are suffering, grieving, sick, or who do not believe in Jesus)? Pray to Jesus and ask him to work to change those things. And remember, he is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
The backdrop of Advent is found in the recesses of various prophetic accounts, like Jeremiah’s. In each of these, the author’s original audience looked forward in hope to the fulfillment of a promise - “the days are coming when I will fulfill the good promise I made…” Today, we have the privilege of looking back to the actual fulfillment of that promise in the coming of Jesus. They had to stretch around the corner of the Old Testament to experience joy - imagining an infant like none other, whose resume would include being an heir of David, but also divine. We experience joy as we rest in his arms, stretched out for us on the cross, fulfilling once and for all every ancient promise of redemption. Have you ever looked forward to something for a really long time? When you finally got it, when the promise was finally fulfilled, what emotions did you experience? How might you seek the same experience through a celebration of Christ’s coming during this Advent season?
The prophet Isaiah lived long after King David, during a time when it looked very bad for Judah (the southern kingdom) and her kings. He tells us in this prophecy that the GREAT king to come will be a descendant of David. “Jesse” was David’s father, and Isaiah’s prophecy likens the kings from Jesse’s family to a dead tree stump. Have you ever seen a dead tree stump? It’s not a likely place to see a healthy tree growing! But nothing is impossible with God. Jesus came into the world when things were looking their worst. We were as good as dead but he instead he died in our place. God’s gift coming in the midst of our mess, a beautiful green shoot growing up and out of the dead stump of Israel’s kings. These verses tell us that no one is more righteous, wise, just or wonderful than Jesus. Praise him!
Throughout the Bible we read story after story of God doing things differently than we would ever choose to do them if we were in his shoes. His kingdom is upside down. He never picks who we’d pick. His ways are not our ways; in fact, at times, they seem utterly backwards, entirely incongruent, to what we might anticipate. In Micah’s prophecy, we read that God will accomplish something so great that it “will reach to the ends of the earth,” but how will he do this? Through a small clan of Judah in Bethlehem Ephrathah, “out of you will come for me one who will be ruler…” While the arrival of Jesus was anticipated, the story of his arrival has the feel of an unexpected gift at an unexpected time in an unexpected place. All the more glorious is the result of his arrival. Micah describes it this way: “they will live securely.” Does this describe your life? Jesus compared his people to sheep and he called himself the great shepherd of the sheep. A sheep’s security is entirely bound up in the care and protection of its shepherd. How might you grow to live more securely today by exercising your faith in the one who stands to shepherd you in the strength and majesty of the Lord?
Here, Isaiah uses a metaphor for peace - “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” Peace has come to the world when weapons of destruction become tools for cultivation, when swords and spears are transformed into plowshares and pruning hooks. But notice, this kind of peace only comes as we embrace something quite difficult for us as human beings to accept - “he will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” Peace requires that I give up doing life “my way” so that I can walk on “my paths.” Only his way and only his path promote peace, not my way and my path. I actually don’t know the slightest thing about peace, until I have the humility to admit that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Should we long for peace - and of course, we do - then we must take our cues from him, trust him, live our lives his way, not our way. So, consider your thoughts, words and actions. How might God transform these “weapons of war” into “tools for peace”?
Have you ever tried to talk about happy things when people around you are sad or grumpy? That’s what happened to Isaiah. Things were looking very bad for the people of Judah; they were going to be carried away from their homes by their enemies to live in another land. This made them very sad. But at this low point, Isaiah sought to comfort them by bringing them “glad tidings.” He said, “shout from the mountaintops that God is going to gather all his people together someday. He is going to come to us, gather us into his arms, and gently lead us.” This tells us that when Jesus came, he came to draw us close to his heart, to care for us and to take care of us forever. Pause and thank God for sending Jesus who speaks the same tender word to you that he spoke to his people of long ago - “your hard service has been completed, your sin has been paid for.” It really is finished.
Reggie Kidd writes the following in his book, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in our Worship, “Barbershop quartet singers claim that when their voices blend just right, they hear a ‘fifth voice.’ That aural illusion created by harmonics is a divine whisper of something that is absolutely true of our singing when we gather in worship. For the Bible says that in the church, Jesus is singing hymns to the Father (Hebrews 2:12), and that, in fact, he is our worship leader (Hebrews 8:2, literally, “liturgist”). It is important for us to sing so we can hear that “fifth voice.” There is no more beautiful verse in all of scripture to behold this reality than Zephaniah 3:17 - “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Do you hear his “fifth voice” singing over you? And not only that, came you name the tune he is singing? This song is not a song of rebuke, which sadly is what we might expect. No! This song is a song of rejoicing. Spend some time listening for his voice it as you meditate on these verses.