Welcome to the December Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
When writing, I used the New International Version of the Bible. Due to copyright restrictions, I have not included quotes for the scriptures, but highly encourage you to open your own bibles to read the scripture passages for yourselves.
A WORD FOR TODAY, December 2002
December 1, 2002
Beginning Today is the first day of Advent, our countdown to Christmas, and we begin our journey through God’s story with the beginning.
Read Genesis 1:1-2:3
If all God ever did was create the world and everything in it, we would still honor and worship a most remarkable God. Yet, this is just the beginning of God’s story, there is so much more to see and hear about His love and mercy and grace. If we were making a banner to go along with our stories, today’s symbol would be a white dove, representative of God’s Holy Spirit as it moved over the dark waters in the beginning. That Holy Spirit will be with us through the entire story, as He moves in, through and for the people of God. He still moves in our lives today, showing us God’s great love in the way He continues to create and redeem the world. Thanks be to God.
The fall God created the heavens and the earth and everything in heavens and earth. By His Word, everything came into being. He made man out of the dust of the earth; He shaped him and then blew the breath of life into his nostrils. The man was a living, breathing, reasonable being. God made the animals and gave them to the man to name. But the man needed a mate, someone to help him, so God also made woman. God placed the man and the woman into the Garden of Eden, a special place He created where they could live and work in harmony with God their Father, each other and all of creation. They walked with the Lord and lived in peace.
The Lord God Almighty asked little of the crown of His creation. They were to care for the Garden. They could eat and drink as they pleased, except for one tree in the middle of the garden. The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would bring death. There was another tree in the garden – the tree of life. As long as they lived in harmony with God, walking according to His Word, they would eat from that tree and live.
Read Genesis 2:25-3:13
God created the world and everything in it, and it did not take very long for evil to make a mess of what God created. Satan, the serpent, confused the woman and the man by twisting God’s Word and making it seem perfectly acceptable to do exactly what God said not to do. The man and the woman did not immediately pass away, but they were cast from the Garden of Eden and life became more difficult. They had to work hard to tend the ground and produce food to eat.
The symbol we use on the banner for this day is a fruit tree. It is a reminder of the temptations of this world. We are no different than Adam and Eve. Satan whispers, “Did God really say?” in our ear every day, and we fall for the trap. We doubt and reject the Word of God, take control of our own lives and eat the fruit. After all, those temptations look good and seem right – they couldn’t possibly be that bad. Through Advent, we wait for the Messiah to come to forgive us of our sins, yet Jesus came for more. The babe that we wait to be born in Bethlehem would crush evil and defeat death, so that one day we will live again as they did in the Garden of Eden in the beginning. Thanks be to God.
*For the entire story of the creation and fall of man, please read Genesis 2:4-3:24.
Rainbows It did not take very long for men to mess things up in this beautiful world that God created. Adam and Eve failed to trust in the Word of the Lord and they were cast out of the garden. There they lived long lives, tilling the soil and working hard. They were obedient to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. They sons they bore lived at odds with one another, until Cain murdered Abel. He became a restless wanderer, sent away from the presence of God for the evil he did to his brother.
Adam and Eve had more children, but as time passed the generations of men became more and more wicked in the sight of God. Things became so nasty that God regretted creating mankind and He decided to destroy the world. However, there was one who found favor in the eyes of God. Noah was a righteous man, a man who lived in a right relationship with God the Creator. God told Noah to build a large boat, an ark, and to fill the ark with every kind of animal. God was planning on sending a great flood to cover the entire earth, to destroy that which had become so evil and destructive. The grace in this story is found in the fact that God spared Noah, his family and the animals so that they could repopulate the earth when the floodwaters dried.
Noah obeyed God’s command, despite the absurdity of the request. After all, how can one man possibly build an ark large enough to hold so many for so long? It did not help matters that the wicked men ridiculed Noah for such a silly project. God gave Noah the strength to persevere and when the ark was finished, God helped Noah to fill it with the good things of His creation. When the time was right, God closed the doors of the ark so that Noah and his family would stay dry and safe.
Imagine what it would have been like at that time, for both the eight people on the ark as well as those who were drowning outside. After all, those screaming men and women were neighbors, friends and even family. Even though they were wicked, it must have been quite difficult to let them die without trying to help in some way. But God knew that the only way to save mankind was to begin anew. It rained for forty days and forty nights until even the highest mountains were covered with water. The waters stayed for one hundred and fifty days.
But God remembered Noah and his family. He stopped the rainwater and blew across the waters. Noah sent a raven and a dove to see if the waters had receded. The raven flew back and forth until the water dried, but the dove returned. A second time Noah sent the dove it returned with an olive leaf. The third time the dove did not return. The ark came to rest on dry ground and God ordered Noah and his family to leave the ark and reestablish the earth. The animals were freed and Noah built an altar of thanksgiving to God for His mercy.
Though God knew the hearts of men would be inclined toward evil, even from childhood, He promised to never destroy the earth again. He gave Noah and his sons the command to be fruitful and multiply and He gave them meat to eat. But He warned them not to eat raw meat or to bring harm to any other human beings – for those who cause the death of any man would be held accountable. Then God established a new covenant with His people.
Read Genesis 9:8-16
And though God’s people repeatedly returned to their wicked ways, generation after generation, God remained faithful to this promise He made between Himself and Noah. Future generations would remember the story of Noah, and I cannot look at a rainbow without thinking of the love and mercy of God. We use the rainbow as the symbol for the Jesse Tree today. This was the sign of the covenant God made between Himself and Noah, in which He promised to never again destroy the world. As we look at it, we remember God’s faithfulness. We deserve nothing but His wrath, yet as we wait patiently for the coming of our Messiah, we know that God has offered a better way of salvation to His children. The Apostle Peter compares the waters of the flood to the waters of baptism, and through God’s grace we are joined together with all those through every generation who are saved by the love and mercy of God. Thanks be to God.
*For the entire story of the flood, please read Genesis 6-9.
Personal Generations passed and men filled the earth, society developed and people became rooted to places, which they called home. The human mind is designed to believe in something, and without some direct revelation we will believe in just about anything that will help us through our troubles and successes. The tendency is for our minds to believe in many gods, a god for this, a god for that. In today’s society, we don’t give our gods names or even define them as gods, but we have many things on which we focus our attention – things that we think will solve our problems or bless us in some way. We look to money, jobs, homes, family, intellectualism, science, culture or government to keep us safe, healthy and happy.
Abram was a man who was greatly blessed. He had a wife, family, flocks and material possessions – a great wealth that made him comfortable and secure. He worshipped the gods of his ancestors, the local gods who were believed to provide for the people. There was a god for everything, someone to whom they could turn to ask for the blessings of fertility, rain, sun, health, happiness, wealth, peace, justice or protection. They represented the gods with carved figures they kept in their homes to which they prayed. Their gods were silent and distant, but they believed their prayers were heard. When things did not go well, they thought the gods were playing with them or punishing them, so they tried to appease the gods with sacrifice. It seemed to work, and Abram lived well.
But one day, Abram heard a voice. It was the voice of the LORD calling him to leave everything he knew to go to an unknown land and become a great nation. This command must not have made much sense to Abram, for he was aging and childless – how could he become a great nation with no heirs? Yet, Abram believed the voice, took his wife, nephew and all his possessions and traveled to a foreign land, following the promise of this God. The LORD appeared to Abram in Canaan and promised that his offspring would possess that land. The LORD God Almighty revealed Himself to Abram and began a relationship with His chosen people.
Read Genesis 15:1-6
For generations the human race worshipped gods that could really do nothing but sit on a shelf. They heard no voices, no promises. Everything was left to the whim of their gods. When things went well, the gods were happy. When things were bad, the gods were angry. They had no personal relationships with those gods. Yet, one day God revealed Himself to Abram, beginning the relationship between Himself and man that would restore everything as He had created it to be. Throughout God’s story, our Lord promised extraordinary things to ordinary people. Abram was not perfect; he lied about Sarai in Egypt, bringing ruin to Pharaoh’s household and gaining great wealth in the process. Yet, God continued to bless him. That’s the grace of God, giving in abundance to those who do not deserve His blessings but believe that He is true to all His promises.
The symbol for today’s story is a field of dark blue covered in stars, which represent the promise to Abram that he would become the father of many people. So many stars show the extravagance of God, how He gives out of His great wealth beyond measure. Abram could not count the number of stars he saw that night, the promise was something he could not comprehend. Yet, we wait for an even greater promise, one even more difficult to comprehend – Jesus Christ is coming to save the world, to restore our relationship with God and to set us free from the worldly gods that bind us daily. Thanks be to God.
Ram God promised that Abram and Sarai would have so many offspring that they would not even be able to count. God is not always as quick with the fulfillment of His promises as we would like Him to be. When some years passed and Sarai still had not borne a son, they decided to take things into their own hands. Sarai gave Abram her servant Hagar so that she would provide a child. When she knew she was pregnant, Hagar was disrespectful toward Sarai. Sarai blamed Abram who gave her permission to do whatever she wanted to Hagar. Sarai mistreated her servant, so Hagar ran away. Things were out of control because God’s chosen people were impatient and took things into their own hands. They did not trust God.
At the word of an angel, Hagar returned to Abram and Sarai. Ishmael was born and grew in the house of his father. More years passed and Sarai remained childless. Abram was ninety-nine years old when God renewed His promise of an heir. He changed their names to Abraham and Sarah and instituted a new covenant with them. God promised that His people would possess the land of Canaan. The sign of the covenant was circumcision. That very day every male in Abraham’s household were circumcised.
When the LORD spoke of the promised heir, both Abraham and Sarah laughed, yet within a year they were the parents of a child named Isaac. As the child grew, Sarah saw Ishmael mocking her son and told Abraham to send Hagar and the boy away. The LORD assured Abraham that Ishmael would be blessed, so he sent them away. Ishmael grew up in the desert, became an archer and his offspring grew into a great nation. Isaac was lovingly raised in the house of his father.
Read Genesis 22:1-19
God made incredible promises to Abraham, and they all rested on the boy Isaac. How odd it must have been to hear God’s command to sacrifice that boy. What would we do if we heard the same request? We would question our sanity, or wonder if some other voice were trying to destroy what God had given to us. We would probably argue with God about the ridiculous nature of the request. We would cling on to the child to protect him from such danger. But Abraham believed and obeyed the word of God.
Abraham believed that God would be faithful to His promises. Abraham knew that God would do something – provide a ram or resurrect the child. He willingly gave the most important thing in his life to the LORD. We all have people or things that are very dear to us, so important that we run the risk of letting them get in the way of our relationship with God. We are asked, just like Abraham, to sacrifice those things on the altars of our hearts so that there is nothing more important to us than God. The symbol for today is the ram, a reminder that God provides the sacrifice. He gave us Jesus to die on the cross, the One who restores our relationships with Him and takes away our sins. When we give up the things that are dearest to our hearts and make God first in our lives, we live in the promises that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Family The book of Genesis reads a lot like our own family histories. If we changed a few names, put in slightly different details, we would see that every generation from the beginning until today have had the same family troubles and successes. They dealt with sibling rivalry, favoritism, failures and successes. They knew the pain of separation, death, and unfaithfulness. They rejoiced at the birth of children, gathered wealth and lived in the hope of the promises of God.
Abraham’s son Isaac had two children – twins that wrestled with each other even in the womb of their mother. Esau was born first, Jacob followed grasping his brother’s heel. The boys were completely different. Jacob was a handsome and quiet young man, the opposite of his rugged brother who hunted the wild game their father loved. Esau was favored by Isaac, Jacob by Rebecca. One day Esau was starving when he returned from a hunt and he sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. When Isaac became old, he called his elder son to him and promised to grant his blessing. He desired one last taste of the wild game he loved, so he sent Esau to hunt.
While Esau was gone, Rebecca and Jacob contrived to take the blessing of the birthright by deceiving Isaac. Dressed in fur so that he would smell and fell like his rugged brother, Jacob served Isaac a meal. Esau came home soon after and served his father the game he had prepared. When he asked for the blessing, they realized the blessing had been given to someone else – Jacob. Rebecca learned that Esau planned to kill his brother, so she convinced Isaac to send Jacob to another land to get a proper wife.
Read Genesis 28:1-17
So, Jacob fled from his family and threats against his life – separated from all he knew and loved. Even though he had been given the blessing of his father, he must have felt very alone. He had nothing of his own and was running for his life. He even left behind the God of his fathers. Yet, he was not alone, the Lord God Almighty was with him every step of the way. Jacob was the heir to a promise – the same promise God gave to Abraham and Isaac – and God is always faithful. Jacob felt the presence of God in that place where he rested and realized that God was there with him and that He would be with him wherever he went.
The symbol for today is the ladder, like the stairway Jacob saw in his dream. It reminds us that God is accessible and that He is active with His creation. God is not held to one place – distant from those He loves. We don’t have to climb that ladder to heave to see God; as a matter of fact we are unable to do so by our own power. Out of His love and mercy for us, He climbed down that ladder to dwell among us. As with all the stories of God’s people, this is a story of grace – God is with us, keeping His promises despite our failures and foolishness. Thanks be to God.
Dreams Jacob had twelve sons but Joseph was his favorite. He was the son of his beloved wife Rachel and was given the most wonderful gifts, especially a richly ornamented robe. Jacob’s other sons were jealous of the attention Jacob paid to Joseph. Rachel had one other son, Benjamin, who was also loved deeply.
Joseph had dreams – strange and unusual dreams that seemed to speak of his being a powerful ruler over his brothers. Another dream even put him over his mother and father. His brothers became so jealous that they schemed to rid themselves of their brother. While they were in the field grazing the sheep, Joseph went out to see if all was well. His brothers decided to throw him into a cistern and pretend a wild animal had devoured him. But Reuben convinced them to just sell him as a slave rather than kill him. Joseph ended up in Egypt. He suffered through many trials, but eventually Pharaoh put him in charge of the whole land. Pharaoh had several dreams that Joseph interpreted, warnings of good years of fruit from the fields, but then years of famine. With Joseph’s guidance, the Egyptians saved enough grain through the good years that they were able to help feed the world during the famine.
Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt to purchase food for their family. They interacted with Joseph, but the brothers did not recognize him. The dreams were fulfilled. He invited them to dinner to learn of the fate of their father. He insured that they had plenty to eat, and he secretly restored their money. Benjamin was the youngest of all the brothers and did not go with them on the first journey to Egypt. When the brothers left with their grain, Joseph insisted that they bring Benjamin along if they were to return. Jacob did not want to let him go, the last son of his beloved Rachel. He finally agreed.
While they were in Egypt, they met again with Joseph. This time he restored their money, but also put his silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. The guards discovered the silver cup and Benjamin was held for theft. Judah pleaded with Joseph to let the boy go, to keep him instead, so that Jacob would not perish at the thought of his lost son. Joseph’s pain – his loneliness and longing to see his father – was so great that he began to weep and he revealed himself to his brothers.
Read Genesis 45:1-15
Jacob and his family went to Goshen and Joseph took care of them, but when Jacob died, his brothers feared that he would take revenge. They pleaded with Joseph to be merciful, to remember their father and spare their lives. Joseph answered, “Am I God? All this happened for good.” The symbol for today’s story is the moneybag that Joseph put back in the bags of grain they took to their father Jacob. The brothers had sold Joseph into slavery, attempting to rid themselves of his arrogance and perhaps gain some favor from their father. He could have sought revenge for their acts; he could have charged outrageous prices for the grain. Instead, he gave them more than they wanted for free. This merciful action showed the great love he held for his brothers, despite the evil he suffered at their hands. God did the same when He sent His Son Jesus Christ to bring forgiveness to those He loves. He gives beyond measure in love and mercy. Thanks be to God.
*For the entire story of Joseph and his brothers, see Genesis 37-45.
Burning bush For hundreds of years, the Hebrews lived in peace, gaining wealth in Egypt. After some time, the pharaohs forgot Joseph and feared the people of Israel, for they were growing in number and power. So, they were forced into slavery. Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill every male child. The midwives feared God and they let the boys live. So Pharaoh ordered that all the male infants were to be drowned in the Nile. One mother gave birth to a baby boy, but before he could be killed, she put him in a basket covered in tar and placed the basket in the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter found the youngster and claimed him for herself. The young boy’s sister was following in the reeds. She offered to find a wet nurse for the child, and brought the boy’s own mother so she could breastfeed the child. Pharaoh’s daughter called the child Moses because she drew him out of the water.
The boy grew in the house of Pharaoh with all the benefits of a blessed life. When he was grown, however, he went into the fields of his own people and saw how they labored. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and he killed him. When the act was made known, Moses feared for his life and ran into the desert wilderness to live. He made his home in Midian, married to the daughter of Jethro. The people of Israel cried out to God for deliverance, and God heard their pleas.
Read Exodus 3:1-12
Moses argued with God but God sent him anyway and promised to be with him every step of the way. Moses still argued with God and asked Him to send someone else. Though God was angry with Moses, He agreed to allow Aaron, his brother, to speak. So, Moses took his wife and sons and went back to Egypt. God sent Aaron into the wilderness to meet Moses along the way and they brought together the elders of Israel. Aaron told them that God had heard their cries and they fell down to worship the Lord in thanksgiving. It would not be an easy escape out of Egypt, but now the people knew that God was with them.
The symbol for today is the burning bush. The presence of God was in that bush, and He spoke to Moses. Moses was warned to stay back and to remove his shoes, for even the ground around the busy was holy. Moses was given a most incredible task – he was to save the entire nation of Israel. But he did not think he could handle such an important job. He was just one man, one man who could not speak very well. God listened to Moses’ concerns and answered them. He still sent Moses, and stayed with him through it all.
Just like the Israelites in Egypt, we cry out to God for deliverance from the bondage of this world. This is why Jesus came in the flesh, to free us from our sin and give us everything we need to serve Him. In Christ we stand in the presence of holiness, we are embraced by God himself. Even now, while we wait for the coming of the Messiah, we are called to share the message of salvation with others. We want to argue with God, claim we are unable to speak or make a difference. We find all sorts of excuses. But God does not give in, He sends us anyway. We may not see any burning bushes, but God is still with us, in our presence, moving in and through us for the sake of those He wants to save. Thanks be to God.
Bread Moses went before Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go.” I can imagine the hearty laugh that came from Pharaoh when Moses made such a demand. After all, who was Moses? He was a murderer, a fugitive and a Hebrew. He had no power or support in Egypt. Pharaoh answered his demand with more work for the slaves – they were forced to make bricks without straw. Israel turned away from Moses and Aaron, but God promised deliverance.
Through Moses, God provided miraculous signs to prove His power and authority. The water turned to blood. Frogs, gnats and flies covered the land. A plague killed their livestock and boils covered their bodies. Hail and locusts destroyed their crops. Darkness covered the earth for three days. With each plague, Pharaoh’s heart grew harder and he refused to set the Hebrews free. Finally, the LORD directed Moses to warn the people of Israel to prepare for the angel of death. The final plague would attack the firstborn of Egypt, and none would live.
The people were to find a perfect lamb for each household, one that would give each member enough to eat but would leave no leftovers. The lamb was to be slaughtered at twilight on a specific day and the blood of the lamb painted across the doorframe. They were to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread. They were to eat it as if they were about to run out of the door – in haste, ready to leave their homes. That night, the angel of death would come over Egypt and all the first-born would die. However, the angel of death would pass over the homes that were covered in blood and they would be saved. This plague would bring Pharaoh to his knees. Moses told the people that they would commemorate that day for it would be their day of deliverance. Even today, the people of Israel celebrate the Passover as they recall how God saved them from the bondage of Egypt.
Read Exodus 12:29-39
The blood of the lamb saved the Israelites from death and that final plague on Egypt gave them their freedom. As Pharaoh mourned, the Israelites ran from bondage into the wilderness. The LORD had heard their cries and they would finally see the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham. Four hundred and thirty years had past, and God proved faithful to His promises. This advent we await the birth of another lamb, the Lamb of God, whose blood set us free from an even greater bondage. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died on a cross in humiliation for our sake, brings us forgiveness and will return in glory to deliver us into the glory of God for eternity.
The people took everything they could carry and left their homes from some unknown fate. All they knew was that God was indeed with them; He would lead them into freedom and prosperity. They left quickly before Pharaoh could change his mind. The number of Israelites was near one million, with their livestock, possessions and unleavened bread dough. They left so quickly that there was no time to bake their bread. They carried the dough in their kneading bowls, the symbol for today. The bowls remind us that we do not know when the Lord will return. When He does, we will not have time to make any preparations. We are to be ready now and wait in peace, knowing that God’s time is perfect and He is faithful to all His promises. Thanks be to God.
Tablets The Israelites escaped Egypt, but the journey was not an easy one. Soon after the people were in the desert, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he pursued them. The LORD directed the people to move from place to place, as if confused about where to go. The Egyptians saw this as the perfect opportunity to overtake the Israelites and force them back into his service. God intended it for His glory – to show them He is LORD.
Pharaoh readied his chariot and took his army into the wilderness. When the Israelites saw them coming, them were afraid and cried out to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Moses assured them that God would deliver them from this trial. The LORD told Moses to stretch out his staff over the sea. When he did, the water divided and the Israelites were able to cross on dry ground. Though the Egyptians were faster than the Hebrews, they could not catch up because the angel of God held them back. By the time the Egyptians could get around the pillar of cloud that held them, the people were safely on the other side. The army pursued them, but Moses raised his staff over the sea and the walls of water crashed down upon the Egyptians. They praised God and feared Him, for He is a great and awesome God.
It took two months for the people to make it to Mount Sinai. When the people were hungry, God gave them manna from heaven. When they were sick of manna, God gave them so much quail they could not stand it any longer. When they were thirsty, God provided water from a rock. The Amalekites attacked them, but God was with them and He gave them the victory. They camped in the desert beneath the mountain and consecrated themselves so that they could meet the LORD. They did all God asked and on the third day the LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called to Moses. He told Moses to warn the people not to come on the mountain, but the people were too afraid to approach. The mountain was an awesome sight, with thunder and lightning, trumpets blasting and thick, dark smoke.
Read Exodus 20:1-21
The LORD gave the people His Law that day. The Ten Commandments are the basis of that law and is designed to keep us in right relationships with God and each other. He have more specific laws, laws that would help them become a great nation, keep them safe and bring justice when needed. The Law was not given to separate the people from God, but rather to keep them in relationship with Him.
The people were so afraid that they preferred to have Moses be an intermediary – they did not want to have to face God themselves. So, Moses spoke for God to the people and they listened to him for guidance. Throughout the history of God’s people, they would never be able to keep the Law perfectly; this is why the practice of sacrificial offerings was instituted. The blood of animals was used to atone for the sins of the people. But the day would come when Law of Moses would be held higher than the Word of God, and the Law would become a burden rather than a gift. In that day, the LORD sent the true intermediary, our Lord Jesus Christ, to restore the relationship between God and His people through the final blood sacrifice.
The symbol for today is the tablets of stone on which were written the Ten Commandments. We see these stones and remember that they are not the way to God, but rather are a gift given to point us to the Rock of our faith, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Obeying the Law does not save us. We are saved by Jesus Christ and in that salvation we live in a right relationship (righteousness) with God and each other. Thanks be to God.
*The story of Moses and the Law can be found in Exodus 19-20
Trumpet The people received the Law, but not without some difficulty. While Moses was on the mountain receiving God’s Word, the Hebrews turned to the old ways – they made a golden calf and were dancing in worship around it. When Moses saw that the people had grown impatient and turned from the LORD, He threw the stone tablets to the ground and destroyed the golden calf. Many of the Israelites perished that day for their wayward actions. But God told Moses to lead the survivors into the Promised Land. Despite their sin against God, He remained faithful to His covenant.
The LORD gave a new set of tablets and guided the people in the way they were to travel. A tabernacle was built so that the people could worship God wherever they went. They came near the place where they would cross into the Promised Land and Moses sent out spies to see what lie ahead. Though they reported that the land was good, the people still grumbled because they were afraid of the people who lived in the land. They were bigger, stronger and lived in cities with walls. Even though God had remained with the people through their travels, they still did not trust Him. The LORD was angry with the people and swore that none of that generation would ever see the Promised Land, so the people wandered in the wilderness for forty years.
The travel was never easy – they hungered and argued. They grumbled against Moses and tired of the nomadic life. In the end, even Moses did not obey God’s Word and because of it he did not cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. God allowed Moses to see the land, but he died and was buried in Moab. Joshua became leader of the Israelites.
Read Joshua 1:1-9
God was indeed with Joshua as he led the people through the Jordan and into the land that had been promised to Abraham so many years before. When the people trusted God in the face of their enemy, God put His hand on the swords and they always gained the victory. God’s battle plans were often unorthodox, such as at Jericho, where He commanded the people hold a parade rather than fight.
Jericho was an awesome fortress, shut up because the townspeople had heard about the Israelites and feared them. The LORD commanded Joshua to march around the city for six days, carrying the Ark of the Covenant accompanied by priests blowing trumpets. On the seventh day, they were to march seven times. They were not to make any war cries or raise their voices until the day Joshua told them to shout. They did as God commanded. On the seventh day, they got up early and marched around the city seven times, then Joshua commanded the people, “SHOUT! For the LORD has given you the city!” When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted and the walls of Jericho fell. The Israelites rushed into the city and killed every living thing. The treasures they found were put into the treasury of the LORD’s house and the city was burned to the ground. God gave them the victory.
The symbol for today is the ram’s horn trumpet used to bring down the walls of Jericho. We are reminded that though God uses His people to do the work, it is by His hand that we gain the victory. The trumpet blast did not cause the walls to fall, God did. God planned every moment of that battle; He commanded His people and they saw the power of God at work in their obedience. The people of Israel were just beginning their lives as an independent nation, one chosen by God to glorify Him before the world. They would not always obey His Word and they would suffer the consequences. But God always remained faithful, renewing His promises over and over again. The plans of God often seem foolish to those who stand outside – a parade had never brought down the walls of a city before Jericho. Of all His plans, none seem so foolish as His plan for salvation – the birth of a child in a manager who would die on the cross of humiliation. Yet, through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are truly made free to glorify God with our lives. Thanks be to God.
*The story of the battle of Jericho can be found in Joshua 5-6.
Judges Joshua led the people into the Promised Land and they settled into their inheritance according to the word of God. The fought hard for the land, but God was with them and brought them many victories. They buried the bones of Joseph in the Promised Land. Joshua died when he was one hundred and ten years old, but Israel remained faithful to God while the elders who had experienced His mercy still lived. It only took one generation for the people to forget.
Read Judges 2:6-16
This is the pattern for the life of Israel. The people believe in the LORD and cry out to Him for His help. In His mercy and grace, the LORD answers. They live faithfully for a season and then forget and turn to other gods for their peace. They suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness and cry out to God in their pain. He hears their cries, remembers His covenant and saves them. They live for another season in peace, until they forget and turn away. This circle has existed ever since Adam and Eve turned from God in the Garden of Eden. Blessedness, forgetfulness, pain, repentance, mercy and blessedness is the pattern of life even for us today. We are saved by the grace of God – for our sin and for our daily sins.
The people of Israel were too big and the tribes were spread out over many miles so that there would be room for them to grow. They had no central leadership who could help keep them faithful to God. There was no one to draw them together to keep them strong as a nation. So God sent prophets who told the people to repent and judges to lead them into victory. When the Israelites had been oppressed for seven years, God called a man named Gideon to lead the people. Gideon did not understand why God would choose him. He was from the smallest tribe, and was the weakest of his family. Yet, God assured him that he was a mighty warrior who would bring victory. Gideon did not know what to think – he wasn’t even sure it was God talking to him. He even tested God to know the truth.
Then the LORD sent Gideon to lead the Israelites against Midian. He had over thirty thousand men. The LORD wanted there to be no doubt about how brought the victory, so He told Gideon there were too many men. Gideon told those who were afraid that they could leave, and only ten thousand remained. But that was still too many. So the LORD told Gideon to have the men drink at the pool. Those who remained on their feet, lifting the water to their lips, would be chosen for the battle. Most of the men knelt to drink.
The three hundred men were given torches in jars and trumpets. They surrounded the camp of the Midianites. On Gideon’s command, the men broke their jars and blew their trumpets, then yelled “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon.” The Midianites fled in terror and the LORD caused them to turn on each other with their swords. They army fled and Israel took the land. Three hundred men defeated a massive army, but it wasn’t them, it was the LORD.
The empty water jars that held the torches of Gideon’s men are the symbol for today. God’s plan always seems odd to us – Gideon was no one, yet he was chosen by God to lead His people into such an incredible victory. The torches were hidden for a time in the water jars, and when Gideon gave the command, the sudden light and trumpet sound brought confusion to the enemy. During this Advent, we wait for the jar to be broken, for the light to shine. God brought the victory through Gideon, the weakest of all the men of the weakest tribe of Israel. At the cross of Christ, He brought an even greater victory through the One who was born in a stable in Bethlehem. Thanks be to God.
*The story of Gideon can be found in Judges 6-8.
Shepherd As we see the story of the people of Israel unfold, we realize they were not much different than us. They had their good days and their bad days. They had their days of faithfulness and their days of rebellion. They had their days of peace and prosperity and their days of war and suffering. One day they realized that they were a nation without a king. Everyone else had one, why shouldn’t they? Of course, God built up the nation with the intent that He would be their King, the One to lead them through all things.
It is really hard for human beings to have a king that they can’t see or hear. We want a leader who will stand before us on the battlefield and negotiate with the other kings. The people of Israel wanted the respect of other nations, which they would not get without a leader. They were being led by a prophet names Samuel who knew this request went against the will of God. God agreed to giving the people a king. He told Samuel that they were not rejecting him as their prophet; they were rejecting God as their King. He told Samuel to warn the people what a king would do – the king would tax the people and take their children as his servants. The first king was a man named Saul, and he did indeed do all those things. Then one day Saul turned away from God and disobeyed His command. The LORD rejected Him and sent Samuel to anoint a new king.
Samuel went to Jesse in Bethlehem to find a king among his sons. When he saw Eliab, Samuel was certain that he was the one. But God told him that he sees hearts, not the outward appearance. Samuel saw seven sons, but God rejected them all. There was another son, David, who was tending sheep in the field. He was the one, so Samuel anointed him though it would be many years before David actually ruled.
The Spirit of God left Saul and an evil spirit tormented him. David was brought to his tent, to play the harp and sooth his soul. David served Saul as a warrior and friend, but Saul became jealous of David. Saul chased David, with the intent to kill. David had opportunities to kill Saul, but he spared his life. One day on the battlefield against the Philistines, Saul killed himself.
Read 2 Samuel 5:1-5
David was a shepherd to a flock of sheep in his father Jesse’s house, but according to the will and purpose of God he became a shepherd to the people of Israel. He was not a perfect king. As a matter of fact, he took many wives and even had a man killed so that he could have his wife. Despite his sins, God blessed David and the nation of Israel. It was the golden age for the Hebrews – they were respected throughout the world. Though David made horrible mistakes, he turned to the LORD for forgiveness and trusted in Him for everything. Israel lived in the promises of God during the reign of David and they were greatly blessed.
David wrote many of the Psalms – songs of praise – during his reign. He was a musician king and we remember him with a harp as the symbol for our banner. We are reminded that though David was imperfect, he lived in praise and thanksgiving to God. He repented when he failed and he always sought the will of the LORD. We await the coming of the promised Messiah that comes from the house of David. He was born in a stable in Bethlehem and is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Once again God rules as King over our lives forever and He is the Shepherd that keeps His flock. Thanks be to God.
Altars David reigned for thirty years. The people settled into their homes and became comfortable as a new nation. It was time to give God a permanent home. David longed to build a magnificent temple for the LORD, but he had shed too much blood over the years, so God would not allow it. David collected the materials necessary, charged his son with the task and blessed him as heir to the throne. When the LORD asked Solomon what gift he would like to reign over Israel, he asked only for wisdom to do it well. God was pleased with such a request and gave Solomon wisdom as well as wealth and victory over his enemies. Solomon built the temple and placed the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holy of Holies. The people were settled and God had a permanent home among them.
It did not take long for things to fall apart. Solomon was married to many wives, some of which were foreigners who worshipped other gods. Those gods were given a place in the kingdom. The LORD split the kingdom apart, giving Jeroboam ten tribes to rule in the north – Israel. Solomon was given Judah in the south for the sake of David, to whom God had promised a lasting kingdom. The two kingdoms battled over the years, neither side remained faithful to God. They did evil things in His sight, set up altars to the other gods and worshipped them. So, God sent a prophet named Elijah against Ahab, the king of Israel.
Read 1 Kings 18:16-39
The people of Israel keep falling into the same sin – worshipping that which is not worthy of worship. They turn to other gods that have no power. We do the same thing, though our gods do not have the name Baal. We turn to our jobs, our families, our goodness and hold it in higher esteem than the one true and living God, our heavenly Father. We get caught up in the daily grind, setting aside our times of prayer and study of God’s Word for the things that seem more important. We notice this especially during this season of Advent, when we spend more time decorating the house, baking cookies and wrapping presents than we do praising God for His incredible grace.
The symbol for today is an altar of stone, such as the one used for sacrificial offerings. We are reminded of God’s almighty power, that He is greater than anything else in this world. When Elijah called to Him, God sent a fire so hot that everything on the altar was gone, even the stone itself and the water that surrounded it. He has the power to rid our lives of all that is bad, and He does so through the means of grace – baptism and communion. Day by day we turn away like the people of Israel, but God always comes back, showing His love and His power that we might live in the promises for which we long to see fulfilled. Thanks be to God.
*Elijah’s story can be read in 1 Kings 17-19.
Tongs Years pass. Kings come and go. The story gets almost boring as we see the same things happening over and over again. The people are blessed, they live faithfully for a season but then they turn from God. They suffer the consequences for their sin, cry out to God and are saved. The people of the Southern Kingdom – Judah, the Jews – are no more faithful to God than Israel ever was. Although they do worship God in the Temple, they do not worship Him with their lives. They dishonor Him with their selfishness and injustice.
God sent yet another man, a prophet, to speak to the people and warn them of their sins. They sought material wealth, built grand houses and bought many acres of land. They partied until dawn, drinking and eating in excess, dancing and singing without praise to God. They demanded that God deal mercifully with His people and make Himself known to them, yet they lied and put heavy burdens on one another. Isaiah said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” They were arrogant, selfish and unjust. Through Isaiah, God warned the people that they would suffer His wrath at the hands of the nations.
Read Isaiah 6:1-13
In the beginning, Adam and Eve walked in the Garden of Eden with God. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses had personal encounters with God. By the time of Isaiah, God’s chosen people had become so distant from Him, so wrecked by their sin that they believed they could not even stand in His presence. God lived in the Temple, in the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could enter into that room, and he could do so only on the Day of Atonement, after a long ritual of cleansing.
Isaiah saw a vision of the LORD without benefit of the sacrifices. He was afraid for his life, but the LORD cleansed Isaiah with a hot coal from the fire in the Most Holy Place – an inner room of the Temple. The LORD did the work of atonement, took Isaiah’s guilt and forgave his sin. Then He called Isaiah into His service. “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah willingly answered, “Here I am, send me!” Imagine what it would be like if you boss approached you with a task, but told you from the outset your work would seem fruitless. “Go tell the employees to do this, that and the other thing. Now, they won’t do what you tell them, but go anyway.” That’s not a very motivational speech, yet this is exactly what the LORD did with Isaiah.
Isaiah preached to the people, and they did not hear. The people would be exiled, the nation destroyed, but all hope is not gone. Though they have forgotten the promises of God, He will have mercy on them, as He did on Isaiah in the Temple. The symbol for today is the tongs with a live coal. In that object we see the mercy of God and how atonement comes from Him without any work of our own. He forgives and sets us free from the bondage to sin that keeps us from a personal relationship with Him. This is why we longingly wait for the Messiah this Advent – for He will bring the final atonement for our sin. We also see that the coal touched Isaiah’s mouth, making it clean to do God’s Work. He puts His word into our mouths that we might speak of His judgment and mercy to the lost and lonely of this world. Isaiah was a prophet, able to prophesy only by the hand of God. It was a hard task he faced, but he went willingly because God gave him the strength to do so. Thanks be to God.
Crown Isaiah preached and the people ignored him, just as the LORD told Isaiah. But Isaiah had to keep speaking harsh words against the people. They fell farther away, turning to other nations to save them from their troubles. It was that very action, asking their neighbors for help rather than turning to the LORD their God, that would be their downfall. Their neighbors will not help the Jews; they will repress and war against the weakened nation. Isaiah was not seen as a prophet of God; he was seen as a troublemaker, a treasonous person. The LORD warns Isaiah to stand firm, and promises an end to the suffering.
Read Isaiah 8:11-9:7
How hard it must have been for Isaiah, to see no repentance among the people despite his warnings of their evil ways. He was persecuted and pursued as one who was against Israel, though his words were meant for their good. The people feared other nations and thought Isaiah’s plan was foolish. What good could God do against the swords of their enemy? But God reminds Isaiah about the battle, which Gideon won against Midian – three hundred men defeated an entire army by God’s hand. They had not been any more faithful than the Israel in Isaiah’s day, but God does not forget His promises.
In this prophecy to Isaiah, God renews the promise He has made from the beginning – God is with them. He promises to send a king that will lead them in the paths of righteousness and peace. The Messiah will come from the house of David, fulfilling the promise that his throne will be everlasting. All this will come from God because He loves His people, even when they fail He never forsakes them. They will suffer at the hand of the nations for a season, but there is always hope.
It is in this hope that we still live, knowing that the promise was fulfilled in the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our hope is even greater because we know that God has done all He said He would do, but our longing is also greater because we aren’t just waiting for an earthly king to be born. This Advent we long for the return of our Lord Jesus as the King of Glory, wearing the crown of peace and justice for eternity. The crown is the symbol of this day, a reminder that the babe in the manger is more than just a child. He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He will reign on the throne of David, not as an earthly king, but as our LORD forever. Thanks be to God.
Grain Life in Israel was on a downhill slide. Zedekiah became king, and led the people further from God. He did evil things and did not humble himself before the LORD. The people became more and more unfaithful, following the practices of the nations and defiling the temple. Over and over again God warned the people to repent through prophets sent with His word, the latest was Jeremiah. Over and over again they ignored them. Finally, Zedekiah made an oath with Nebachadnezzar in God’s name, but he went to Egypt for help against the Babylonians. The Babylonians took not time to ponder the fate of the Israelites – they attacked, besieging Jerusalem for two years before finally destroying the city and taking the remnant that had survived into captivity. The people were exiled in the desert for seventy years fulfilling the word of prophecy brought to them by Jeremiah.
While the Israelites rebelled against God over and over again, God remembered His covenant with them and had mercy over and over again. During the time they were in exile, the land rested and recovered so that they could produce good crops. It was a Sabbath rest for the people and for their land. He promised to bring them home, to give them everything He had promised and more. This was not the end of the people of Israel. Meanwhile, they would learn about His provision, His comfort and His grace so that they will be satisfied with His goodness.
Read Jeremiah 31:1-14
It was as if God gave His children a seventy-year ‘time-out’. They had been wicked in His sight, turning from His ways to the ways of the world. They did not honor Him as they should, forgetting His great blessings in the promises and in the abundance of their lives. But just as a father disciplines a son, so does God discipline those He loves. Discipline does not necessarily mean punishment; it means to train in the right ways. God sent the Israelites away from the Promised Land because they had abused the gifts He had given; so much they were nearly destroyed. During the exile, the people realized their sin and turned back to God while the gifts were renewed and refreshed by the rest.
Today’s symbol is stalks of grain, representative of God’s great bounty given to His people. He gives us everything we need to survive, but when we don’t live in His Word we waste and destroy those good gifts. This is why God commanded the Sabbath – days, weeks, months and even years of rest both for the people and the land. In the Sabbath we are renewed, refreshed and ready to take on His tasks once again. By the time Christ came, the Sabbath was a burden. The people had so many rules to follow that it was no longer rest, but a day to wonder “am I doing everything as I should?” But Jesus told us that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, we rest in Him. He refreshes and renews us for the work He has called us to do. The Israelites had turned so far away from God that they no longer saw Him, even in the temple. The exile made them see again. When Jesus came, the people had again lost touch with God. He makes us see Him again and He provides the most amazing abundance of gifts. Thanks be to God.
Whale It could not have been easy to be a prophet of God. They were called and sent to do and say things that went against the norm of society. They were persecuted and even killed. But their troubles did not always come from the people. Sometimes God asked them to do things they did not want to do. Our story for today is about the prophet Jonah. Most people think of the whale when they hear that name, though that was just a minor part of the story.
The Ninevites were enemies to the Jews. The two nations had warred bitterly, and the Ninevites took many Israelite lives. The acts against God’s people were unforgivable. But God never sees our sin that way. He is the God of the second chance, forgiving even the most horrible acts of those who turn to Him in repentance. He did not desire the destruction of the Ninevites – He desired their hearts. So, He called and sent Jonah to preach the truth of God’s love to his enemies. Jonah knew God was merciful and kind, giving second chances even when it is undeserved. But that is grace – the unmerited favor of God. How could the Ninevites turn to God if they did not hear His Word?
But Jonah thought he knew better than God. They did not deserve to hear God’s Word and have the chance to turn from their lives of sin, so he took off in the opposite direction. He caught a boat to another land, to avoid the work God was calling him to do. He learned quickly that you can’t hide from God or avoid the things He is calling you to do. God sent a terrible storm to rock the boat. The sailors sought relief from their gods, but nothing helped. When they learned that Jonah believed in the Lord God Almighty, they asked for his aid. “Pray to your God!” But Jonah knew the only way he could help was to be cast overboard.
God does give second chances, even to prophets who run from His work. When Jonah was cast overboard, the storm stopped and a great whale swallowed the prophet. For three days Jonah sat in the belly of a whale, praying to God for help. Jonah promised to go to Ninevah to preach to the people so that they might be saved. God had mercy on His prophet and the whale spit him out on the shore. Jonah kept his promise and obeyed God.
Read Jonah 3:3-10
The story does not end there. Jonah argues with God, angry that He would give the Ninevites a second chance. But God answers Jonah’s words with the question, “Should I not be concerned about the people of Ninevah who do not know right from wrong because they have not heard my word?” God loves even our enemies, so much that He desires that they hear the Word that will save them from their sin. We are called and send, just like Jonah, to speak that Word into their lives. Sometimes we don’t want to obey any more than Jonah. As a matter of fact, we want our enemies to be punished! Yet, without Jesus we are no different than the Ninevites, bound by sin and unable to live righteous lives. That’s why we wait for Jesus, because He brings our second chance – His death on the cross brings the forgiveness that God desires for our lives so that we can live in His love.
The symbol for today is the whale. Though this animal plays such a small part of the story, it is a reminder that we can’t hide from God’s love or run away from His purpose for our lives. When God desires something – whether it is for us to be saved or for us to be obedient in the salvation He so freely gives – He will make it happen somehow, some way. Sometimes we end up in the belly of a whale so that we can pray and realize there is no better way than the one God himself has planned. For He knows what is best for all His people. Thanks be to God.
Watchtower We drawing near to the day we long to see, but the wait has seemed so long. We have been journeying through Advent for only eighteen days so far. Imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites? By the time Habakkuk was prophet, they had already waited for hundreds of years and they still had six hundred to go before Jesus would be born. The book of the Bible named after this prophet is unusual in that it does not give a prophecy to Israel, but is a conversation between the prophet and the LORD.
As we read the book we are comforted by the fact that even the prophets of God were human beings, perplexed by God’s ways. He saw wickedness, strife and oppression that God seemed not to notice. He could not understand why God was not doing anything about these sins. When God answered his questions, he was even more confounded by the fact that the Babylonians would be the ones to bring them to their knees. “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” Israel was God’s chosen people, how could such injustice exist in God’s world? But Habakkuk prayed for understanding and listened to all the LORD had to say.
Read Habakkuk 2:1-4
We wait for many things. During Advent, we wait for parties or school to be out for vacation. We wait to take trips home to our family and friends. We wait for cookies to bake in the oven and packages to arrive in the mail. We wait for sales so that we can buy the best presents for the best price. We wait for Christmas day so that we can open the gifts and share in the fellowship we have with one another. Sometimes it is hard to wait. We get impatient, picking up packages and shaking them to discover what is hidden inside. We try to eat the cookies too quickly and they burn our fingers. We wait too long for the sales and the things we want to buy are already gone from the shelves. It can be a time of disappointment and pain when we do not wait patiently.
From the beginning of time, God knew exactly when He would send the Savior to the world. He has been planning it from the beginning. But time is not the same for God as it is for us. While we believe that it has been too long and we wonder, “How long,” but God knows that the right time is just when He planned it to be. Jesus did not delay, He came exactly when He was supposed to be here.
Now, as we long for His return, for that second coming that has been promised through the writings of the apostles, we cry out, “How long?” Just like Habakkuk, we see injustice, strife and oppression and wonder why God would wait so long to bring relief. God’s words to Habakkuk are still true for us today, “though it linger, wait for it.” So, in faith we wait patiently for the day God promises, knowing that He is faithful to all His promises.
Today’s symbol is the watchtower. God has the power to put everything right. He has done so through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. By His blood we are saved. Now as we live in this life of righteousness – a right relationship with God that comes through faith in Jesus – we are to wait patiently for everything to come to pass. God is not slow, His timing is just right. He is sovereign over everything, including those who are wicked and evil in this world. They will face their reward one day, in God’s time and we will see the glory of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Sun The longer we wait for something, the more confused we can get. As the years passed, the relationship between God and His people has not gotten any better. They hoped for God’s salvation from their enemies, but they did not know that they needed to be saved from themselves. Their cries were for justice, for vengeance on the wicked, for everything to be as they wanted it to be. They wanted to be a great nation, as they were in the days of David. They wanted a strong king who could lead them. The Jews longed for that day, for they expected it to be a day of blessing.
Yet, that is not what God intended with the Messiah. The Savior would not restore things as they were just hundreds of years before, but rather He would restore things to the way they were in the beginning. It would be a day of judgment, not only for the enemies of the Jews but also for the people. Malachi the prophet was sent to warn the people that things in their hearts were not as God intended. The priests served improperly and the people sinned against God by sinning against one another. Yet, the warning was also filled with promise. God would send a messenger to proclaim the coming, so that hearts would be turned to the LORD.
Read Malachi 3:1-5
God was silent for four hundred years following the message from Malachi. We’ve reached the end of the Old Testament lessons leading us to the birth of our Lord Jesus. We’ve seen how God created everything in the world and how even from the beginning we were unable to remain in a relationship with God our Father. Every time God’s people turned from Him they suffered the consequences of their disobedience, but God always had mercy. In their pain, the people cried for God’s help and He was always waiting to save them. Each time the people wandered, He was faithful to His promises. He saved them and renewed His promises.
But the relationship between God and His people would never be right based on human effort. The sacrifices they offered were never enough. Human nature always turns from God. So, God’s plan from the beginning was to restore His children as they were created to be. The people misunderstood the promises and expected God to take care of their enemies. But the true enemy was sin and death. This is what God would defeat in the coming of the Messiah.
Malachi wrote, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” The Messiah would set them free from everything that bound them so that they would be free to live in the love of God their Father. He would bring healing – their hearts would be made right again. The symbol for today is a sun, a reminder to us as to why Christ came. He didn’t come to be King, but to bring healing to our bodies and souls. We cannot be righteous on our own, but Jesus brings us His own righteousness so that we can live again in God’s presence. In Christ we are made free to live as we were created to live, as Adam and Eve lived with God in the Garden of Eden. Thanks be to God.
Shells Four hundred years have passed and God has been silent. The people still believe that God has not forgotten them. They have settled down, living by the Law of Moses in a land occupied by foreigners. They long for a sign from God, anything to get them through their suffering and pain. The long to hear His voice again, to have a genuine word that God is still with them. They long for the fulfillment of the promises. And now is the time.
Through Malachi, God promised to send a messenger to prepare the way for the Lord. Isaiah spoke of a voice crying out in the wilderness that would make the people turn to the LORD. He would preach repentance and baptize the people for the forgiveness of sin. Luke tells us that in the time of Herod king of Judea, that man was born into the house of a priest. Zechariah was married to Elizabeth; both were upright in the eyes of the God. Elizabeth was barren and they were well past childbearing age. When Zechariah was in the Temple on duty, he had a vision of the angel of the Lord who appeared to tell him that his prayers would be answered. Zechariah and Elizabeth would bear a son. The angel gave Zechariah specific instructions about the child – his name should be John, he is never to drink wine or other fermented drinks. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and he would bring Israel back to God.
Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure of this?” The angel was Gabriel, and because Zechariah doubted the angel’s word, he would be speechless until the child was born. Zechariah spent more time in the Temple than was usual, and when he came out without voice the people knew he had seen a vision. Zechariah went home to Elizabeth and they conceived a son. Elizabeth praised God for taking away her disgrace.
Read Matthew 3:1-12
John came to prepare the way for the Lord. When he saw Jesus, he cried out “Behold, the Lamb of God.” He knew that his purpose was not to be great, but to point toward the One who would bring salvation to the people of Israel. He had a wide following, people who listened to his preaching and followed him wherever he went. Yet, when Jesus Christ came before him, he knew he was not worthy to even touch his shoes. John was the greatest among prophets, yet he was nothing compared to the One who would follow.
When those who considered themselves righteous came before John, he called them a brood of vipers. They thought they were good enough to meet the Lord. He recalled the warnings of the prophets before who said that the Day of the Lord would be one of judgment. They would not be saved by their own righteousness; they would be cut off from the blessings of God if they failed to see the promise fulfilled. John baptized the people, a sign of their repentance. The baptism cleansed them from their sin, but when Christ came the cleansing would be even greater. The symbol for today is a scallop shell, a traditional symbol for baptism. We are reminded that the baptism of John is part of the redemption process, but that which follows is even greater. The Lord who is to come will bring the restoration we long to have; He will renew our relationship with God for eternity. Thanks be to God.
Lily The angel Gabriel visited another child of God with a message. Mary was a young virgin in the town of Nazareth. John would not be the final word from God. He was sending Jesus, the Word made flesh to live among His people and to save them.
Read Luke 1:26-56
The time is nearly here, the promises of God are to be fulfilled in that small child born of a young virgin from the town of Nazareth. This whole story seems incredible; from the beginning God already knew the day He would send His Salvation in the world. For hundreds of years He promised the people great things would come to them. Then, when the time was right, He sent His Son through a lowly woman in a lowly town at a time when He would seem to accomplish little.
Yet, Mary believed and praised God. She did not doubt like the others, or reject God’s perfect word. She asked how God would accomplish this marvelous thing and praised Him. God does not lift up the mighty or give good things to the wicked. He blesses the lowly and feeds the hungry. He keeps His promises and fulfills them in His way and in His time.
We remember Mary and her faith with the white lily, a long held traditional symbol of purity used to represent the young virgin who praised God even though this incredible promise would bring her ridicule. Her husband-to-be could divorce her for the pregnancy, since he is obviously not the father. She could be stoned for such an act. Though she did not know it at the moment, her child would be born in less than suitable circumstances and His life would be in danger from the beginning. For her, this was not really good news, but she knew it was the Good News her people had been waiting to hear for a long time.
We have only a few days to wait for the birth of this child, and our wait is not filled with the same hope. The Christ child was born two thousand years ago and will not be born again. Yet, we still long with hopeful expectation for our Lord Jesus to come. We long for Him to come in glory as the King of Eternity as He has promised. Until that day, our lives may not always be pleasant. We will face persecution and suffering from the hands of those who do not understand God’s promises. May God bless us with the faith to praise God as Mary did that day. Thanks be to God.
Carpenter Mary was engaged to be married to a carpenter from Nazareth. His name was Joseph. Mary and Joseph had not yet been together as husband and wife when they discovered she was pregnant with Jesus. Joseph was a simple carpenter and such a scandal would have been disruptive to his life. He was a good man who saw only one solution to the situation, until God spoke.
Read Matthew 1:18-25
Joseph was from the house of David; he was a descendent of the great king to whom God made the promise of an eternal kingdom. Joseph was selected by God to be Jesus’ earthly father, the man to raise him in the ways of righteousness and through whom Jesus also became a son of David. Jesus was to be the promised Messiah.
Joseph’s dream revealed more about this son who was to be born. Many years had passed since God had made the promises to His children. There was plenty of time for them to become confused about the purpose of His coming. They expected the Son of David to save them from the Romans, to set them free to be an independent nation. They expected the Messiah to be a mighty warrior, a great king. But the Lord sent Jesus to do far more. He was to be the incarnation of the Living God, God in flesh born to save the people from their sins.
Joseph obeyed God’s words – he took Mary as his wife and raised Jesus as his own son. He had him circumcised as was prescribed in the Law. When the child was in danger, Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt according to God’s command to protect him from the slaughter in Bethlehem. He took his family to the temple in Jerusalem for Passover each year. He was a good father to the young Jesus who would grow into the Savior of the world.
The symbol for Joseph is a carpenter’s square. Joseph built things for people though the details of his life and work are unknown to us. God chose Joseph to be Jesus’ earthly father, the one who would build Jesus into the man He became. Jesus was God in flesh, but He was also a human being. Through the mentoring, teaching and loving of His earthly father, Jesus was raised in knowledge of the Law and Prophets, He knew how to work with His hands and to be a responsible adult. The LORD chose Joseph to be part of the life of Jesus and as such he became part of the redemptive process. Our Lord Jesus also chose us to be part of His plan. We join with Him as He builds new Christians by His word and grace. Thanks be to God.
Journey This is the time of year for journeys. For some, the journey is to a neighbor’s house for a party or down the street to a relative for Christmas dinner. For others, the journey is much longer – a plane flight to another state to go home for the holidays. For many people, even a trip to the mall to go Christmas shopping is a journey. Some trips are easy, they bring such excitement and are filled with love and joy. Other trips are more of a burden, are taken out of a sense of duty, guilt or tradition. Some journeys have wonderful endpoints but are difficult to take – construction delays, bad weather and crowded airports all make a journey difficult.
For the past twenty-three days we have been on a journey. We have followed the story of God’s chosen people from the beginning until the time of the promise. We have traveled through the lives of the people God used to bring us to the moment of our redemption. We have enjoyed their triumphs and suffered their hardships. It hasn’t been an easy journey, long readings and little time has made it tough to discipline ourselves for this Advent experience. We don’t always like to hear these stories, to know how quickly we can turn from God or how selfish our lives can be. We don’t understand why God does what He does and most of the journey does not make sense. Yet, we have come to the moment when it all comes together – the promises will be fulfilled and the prophecies understood. Jesus Christ is coming! But to get to that moment, there is one more journey to travel.
Read Luke 2:1-5
We complain about a two-hour wait at the airport and some bad roads along our journeys. But imagine what it must have been like for Mary, nine months pregnant riding a donkey for a three-day journey. It seems quite odd that this journey would be necessary. Why didn’t Joseph go alone? Why did the Romans decide at that moment to do a census when they had gone so long without one? Yet, even this difficult journey fulfilled another prophecy, for the child was born in Bethlehem according to the words the prophet Micah spoke. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2, NIV)
Our banner symbol for today is a scroll, representing the parchment of Caesar’s proclamations. We are reminded that God’s Word is true and that He often uses the most unwilling participants to fulfill His plan. Caesar had no idea that he was chosen for that moment to cause Mary and Joseph to be exactly where they needed to be for the birth of their son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The journey was difficult for them both, but they got there by God’s mercy and survived the most horrible conditions by God’s grace. All this was for our sake, so that Jesus would begin an even greater journey to die on the cross for our sins.
We don’t always enjoy the journeys we take. Our visits home, the places where we live for our jobs or education are sometimes difficult to endure. We grumble about every inconvenience and hope something better will come along very soon. Yet, just like the census put Mary and Joseph exactly where God wanted them to be, in Bethlehem so that Jesus would be born in the house of David, so too God will use these experiences for His glory. May God grant us the peace to take every journey with joy and expectation. Thanks be to God.
He is born! What an extraordinary journey we have taken these past few weeks. We have witnessed the lives of the people of God through good times and bad. We have rejoiced over their successes and wept with them over their failures. We have wandered alongside those lost in the wilderness and settled into the Promised Land as God’s promises were fulfilled. It is truly an extraordinary story with extraordinary people. But are the people really that different than you and I? No, they were just men and women whom God chose to be part of His story. They were created, called, blessed and sent. They sinned against God and were forgiven by His grace. They suffered the consequences of their sin and received the mercy of God. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jonah, Habakkuk, Malachi, John, Mary, Joseph and their family were all normal men and women who heard the voice of God and followed.
It is not the people that make this story extraordinary, but the story itself. God, the Lord God Almighty and the Creator of the Universe, saw fit to use the ordinary things He created to point toward His Salvation. The symbols we saw these past few weeks – the dove, fruit tree, rainbow, stars, ram, ladder, bag of gold, burning bush, kneading bowl, tablets of stone, ram’s horn, water jar, lyre, altar, tongs with burning coal, crown, stalks of grain, great fish, watchtower, sun, scallop shell, lily, carpenter’s square and scroll – may not be every day items for each of us, but they are created things which remind us of the love and mercy of God. These ordinary people with their ordinary lives using the ordinary things of this earth all point us to the most extraordinary thing. The Lord God Almighty humbled Himself and became flesh to be the sacrifice for our sin and reconcile us to Himself. Those ordinary people point toward the most extraordinary story, the salvation of God the fulfillment of His promises.
Read Luke 2:6-20
The story does not end here, for the Lord Jesus ministered to many people during His life on earth. The story does not end at the cross, where He was finally crucified for our sins. The story does not even end at the resurrection, when our Lord Jesus Christ was raised from the dead so that we can have eternal life with Him for eternity, reconciled to God through faith in Him. No, the story continues today through more ordinary people that God has chosen to share the Good News. On a hillside many years ago, the shepherds first heard the proclamation of the angels that Jesus had been born. They did not sit there pondering the message; they ran to find the baby, to worship Him. Then, they shared the message with others. They praised God and spread the word.
The symbol for today is the manger and the star, two more ordinary things that help us to see how extraordinary our God really is. He humbled Himself, not only by being born into flesh and blood for us, but also by being born into the most humble circumstances. And He announced His birth to the entire world, through that star the appeared over the stable.
People like the ones we have seen on this Advent journey – the patriarchs, kings and prophets, Mary and Joseph and those shepherds – were all witnesses, sharing Jesus with us so that we might live in the same peace they had with God. With such Good News, who can be silent? May the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, fill you this special day and may you too spread the word of the child who is born to fulfill all promises – Emmanuel, God with us. Thanks be to God.
Finished Christmas is over, all that is left is the clean-up. Our living room is a mess, with packages and scraps of paper all over the floor. The dishes are clean, but there are still a few signs of our holiday festivities in the kitchen. The decorations are a bit worse for the wear – the outside lights have been blown by the storms, the tree met its match when the cat knocked it over. There is no more shopping to be done, presents to be wrapped or parties to attend. For the world, Christmas is over for another year. When everything is put away, they will not even remember that a baby was born. Even our Advent journey is complete. We’ve seen the entire story of God and His people from the beginning. Yet, for Christians, Christmas is not the end result. For us, the story has only just begun.
Read John 1:1-14
Our Lord Jesus Christ was not born so that we can celebrate His birth and then pack Him away in a box until next year. He has come to save the world. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the light, the life, the way, and the truth. He is our Redeemer. He is our hope and our peace. Without Christ, we can have no love, no joy. There are some Christians who question the whole idea of celebrating Christmas. They feel that Christ is lost in the hullabaloo a long time ago and that it is just a pagan holiday. In some ways they are right. Too many people consider Santa more important than the Nativity, presents more important than love. And when the season is over, we go on with our lives as if nothing special happened. Yet, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is not the end of our story, it is just the beginning. It is the means by which God gave us His Son through whom we have our salvation. Jesus is not someone to remember just in December, He is the living Lord of our lives, our Redeemer and friend.
Unfortunately, the spirit of Christmas is a fleeting feeling. The joy of the holidays is overcome by the concerns of the world. The generosity of the season is bound up by credit card debt. Those who were faithful to attend worship services will take a break until Easter because they did their duty through December. Even many Christians have had enough of Jesus for the moment. He is a reason to celebrate in December but that is the extent of their faith. But Jesus cannot be put in a box and He shouldn’t be forgotten now that the season is over.
How will we face the world today? Will we pack Jesus away with the ornaments and tinsel, just like the rest of the world, or will we remember His mercy every morning? For many people the discipline of daily reading through Advent is a new experience. Will it end now that Christmas is over, or will we all try to find the time to continue the habit that God has helped us build this season? As Christians we do have to move past the manger and the child that is born and look toward the Lord Jesus who shed his blood for our sake. Yet, I pray that the sweet spirit of Christmas – the joy, the generosity and the faith – will remain strong in each of you as you face the world today and tomorrow. Jesus is with us as much today as He was in that manger so many years ago, and He will be with us forever. Thanks be to God.
Forgiveness It is hard to believe that we are nearing the end of another year. Time passes so quickly and we have experienced so many things – good and bad. Several weeks ago, as I wrote our annual Christmas letter, I had a difficult time keeping it brief! I have enjoyed the newsy letters that were enclosed in the cards we received this year, telling us all about the wonderful things that have happened. A few notes were less joyful; at least one friend did not want to relive the year by writing it. As I wrote our note, there were a few things I did not wish to share, so I do understand their desire to put those things behind them and begin anew.
As we come to the end of the year, I wonder if there are things from your own experiences that need to be put behind. Are there people who need to be forgiven? Are there relationships that need reconciliation? Are there actions that need confession and repentance? Through Advent we considered the failings of God’s people and how God was able to use them to point toward His forgiveness. There is no better time than the present to apply those stories to our own lives and let God deal with our own failings. We may not be able to find the exact answers to our specific problems, but we see how those people of faith turned to the Lord to deal with their problems. Jesus came to bring reconciliation between God and His people and in the forgiveness we have from the blood of Christ we are able to forgive those who have harmed us – including ourselves. Forgiveness brings reconciliation, and that is what the Lord desires for His Creation. So, we look to the Bible for examples of how to deal with our problems.
Read 2 Corinthians 2:5-11
We are approaching another new year. The television news programs and other shows will look back on this year and remember the big events that have affected all our lives. This is a good time for each of us to look back on our own experiences and consider what ways we have failed and what ways we have succeeded to live according the God’s Word. Are there relationships that need healing? Are there people who need forgiveness? Are there actions that need to be confessed so that you can be reconciled with those you love?
Paul was writing to the Corinthians about someone who had committed a serious offense against the people. They were quick to push that person away, to attack and punish him for his sin. We do the same when someone hurts us. It is so easy to jump on the bandwagon and continue negative responses to those who sin. Once we set ourselves on that path, it is difficult to turn it around. We don’t want anyone to think we are being tolerant of his sin or provide encouragement for similar actions. So, we hold fast to our pain and keep punishing those who sin. Yet, Paul tells the Corinthians to forgive this sinner. He says that the man has suffered enough. He tells them to comfort him and lift him up so that he won’t become depressed. What we do not realize is how quickly Satan will grasp onto our negative responses and use them to deceive God’s children and turn them away from the Lord. When we forgive, we keep our eyes on Jesus, knowing that He has forgiven us all our transgressions. Let us do the same before the end of 2002, so that we can be reconciled to all as we enter into a new year. Thanks be to God.
Innocents The Bible really does not give us very much information about the birth and childhood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We hear the story of the Virgin Mary conceiving a child by the power of the Holy Spirit and the story of Joseph, her betrothed who takes her hand at the word of God despite the scandal it would cause. We hear of the journey to Bethlehem, the birth in a lowly stable and the visit by the shepherds. In the coming days, we’ll see wise men visit and to worship the newborn king and honor Him with incredible gifts. We will see Jesus circumcised according to the Law of Moses and we will see Him in the temple as a twelve-year-old boy. But that is all we know about our Lord as a child. The rest of the story is when he has reached adulthood and is in ministry.
Today we remember one of the most horrible stories that surround the birth of Jesus. Herod, the king of the Jews, heard the rumor that wise men were seeking out a child, “that has been born king of the Jews.” Though he was an old man and he was just a puppet ruler of the Romans, he was afraid this new child king would take his throne away. So he called in the wise men to discover the place where the king was born. His priests were aware of the same prophecies that the king would be born in Bethlehem, so he sent the wise men to that town to find the baby. “As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” But Herod had a different plan. God knew the heart of Herod and interceded on Jesus’ behalf.
Read Matthew 2:13-23
King Herod feared the birth of the baby Jesus because the stars and signs showed that He was born to be king of the Jews. Herod ordered the all the male children under two years old to be killed. Jesus was saved from this fate and rose to deliver the world out of the bondage of sin. Once again, we live in a time when children are being killed because of the fear and selfishness of man. Abortion, abuse and gangs are destroying innocent children every day. Some of these children die physically, but many die emotionally and spiritually. We are all selfish in some ways. Do any of our own actions affect the lives of those who are around us, whether they are children or adults? How does our selfishness, greed or violence harm the innocents who cross our path?
On this day we remember the children who perished at the hands of King Herod on that horrible day so long ago. Many children died because Herod was afraid of losing his throne. What he did not understand is that our Lord Jesus Christ was not born to rule as an earthly king, but He was bring forgiveness to us, to transform our lives and reconcile us to God our Father. As we recall those innocent lives lost, we should also remember the children who perish every day in the violence and selfishness of this world. Even more so, let us pray that God will kill the vices in our lives that affect those around us, that we won’t bring harm to others through our selfishness. May God help us to understand that His live brings us peace and that we should not fear His presence in this world because He brings only good things. Thanks be to God.
I will not be posting "A Word for Today" for the next few days. We are leaving this afternoong for a trip to Memphis, to watch as Vicki performs at halftime during the Liberty Bowl. The game will air on ESPN at 230 Central time on December 31. Vicki will be the cute red-headed baton twirler wearing a red costume. The star attraction for the day is Clint Black. The game is between Colorado State and Texas Christian. Please join with me in prayer that the bad weather system expected for our area in the next two days will pass so that the girls will have an enjoyable time in the parade on Monday and at the game on Tuesday. I pray you will have a blessed and safe New Year's celebration. I will see you next year!
Bowl Game We have been very busy these past few months, hasn’t everyone? We had the normal schedule of home, work, school and special events for Christmas. On top of that we have been preparing for a very special trip for our daughter Vicki. Her baton group and some dancers from her dance school have been invited to perform at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The invitation came rather late in the fall, leaving us little time for preparation, both physically and financially. At first I cringed every time there was something to buy or something to do. But as each opportunity arose, there was always plenty to give. Somehow we were able to get from one place to another and there was always enough money to pay the bills and share our wealth. It has been exhausting, but it is almost over. Perhaps next year will be easier.
Unfortunately, over my lifetime I have had to learn the same lesson over and over – keep God first in mind, and everything else will fall in place. It seems like such a silly lesson to have to learn again; of course God is first in my life. And yet, He’s not always first in my mind. That’s why we worry – we keep our mind focused on the wrong things, the things we can’t fix or change or do anything about. So, early in this season when it seemed like there was no time to do the things we needed to do or money to share, we left out some of the important things. Our usual Advent practices were set aside and forgotten. We never found time as a family to read the stories. If the four of us could not get together, we just skipped it. We felt like we were missing something and we worried about everything. Though it is better to do these things as a family, we finally found the time to read the stories because we realized that we could still do it in pairs or individually so that we could remember our Lord and prepare for Christmas in our hearts.
It is unfortunate as we go through life that the things of God often get put aside so we can deal with the things of life. When we are hungry, we put our money into buying food and promise God we will feed the poor when we have more cash. We work hard to keep a roof over our heads and promise God we will put more time into our prayer and bible study when we catch up on our bills. Even churches are quick to reduce the stewardship budget when the light bill must be paid. And yet through times like this, I always learn that when God is first in our mind and in our actions, everything else falls in place.
Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
The Macedonian church knew that God was with them, so even though they were poverty stricken, they still found gifts to give to others. They did not give out of duty, as a burden, but out of the joy of their salvation given by God in Christ Jesus.
For most of us reading these words, our poverty is not financial. In our busy world today, we are poor in time. Many people are beginning to talk about their New Year’s resolutions. Some will promise to lose weight or be more responsible with their money. Others will resolve to spend more time with their kids or read the books that are gathering dust on their bookshelves. In years past I’ve heard many say, “I want to spend more quiet time with the Lord.” But they do not know how they will find the time. It is easy to advise them to get up early, but most already have early days. After a long day, quiet time in the evening just leads to a nap on the couch. We come up with a million excuses so God gets put on the back burner. We put our needs before God, and we end up worrying and regretting that we can’t spend more time with Him. But when God is first in our minds, as well as our hearts, everything we need is made available so that we can joyfully live life to its fullest. Thanks be to God.
No Word posted.
No Word posted.