You are welcome to use the writings on these pages or pass them on to others who might find a touch from God in the words. Our purpose is always to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. Please remember to give credit to the Author who has given you everything, and keep in remembrance the vessel which He used to bring these words to you. We pray that this site may be a blessing to you and anyone with whom its been shared. All rights reserved. Peggy Hoppes
Christian Bible Study Pages
Travel PagesSalisbury Plain
Our Lord is so good, He grants us many blessings. We can see Him in the daily course of events, in our homes, our jobs, our lives. I pray that these words help you to grow in your faith and recognize His hand in even the most mundane circumstances.
The picture to the right is of a Celtic Chapel located in Cornwall England. This building is approximately 1700 years old, and contains a holy well known for its healing powers.
(Click for enlarged)
Christ is the reason for the season, and the world waits expectantly through Advent for the coming of the King. In every country, people are preparing for feasts and festivals, they are decorating and baking according to their own traditions. It can be a very busy time for everyone. Instead of my normal devotions for the next twenty-five days, I will be editing and rerunning a series on Christmas traditions from many nations around the world that I originally wrote in 2003. As we journey through Advent with our brothers and sisters who are walking this journey with us, let us give to God our own traditions and live them for Him.
ďBe therefore imitators of God, as beloved children. Walk in love, even as Christ also loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance.Ē Ephesians 5:1-2, WEB
Music plays a very important role all over the world during Christmas celebrations. Christians carol in the streets, there are choral services at church and singing around the fireplace. When we join together in song, we worship and praise the God who loves so much as to give His Son for the sake of the world. We all have our favorite Christmas carols that we enjoy hearing, both religious and all the other fun songs that have come out of the season.
One old time favorite is the song about Good King Wenceslas. This song is based on the real life of a king of Bohemia, located in what is now known as Czechoslovakia. As the story is told, King Wenceslas was a kind and good man, a believer in Christ our Lord. His mother despised his faith, and his brother killed him because of it. He is the patron saint of Czechoslovakia. In the song we hear the story of an act of kindness by the king. He saw a poor man trying to locate wood for his small hearth in the dead of winter. The king gathered a feast and traveled through a blizzard to feed the hungry man. When his page became cold, the king told him to follow in his footsteps, for there he would find the way easier. The page found warmth in his master's footprints and was able to go on. Thus, we hear the message of Christ, when we follow in Christís footsteps we find blessings we cannot imagine.
Wenceslas lived in the 10th century, in a castle that was near Prague. Though the castle is long gone, there is a tree that was supposedly planted on the day of his birth and watered with his bath water. He was young when he became duke, so his mother ruled as his regent. She refused to give up her power, hated Christians, and persecuted them. She was overthrown, but Wenceslas always struggled against those who were displeased by his desire to share his Christian faith. He only ruled five years and was murdered in 929.
The Christmas celebration in Czechoslovakia is a quiet and peaceful time with the activities revolving around church activities. Families attend a Pasterka, a midnight mass on Christmas Eve to welcome the Christ child. They fast for a day and then feast on cod roe soup. The Christmas celebration lasts for three days. The young girls practice one unusual tradition; they put cherry twigs in water on December 4th. If the twig blooms before Christmas, the girl will be married in the next year. St. Nicholas, known in Czechoslovakia as Svaty Mikalas, visits the homes of good boys and girls. He comes to earth by climbing down a golden rope with an angel and the devil. Bad children receive switches from the devil. They come on St. Nicholas Day, which is December 6.
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Lectionary Scriptures for December 4, 2022, Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
ďIt will happen in that day that the nations will seek the root of Jesse, who stands as a banner of the peoples; and his resting place will be glorious.Ē Isaiah 11:10, WEB
When we moved into our house in California, we walked around the lot planning our landscaping. We talked about which bushes to plant and were to put flowers. We talked about pruning the trees and removing the old, dead plants. In the front corner, a very prominent spot, we noticed a plant that was perplexing. It was a stick, a single branch sticking straight out of the ground. It looked ridiculous. We thought about removing it, but since we didnít know what it was we decided to leave it there until the spring to see what it would do.
We were so glad we did. By the next spring we realized that we had a treasure. It was a white lilac. Lilacs are not typically found in the Sacramento valley, and white lilacs are even rarer. By the time we left that house, our lilac bush had spread and was so beautiful that many of our friends begged us for cuttings to plant in their own gardens. We didnít know what to do and we didnít have the Internet back then, but we discovered that lilacs propagate by spreading the root system and then sending shoots through the surface of the earth. We were able to dig down and cut through the root system, pulling out each shoot which could then be replanted anywhere. For a moment our friends had a single stick somewhere in their yards, but they too ended up with big, beautiful bushes.
Sadly, the people who bought our house saw no value in the lilac bush. We heard from a neighbor that they parked an old car on top of it. Thankfully, the lilac was not lost forever because we were able to share those shoots with others.
In the beginning, Israel was little more than that lilac bush, barely a branch sticking out of the ground. God blessed Israel, and she became a great nation. Throughout her history, however, there were many who saw her as nothing of value, driven over and destroyed. Israelís troubles were not always caused by other nations; sometimes she suffered from self-inflicted wounds. The kings did not live according to Godís Word. The people chased after false gods. They were caught up in their own lusts. They lost sight of the God who was their Creator and Father.
But God continued to bless Israel; He was faithful to His promises. Every few generations saw a king that remembered God and they repented. At times God allowed Israelís enemies to overwhelm them, and each time the people turned back to Him. They cried out to Him, and He answered. The priests offered sacrifices, the people sought forgiveness, and God had mercy. Those sacrifices and the forgiveness they gained were not lasting, however. The priests had to repeatedly offer the sacrifices in the Temple, regularly returning on the Day of Atonement to seek Godís grace for another year.
From the beginning, God knew that He would have to do something permanent. Human nature is fickle. We will always turn from God if we follow our own paths. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we try to become our own gods. But human beings cannot be gods. We are perishable. We make mistakes. We sin. On our own we will always make choices based on our flesh, we will follow our fickle hearts, and we will always find that those choices will lead us back to the place where we have to cry out to God for salvation. We think that making a sacrifice will make everything right, but that turns our faith inward and we end up trusting in our own works.
God knew human nature, and He planned from the beginning a way of overcoming our weakness. Jesus was the plan all along, and we see the promise of Him throughout the Old Testament scriptures. During Advent we look at these promises and we see Christ woven into the whole plan of God. He will be the King of kings. He will be the Lord of lords. He will be the final sacrifice that restores Godís people to Him forever.
One of my favorite Advent traditions is the Jesse Tree, which comes from the first verse in todayís Old Testament lesson. The Jesse Tree is a daily remembrance of the roots of Jesusí life and heritage, from the beginning of time to His birth. He is the shoot that comes out of Jesse. Though different scriptures and people are used in different traditions, the stories include the creation of the world, the patriarchs, judges and kings, the prophets, and the people who were present at Jesusí birth.
It seems odd that it would be called a Jesse Tree. Why wouldnít it be called a Jesus Tree, since it is his family tree? Or why not be a David Tree, since Jesus is the fulfillment to the promises made to King David? The prophet reminds us that the promise was made to David long before Jesus was born. David was the son of Jesse, the first in the line of kings that would last forever. ďHe will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.Ē (2 Samuel 7:13) He was imperfect, but he was loved as a son by God and the promise was irrevocable. Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of that promise, and during this Advent season we await His coming.
God had a plan from the beginning, and this text shows us how God pointed toward the promise throughout the story of His people. The shoot came out of the stump of Jesse reminding us that Jesusí roots go much deeper than David.
Jesusí roots go back to the beginning of time. He was there; Christ was the Word that was spoken when God created the sun and the moon and the stars. Jesus was there in the promise of the baptism to come after the flood of Noah. Jesus was in the hearts of the patriarchs, judges, and kings as God guided them. The righteousness of those in the Old Testament who trusted God was theirs by faith, and Jesus is in the midst of any faith that focuses on the Father. Jesus was in the words of the prophets who proclaimed that one day there would be a King who is Lord over all. Jesus was with them all even though He had not yet been born. The Jesse Tree not only shows us the story of God; it shows us the character of Jesus, the one who is, was, and will be forever.
We live in a broken world; it is not as God intended it to be. So, He promised that He would provide a Messiah who would make all things right. The images in todayís Old Testament lesson seem unbelievable to us. The lion will lie with the lamb? Impossible! I have a friend who spent several weeks in Africa on a photo safari. He managed to get photos of what lions do: they kill their prey, and they eat whatever they catch. A lamb could not possibly survive a lion encounter.
This image is one of the most common religious Christmas card designs. This beautiful image brings to mind the ideal peace for which we hope during this special season. It is a peace without violence and fear, where the strong stand with the weak. This is what it will be like during the reign of the Messiah. The lamb will lie with the lion, the bull and the bear will eat together. The world will be at peace; there will be no more enemies, no more hunter and prey. This is a world we long to experience, but it is a world that will not come by means of flesh and blood. Only Jesus can fulfill this promise. As we wait the coming of the Christ child, we are reminded by this text that we also await a second coming, for only in that advent will everything come into fruition.
That time is not now. A few years ago, a lion became aggressive with one of the caretakers in our local zoo. The man was injured but recovered quickly from the incident. After it happened, everyone asked the question, ďWhat happened?Ē They wanted to know what would have made the normally mild cat attack the man who was there to take care of him. The problem was not with the lion. The man made a mistake. The caretakers follow a very specific pattern when taking care of the animals. They do not do their work when the animal is in the habitat. The man had carefully ensured the animal was penned while he worked, according to the instructions.
He let the animal free when he was done, but then noticed that he forgot to close a door. He thought he could sneak in the habitat, close the door and get back out without the lion seeing him. He was wrong. The man did something that the lion did not expect. He felt threatened and so he used his strength and skills to protect himself. Lions only attack when they feel threatened or hungry. Thatís why the animals in a zoo are well fed and why the caretakers are so cautious when they do their work.
I love watching the lions in the habitat at our zoo. We currently have three: a male and female pair and one of their cubs. It is a joy to see them lazing around the habitat and playing games. They seem so harmless, like the kitties who keep us company at home. However, the photos from my friendís trip make it clear that they are not harmless. Lions can bring down much larger animals in a matter of minutes. Their claws and teeth are deadly. One bite from their strong jaws would render a lamb lifeless.
That is why the image in todayís Old Testament lesson is so startling and yet comforting to us. We might think that the sheep or the goat would not stand a chance against the wolf or the leopard, but Isaiah looks forward to a time when the animals will live in harmony. It will be as it was in the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve destroyed the harmony of creation by trying to be like God. Their sin brought grief to the entire creation and now the animals face hunger and thirst, threats and danger. Even the animals were forced to live in conflict with one another by the sin that broke paradise.
One of the effects of sin in our broken world is that we tend to make judgments about our neighbors. We make judgments all the time, often without even realizing it. I am really bad when Iím driving. I confess that I grumble at the other drivers on the road and call them names. One time I was on a highway when a semi, disobeying all the rules, wove in and out of traffic. He used the far-left lane, which was prohibited for that type of vehicle. He cut off multiple cars, including mine. It wasnít worth the risk because the traffic was bad that day and he didnít get much farther than me. His antics were frightening, so much so that I slowed significantly to let him get far ahead. I didnít want to be in the accident he could possibly cause.
I made a judgment. It was probably a good judgment; it may have even been a lifesaving one. Sometimes, sadly, we make judgments because we are annoyed or inconvenienced, or based on our biases and experiences. I do this often. I often make judgments about public figures who donít live up to the standards I think should be kept. I make judgments about the people I hear on the news or see on the streets. I make all sorts of judgments about my neighbors. I even make judgments about fictional characters in movies or books. ďI canít believe they would do it that way,Ē I think to myself.
We all make judgments, both good and bad. We make judgments that are helpful and others that are not so helpful. The judgment of a court can transform someone who is on a wrong path; other judgments can cause people to rebel or retreat. Judgments can help, or they can hurt. Thatís why we are warned to be careful about how we judge our neighbors. I judged that truck driver because I knew that dangerous driving could hurt others. However, some judgments just arenít right. Too often we judge people for all the wrong reasons, because they donít live up to our expectations, but we donít know the motives of their hearts. Though it might be wrong, we can harm them by the way we cast our judgment on them. We judge based on our senses, because of what we see and hear, but we never have enough information to judge them righteously. We have limitations.
Isaiah described the perfect leader, the shoot that would come. This leader has wisdom, understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear. Perhaps this sounds redundant, after all, isnít wisdom, understanding and knowledge the same thing? No. Wisdom is the ability to discern between right and wrong, good and bad. Understanding comes from the heart, being able to identify with the circumstances. Knowledge is having the facts. A good judge has all three. A good judge also accepts counsel, heeding the advice of those who might have a better grasp of the situation. Might, or strength, means authority and power, and when used appropriately can provide justice. Fear is not meant to be understood in terms of a bad horror movie, but as a state of awe for the One who truly rules. A good leader will be all these things.
Isaiah says, ďHe will not judge by the sight of his eyes, neither decide by the hearing of his ears.Ē Human judges have limitations. We judge by the sight of our eyes and decide by the hearing of our ears. We also make mistakes. We are not always as wise, understanding, or knowledgeable as we should be. We fail to listen to good advice; we take advantage of our power in inappropriate ways. We donít always fear God as we should.
A good leader will be righteous. This means he or she will have a right relationship with God, having a heart to do what God would do. A good leader is faithful, keeping all his promises. Can you imagine what the world would look like if we had leaders that are wise, understanding and knowledgeable, who accept right counsel and proper authority, and who fear God? Can you imagine if we had leaders that were righteous and faithful in all things according to Godís Word? We might have leaders that display one or more of these characteristics, but it seems like none truly fit the bill.
Only one, Jesus Christ, will ever be the perfect leader. During Advent we await His coming. As Christians we know He arrived more than two thousand years ago, but even as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we are called to live in the hope of His second coming. During Advent we await the shoot of Jesse that was promised by God through the prophet Isaiah to fulfill the promise for eternity.
Paul wrote of the harmony that exists in a kingdom where God rules. Like the promise in Isaiah, the people join together as one voice, glorifying God. We canít do it without Godís help. Jesus came at Christmas as a down payment on the promise, to give us a glimpse of what it will be in the day when He rules over all. Until that day we dwell in the tension of Advent. We know Christ has come. We know the Kingdom of God is near, but we still long for Christ to come again. We are still waiting for the king who will bring peace to the earth so that the lion will lie with the lamb and the powerful will stand with the powerless. We live in this hope even while we see the disharmony of the world that surrounds us each day, the disharmony of which we are a part. That disharmony comes because we do not judge righteously. This is why we need to be continually reminded to repent, because we fail to live according to Godís Word.
Paul reminds us of the promise from Isaiah so that we can live in hope and joy today. ďNow may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.Ē This joy and peace wonít come from our work. It is a gift of God. When we live in this hope, we can find harmony where there is disharmony.
There will come a day when the entire world is in harmony again. The lion and the leopards will lie with the sheep and the goats. There will be no need for animals to kill, for they will be satisfied by Godís provision. In that day even human beings will live in harmony with one another. No longer will men and women harm others for the sake of some unnatural desire. There will be no need for war or hatred. We will be restored to our God and will live in His presence for eternity; we wonít have need of anything because God will provide. Our work will be praising God and our joy will be lasting. It is no wonder that we sigh with anticipation, especially since our human leaders so often fail us.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the leaders of Godís people in Johnís time. We hear the voice of the one calling in the wilderness in the Gospel lesson from Matthew, ďRepent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!Ē John the Baptist knew that the leaders were not taking care of Godís people. Israelís history was riddled with leaders who sought their own righteousness, their own power, their own glory. They were called to rule with justice and peace, but they failed. Nothing was different in Johnís day. John spoke to those that had followed him into the wilderness and asked, ďWho told you to come here?Ē The Pharisees and the Sadducees had their history, the same history we read in the Old Testament prophecies, but they did not understand.
John promised the coming of the One who has wisdom, understanding, knowledge, authority, righteousness, faithfulness, and a humble relationship with His Father. He would come and He will make all things right. He would baptize with more than water and feed us with more than bread and wine. He would give us His Spirit and remove from our lives the imperfections that bring us down. It wonít happen overnight. It wonít happen in the next few weeks. Itíll take a lifetime or more; it will happen in Godís time.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees went to the river because they were curious about John. They wanted to know if he was claiming to be the Messiah. They wanted to squelch his ministry before it got out of control. They wanted to destroy him. John was talking to them when he said ďYou offspring of vipers,Ē but his word cuts to our hearts too. We have our facades, our masks, our sins from which we must repent. We are arrogant and haughty. We do not bear the fruit worthy of repentance. We judge according to what we see and hear rather than according to Godís Word. This is why we remember Johnís call for repentance each year, calling us to prepare the way of the Lord. Though Christ has already come, we are still longing for the fulfillment of the promise of a world fully restored to God. We remain sinners even while we are saints. We have been baptized with the Spirit, but we still need daily repentance.
We dwell in a time between the already and the not yet. We know that the Christ child has come, but we wait for Him to come again as King. We know that Christ has died, but we wait until that day when the forgiveness that came with His blood is fully realized. We wait for that which already is but is yet to be.
The psalmist prays that God will give the king justice, that he will dwell in Godís righteousness. Every good and perfect thing that can come to a nation and a people begins with the goodness of the king. Todayís psalm was written by Solomon; during his reign the nation of Israel prospered. He had a heart for God, he desired wisdom, he pursued justice and God gave a golden age to the land. The world sought Solomonís wisdom and the kingdom benefitted because Solomon stood as a leader and the people followed. They did what was right. They listened to his wisdom, experienced his understanding, sought out his knowledge. They respected authority and had a healthy awe of the Lord. Together they lived in Godís blessing.
But even Solomon was not perfect, and his kingdom didnít last forever. The offspring of Jesse - David, Solomon and the kings that followed - failed to be all that God intended for His kingdom. Only Jesus could fulfill the promise. Only when Jesus rules the entire will peace abound and righteousness flourish. Until that day, however, we can try to be wise, understanding, knowledgeable, seeking counsel and might, fearing the Lord. Perhaps, just maybe, weíll experience a little bit of that promised peace.
The world as God created it to be will not be restored until the second coming of Jesus Christ. One day the promise in Isaiah will be fulfilled. Until that day, the lion will not lie with the lamb. However, in Christ we can live in harmony with one another, the powerful with the powerless. We still live in an age of repentance as we wait for the coming of our King. In the meantime, we can work for justice, caring for the poor and the weak. We can be heralds of Godís grace, proclaiming the coming of the kingdom so that others might prepare their hearts to receive Him now. Through our witness, God will be glorified in this world.
The following links provide some specially chosen scripture that tell the stories of the Birth and Passion of our Lord as Saviour Jesus Christ, as well as a fictional perspective of the Crucifixion. Spend time in God's Word, read about His life and learn of the wonderful gifts He has for you. Know Jesus Christ and honour Him today. Thanks be to God.
When researching, I use several versions of the bible, including the New International Version and English Standard Version. Due to copyright restrictions, I have not included quotes for the scriptures on some of the archives, but highly encourage you to open your own bibles to read the scripture passages for yourselves. Where scripture is quoted, it is usually the American Standard Version or World English Bible which belong to the public domain. Any other versions used in quotes are identified.
The devotion posted on Wednesday is based on the Lectionary texts used by millions of Christians each Sunday. The Lectionary consists of four texts: an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, a passage from one of the Epistles and a Gospel text and follows the church calendar. Archives for these writings are found at Midweek Oasis.
You are welcome to use these words to share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. Please remember to give credit to the Author who has given you these gifts, and keep in remembrance the vessel which He used to bring them to you. We pray that this site may be a blessing to you and anyone with whom you've shared it. Peggy Hoppes