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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)

A WORD FOR TODAY, December 6, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for December 10, 2023, Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

“The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness; but he is patient with us, not wishing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9, WEB

The beginning of the Good News... This is how Mark began his record of the Gospel story of Jesus Christ. The verse sounds more like a title than the first sentence of the book, and it is. When Mark says, “The beginning,” he is telling us that what he has written is the beginning of something God has done in the world. The story of Jesus cannot be limited to a few pages in a book, it is a story that began two thousand years ago and continues today. Mark’s story does not even end with his final word. Some original manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel end at 16:8, which says, “They went out, and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come on them. They said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid.” This ending leaves us with a question in our mind, “What would you do?” Would you tell the story? Will you tell the story? Mark wrote “The beginning,” but that story continues today as each new believer hears and believes. It continues today and will continue into the future, as long as it is God's will. It will only end on that great Day of the Lord for which we wait, preparing as we've been encouraged over the past few weeks.

Mark’s story does not have a clear ending, but it also begins differently than the other Gospel writers. He does not begin with the birth of Jesus. Mark did not consider the nativity of Jesus to be an important aspect of the story; he was laying down the vital facts. It is thought that Mark was recording the story from Peter’s point of view. Just imagine how it must have been for the early Christians. The disciples spent many hours together in the home of Mark’s mother (Acts 12:12) after Jesus ascended to heaven. This place may have even been the same room where they ate the Last Supper with Jesus. Mark, who was much younger than the rest of the disciples, most likely overheard all their conversations.

What do you think they talked about in those first days of the Church as they gathered together in that room? They told stories. They shared memories. They wondered about the meaning of the signs and the miracles. They remembered everything Jesus taught them. They probably told the same stories over and over again. And Mark listened. He put them together so that they would not be forgotten. He ordered them in a way that made sense. Most of all, he laid down the facts that were remembered by the disciples, particularly through the eyes of Peter. Eventually Mark’s tale was written onto paper so that it would not be lost to time or to death.

Unfortunately, the early Christians were dying. The first witnesses got older by the day. Most of the Apostles and many others were martyred for their faith, but there were also many who were dying of old age. They were looking and waiting for the second coming of Christ and believed they would see it happen, but then they began to die. What would happen to the believers who did not make it to the Great Day of the Lord? They were worried, but they were also faithful, realizing the importance of passing the story on to the next generation. They knew God would keep His promises, even if it didn’t happen in their time. They put the stories to paper so that the next generation, and every generation following, would know it and believe.

Peter wrote to a people who were hopeful for Christ’s return. They were expecting Him back at any moment. They may have even begun to doubt the words of Jesus because it seemed to be taking so long. They wondered where He might be and why He was late. There were, I’m sure, some who were trying to find a way to hasten His coming. It has certainly been done over the past two thousand years. Even today some are doing what they think will bring Jesus quickly. Prophets have tried to foretell the time and day when the Lord would come, and cults have worked to spur God to fulfill His promises. Every generation since Peter’s day has waited for and tried to hasten the coming of the Lord.

Our focus over the past few weeks has been redundant. We’ve had so many texts dealing with eschatological issues over the past month or so and it is not a subject we like to dwell upon. I am sure I’m not alone in my desire to move on. We live for today; we look forward to that day, but we do not want to make it the entire focus of our faith. Yet, today’s scriptures do not give us a message about what is to come, but about what we are to do while we wait. Some are so anxious for the coming of the Lord that they will do whatever is necessary to make it happen. After all, it has already been two thousand years. Isn’t it time?

But we learn from Peter that for God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. We aren’t much different from children who are anxiously awaiting Christmas: it seems to take forever to get what we want, but whatever takes “forever” for us is only a moment for God. The time has not yet come because everything is not yet ready. God is patient because not everyone for whom the promise has been given has yet heard it. We find hope in the message that God does not want any to perish. He is patient and longsuffering. Christ will not come until all is ready. This is why the evangelists put the stories to paper. They wanted them to last for every generation until the Day of the Lord.

Peter wrote to believers to tell them that God is patient with them. There is work for us to do, and God is giving us the time. There are many who have not yet heard the Good News of Jesus Christ; they are walking in darkness. We are the light, sent to give hope and peace to all whom God has chosen. God is patient, not just for those who haven’t heard, but for us. He is waiting until we do what we have been called to do. God’s patience is our salvation. He is waiting until we have accomplished all He has commanded us to do. The great day of the Lord might happen in our generation, but it might not happen for another thousand years which is like a day to God. He will fulfill His promises in His time according to His word.

Mark did his job: he told the story, a story he believed would go on long after he was gone, so that we could hear and believe. For Mark, one thing was especially important, and we find it in that title verse, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark wrote to make it clear that Jesus is the Son of God. The other Gospel writers included the stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood to establish His humanity, but Mark insists on His divinity. Jesus isn’t just a prophet. He isn’t just a rabbi. He isn’t just a friend or savior. Jesus is God.

Mark began his story with John the Baptist. Isaiah wrote that there would be a prophet preparing the way of the Lord, pointing the people toward the One for whom they were waiting. That prophet was John. He came from the wilderness to preach repentance and to call the people to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. That story continues into today. We still call people to baptism, but we have been given a greater gift than John, because Jesus Christ baptizes with more than water. What John started, Jesus completed and made even more real because now the Holy Spirit brings a lasting, eternal forgiveness. John was cleansing the people to make them ready for the Lord. The Lord now makes the people His forever and ever.

The image in today’s Gospel lesson is harsh and almost frightening. John is a bizarre character. He lives in the wilderness, wears camel hair, and eats locusts. This is not a man that we would necessarily follow. He does not portray a picture of peace. His message is rough; he told people they were sinners. He called them to repentance. He baptized but admitted that his baptism was nothing compared to the baptism that would come from God. This is not comforting. It is not pleasant. It is frightening and disconcerting.

Yet people flocked to this madman in the wilderness, longing to see the one who fulfilled the promise we hear in today’s Old Testament lesson, which is not so frightening. It is not so unpleasant. God spoke to comfort His people and promise that they would be restored. In Isaiah God said, “Speak comfortably to Jerusalem; and call out to her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received of Yahweh’s hand double for all her sins.” The warfare in this text is referring to the exile, the consequence of their sin against God. They served their sentence and were about to be set free to return home. Mark points back to this promise of restoration because it was especially significant to a people who were living under the oppressive hand of the Romans. They were looking forward to the day when the throne of David would be restored, when they could live again as a sovereign nation. They didn't realize that God promised an even greater freedom and a peace that is beyond human understanding.

Isaiah wrote, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because Yahweh’s breath blows on it. Surely the people are like grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever.” Peace, true peace, will come when our flesh is destroyed by the breath of God, consumed by His fire and Spirit, and we are made new. This might seem frightening, but it is the hope of Christmas: that we will be transformed and restored to God. When God comes and rules over all, He will take care of us as a shepherd takes care of His flock. John’s message might seem rough and disconcerting, but it reflects the promise of Isaiah. God is coming. Prepare the way. He is coming to do something spectacular. Make your hearts ready.

Mark knew that the Old Testament promises could not be fulfilled by just anyone; only the Son of God could provide the salvation that would restore God’s people. Jesus was that Son, and through Him we have been saved; the promise has been fulfilled. Christ was born, Christ died, and Christ rose again. Christ lives. But we still await the coming of our King, the return that will complete the will and purpose of God. We live in a time that is between the fulfillment of the promise and the completion of the promise.

I made a painting several years. I had begun it sometime earlier but lost interest and inspiration. I decided to finish it as a gift for my husband to put into a new office. I changed my tactic; though I had begun with acrylics, I decided to finish the painting with oil paint because I could more easily create the affect I wanted with oils. It is painted on a large canvas. I wanted the painting to be heavily textured.

Every new project is a learning experience. I didn’t realize a few things when I began. First of all, I learned that there is a special product designed for texturing paintings. It is cheaper and dries much more quickly than oil paint. The advantage of oil is that it takes longer to dry, giving the artist time to mix colors and blend edges. Unfortunately, you have to be careful not to overwork the paint. When I went back to the canvas too quickly, I lost the highlights of individual colors I worked so hard to establish by blending the paints too much. Even one brush stroke can ruin the character of the piece. I hated to leave the piece sit so long, but I had to be patient.

When I was finally satisfied with the piece, I had to let it dry. Day after day I checked the paint only to discover that the red was still so wet that I left fingerprints that required touch up. I wanted to give the painting to Bruce the minute it was complete, but if he took it too early, he’d smear the wet paint. I did some research and realized that red oil paint, which was the predominant color, takes much longer than other colors. As a matter of fact, it can take dozens or even a hundred years to dry, especially when it is piled so thick on the canvas. After a week or so, we could get the painting into the frame and Bruce was able to take it to his office without worrying about getting paint everywhere.

Today’s Psalm is a community lament. It begins with words of praise and testimony. “God has done these things.” He restored their fortunes. He forgave. He withdrew His wrath. The first verses look to the past. They knew that the cause of their suffering was their sin, but they asked for the restoration of their community to God. Then the psalm asked, “How long?” They had been suffering for a long time. This phrase can actually be understood to mean “Enough is enough!” They were looking toward the future. The psalmist asked God to do again what He did in the past. Though their fortunes were restored, something happened and they were struggling again.

As Christians we look back to the redemption at the cross, but we continue to experience struggles. We are restored and forgiven, but we continue to sin. God’s grace is for the past, present and future. We HAVE eternal life, we ARE forgiven. But we still need to wait until we pass from this life to fully experience the forgiveness and eternal life that God has promised to all who believe.

Though they were suffering, the psalmist and the community knew the mercy of God. There is Hebrew word that is translated lovingkindness, steadfast love, mercy, or faithfulness, depending on the version of the translation. This word is “hesed” and it is the covenantal love and loyalty of God. He made promises to His people and He will be faithful even when they are not. This word is found throughout the psalms, and the rest of the Old Testament, and it is in this psalm twice. The psalmist based the plea for salvation on God’s covenantal love and loyalty.

The psalm ends on a confident note, with the psalmist including a powerful reflection on God’s covenant character: His love is without fail and He fulfills His promises. God is righteous and thus peace prevails. These all come together in an intimate embrace in the person of God. He prepares the way. He alone is the possessor and giver of salvation, righteousness, truth, mercy, peace. We are unable to live up to the covenant, but God is more than able and has fulfilled it in Jesus Christ. Though we turn to folly, God teaches and transforms us so that we will learn to rely on Him. Just like that community begging God for mercy, we still plead against His wrath and seek His grace.

The psalmist presents a message of God’s grace. The early church community understood this psalm to be the prayers of a people who have been saved but were waiting for salvation to be complete. We live in a time of waiting today. That’s what Advent is all about. We know Christ has come. We know that Jesus was born in the manger, died on the Cross, and rose again. It is finished. But we still wait for God’s plan to be complete. We are wandering in this world, waiting for the second coming of Christ when God’s promises will finally and forever be fulfilled.

It might seem like it has been too long, surely God should have completed His work by now! We worry like those in the early Church, especially when we see the world around us falling apart. “Come, Lord Jesus,” we cry. We wait, we watch, we hope, trusting that God’s Word is true. The grass will wither, and people will die, but God’s patience means that there is still time for all those whom God calls to believe. We can trust that one day we’ll experience the fulness of what God has promised: eternity in heaven in peace and joy.

When we think of the concept of peace, especially in our world today, we think of peace between nations. The Latin word from which we get the word peace means “freedom from civil disorder,” so there is some justification for our thinking of peace in these terms. Christmas has become a time to cry out for peace on earth; now more than ever people want to live without fear. It is hard to be happy when your world is literally exploding around you.

There’s another understanding of peace, however. Peace suggests healthy interpersonal relationships. That is more appropriate for the preparation of Advent. Christ came to restore us to our Father and to one another, to overcome the darkness and sin that has created conflict between people. This can be pursued on a large scale as is done through international treaties, but the cry for peace for most people is a desire for something more personal. We are looking for peace in our own lives, in our hearts. We want peace on earth, but true peace begins inwardly.

John provided the crowds with a glimpse of the fulfillment; they could hope, once again, that God was about to do something spectacular. John came first, before Jesus began His ministry, but we hear these words during Advent to remind us that the King for whom we are waiting is not a child in a manger. He came as a baby, to be human as we are human, but we cannot hold onto the image of the baby. It was not His birth that brought us salvation. It was not even His ministry that brought us salvation. It is the power that comes by fire and Spirit because of the cross.

The promise in Isaiah was fulfilled for the exiles when God restored Jerusalem and the people went home. It was also understood as a promise to the people in John’s day, which was fulfilled in a new way with the coming of Jesus. Jesus has come, He’s finished the work, we are saved: so how is this still a promise for us? Is a promise fulfilled still a promise?

It is still a promise because though Jesus was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, lived, and died on the cross and then raised, we still wait for His coming again. The promise is fulfilled, is being fulfilled, and will be fulfilled: this is the way of God. He was, is, and is to come. He exists outside time and space, so we who are bound by our human flesh must look forward to the day when we are no longer bound. We live in hope of the promise not just to get to the end, but to live well along the way. The joy will be incredible when we are fully transformed and restored to our God, but the journey is a gift, too. What are we going to do along the way?

The exiles were forgiven, but not yet home. They still had to wander in the wilderness before they would know the full measure of God’s shepherding care. We are the same, stuck between the already and the not yet.

In ancient days, when a king desired a royal adventure, a frenzy of preparation would ensue. They would not only send ahead a warning party, but the king would also send forth an army to prepare the way. They would take everything the king could possibly need; they might even build a castle so that there would be a suitable place for his visit. He often stayed a year or more, so everything had to be perfect. The army would also prepare the way; they would build a smooth and straight road on which the king could ride comfortably. Isaiah wrote, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain.” Only when all was ready would the king leave for his journey.

We are like that army that went ahead of the King, but we aren’t building roads on which He can ride. We are lifting the lowly and bringing down the mighty, not with weapons or warfare but with the grace of God. With His Word all are made equal, not in the flesh but in the Spirit as children of God. We prepare the way by speaking forgiveness and calling others out of the wilderness into the river of repentance. We are just like John, but the message we bring is even better because it has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The people went to John at the Jordan to be baptized, confessing their sin, and receiving God’s grace. He was right out there raising up valleys and bringing down mountains. We are called to do the same today.

The covenants of God are two-way streets. God calls us to live our faith and to glorify Him with our obedience to His Word. Yet, He knew from the beginning that we would fail. That’s why He sent Jesus, first to the manger and the cross, and soon to restore all of creation to the Garden where we were intended to dwell forever.

We wait, we watch, we hope, but it is not for us to stand still. We have a job to do. Mark started the story that we are charged with continuing. There are people who need to see the light that shatters darkness and experience the life that has overcome death. We are called to share the Good News, like John, but our message is even greater than his. God’s grace has won, first in the manger and then on the cross. The baptism we share is one of forgiveness and power. We live in the time between the fulfillment of God’s promises and the completion of them; this is a time of hope and expectation. So, let’s shine the light that is Christ in the world so that those for whom God is waiting might be saved. Who knows: the last one God is calling might just be the next person to whom you tell the story.

If you would like to contact me, please use the following address, replacing the bracketed words with the symbol. Thank you for your continued interest, prayers and messages of encouragement.

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A WORD FOR TODAY, December 5, 2023

“With the merciful you will show yourself merciful. With the perfect man, you will show yourself perfect. With the pure, you will show yourself pure. With the crooked you will show yourself shrewd. For you will save the afflicted people, but the arrogant eyes you will bring down. For you will light my lamp, Yahweh. My God will light up my darkness. For by you, I advance through a troop. By my God, I leap over a wall.” Psalm 18:25-29, WEB

There is a story about some mice that lived inside a piano. They were awestruck by the music they heard echoing in their dark world. They all believed in some unknown player, were comforted by the thought that someone made the music. They rejoiced over the Great Player they could not see. But one day one of the mice ventured to another part of the piano and found the strings. He came back thinking he knew how the music was made, for the music came from the strings as they trembled and vibrated. Everyone stopped believing in the Great Player. Later another mouse went exploring and found the hammers that made the strings vibrate and the simple explanation for the sound became more complicated, but they still did not believe in the unknown player. Eventually the Great Player became nothing but a myth to the mice.

We are like those mice, living in a world where we cannot see the One in control. Natural explanations to unexplainable things have made many people doubt in the existence of a Great Player. Science and Mathematics explain away the most extraordinary things, leaving behind nothing in which to have faith. There are several shows on the television that have experts that explain away the most miraculous things. Ancient astronaut theorists claim that every God story is actually about aliens from another planet. Shows that claim to explain the bible twist the words to fit their intellectual understanding of the mysterious things of God. Scientists insist that there are natural explanations to supernatural events. Yet, the wonder that is God can’t be explained away by our minds, hearts, or souls. He continues to play the music in His marvelous ways as we ponder what it all means in our life.

Faith is the only thing that will get us through our days. The world wants to confuse us, to lead us into doubt and darkness so that we will not look to God for our strength. But God lights our lamps with His Word and fills the darkness with His light. We can rely on Him; He is faithful, blameless, and pure. Even when we cannot see the Great Player, He is playing the music of our lives. Those adventurous mice thought they found an explanation to the mystery, just as the “experts” on all those shows claim that they have also done. But we don’t have to rely on their limiting “proofs” to know that there really is a Great Player behind it all. We can’t allow the things of this world to cause us to lose our faith and we cannot allow the darkness to overcome His Light in our corner of the world. We can only walk in His light, knowing that He is with us even when the world says He does not exist.

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.

The Birth of our Saviour

The Story of our Saviour's Passion

The Crucifixion, a fictional perspective

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