Devotional Category: Advent 2020

“Your God Reigns”

The setting in Isaiah 52 is the city of Jerusalem which had been invaded by the Babylonians, their Temple destroyed, and many taken into exile. Those that remained were in a state of confusion and despair, wondering “What just happened?”. This poem depicts a messenger running over the mountains to these broken and hopeless people to bring a “good news” – a news that would bring peace (shalom), happiness, joy, and salvation. What’s the beautiful message? “Your God reigns.”

When we look out into the world and see the brokenness and despair, the anger and fear, we may wonder how God is at work, or if He is even at work at all. When we look at our own lives, we may wonder the same thing. And yet, there is a beautiful message, “Your God reigns.” This is what makes the first Advent of Christ so incredible, and it was announced as “good news” that brings “great joy”! What we see in the birth of Christ celebrated at Christmas is that God had been at work all along, despite what anyone could see. Because of Jesus, God is in charge.

“Good News of Great Joy”

Imagine being in a waiting room at a hospital, together with friends and family, waiting and praying as the surgeon walks out from doing surgery on a family member and says, “I’ve got good news for you…” You would most likely feel a sense of relief and then a rush of joy. This is the announcement the angel gave the shepherds – good news that brings great joy.

Israel had spent many centuries waiting and hoping for the coming Messiah, the savior king that would come and liberate God’s people from their sin and oppression. After so long of waiting, it’s easy to think many had given up hope. But one night, out in the country, the angel gave a great announcement, “Good news!” The good news is that God had not forgotten His people. He had sent a Savior. This good news caused great joy!

This good news still echos into our lives today. God has not forgotten us. He sent His Son into this world as a Savior for us. No matter our circumstances, we can still have joy, knowing that God has not forgotten us. We can still receive this good news with great joy, that we have a Savior, born for us, He is Christ the Lord. With this knowledge, we can have hope as we wait for Jesus’ second advent like watchmen for the coming dawn.

“Don’t Be Anxious”

There is a great struggle for humans with fear and anxiety. In America, as well as other Western nations, there is a significant rise in depression and mental illness – especially with all we have faced this year. We seem to be struggling with how we deal with life’s hardships and uncertainties. Yet we are admonished as Christians to not be anxious. How are we to do this?

Paul, in Philippians 4, gives us a simple process for not being anxious: pray, be thankful, and trust God. When we continually bring our needs and hopes and struggles before the Lord in prayer, we learn to trust Him with our lives. Yesterday we read about God being at work, with the humble benefiting the most from His activity. Today, we learn to become humble by recognizing we cannot control everything, but we can trust the One who is in control. As we learn to pray and yield to the Lord, there is a promise of peace. This peace from God is not something that we can figure out. But we can fully experience it even if we can’t fully understand it. This peace guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Today, let’s humble ourselves in prayer, releasing all of our pains and struggles into God’s hands, being grateful for His work, and receiving His peace. This is what it means to “bless the Lord.” Psalm 103 is a psalm of praise for all that God has done. Slowly pray these verses, speaking God’s promises and character over your life today. Learning to pray this in humility allows for God’s peace to guard your heart and mind from anxiety even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

“The Song of Mary”

These verses from Luke 1 have been called “Mary’s Magnificat”, or Mary’s song of praise. What is her praise song about? When God acts, there is a reversal. It is not the mighty or the proud that get exclusive access to God’s work, it is the humble, the weak, and the powerless. Those who have built their lives arrogantly upon themselves, those who have shoved their way to the top, will get a painful reality check when God acts in the world. God looks for those who are humble and put their trust completely in Him.

This song carries a theme from Isaiah 61, that God takes the ashes of our lives and makes them into something beautiful. These verses from Isaiah 61 were so important, that Jesus chose to begin His first sermon in Luke (Luke 4:16-21) with them. I suspect that His mother Mary taught Him this idea from a young age.

Maybe you are in a helpless situation, or maybe you feel overlooked and powerless. The state of your circumstances isn’t nearly as important as the state of your heart. Whether you are powerless or powerful, are you humble? God is looking for those with humble hearts when He is at work. Let’s take today, and this season as a whole, to recognize any pride in our lives and repent of it; humbling ourselves before Him and trusting in Him to follow through on His word rather than trying to make it all happen by ourselves.

“Joy and Peace in Believing”

Today’s readings converge themes from last week (hope), this week (peace), and a small preview of next week (joy). In the gospel reading, Mary visits Elizabeth and the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy and was filled with the Holy Spirit. I find it incredible that the first person to recognize Jesus was a baby still in the womb. There is great joy that comes with recognizing Jesus, even in the hidden or subtle moments of life and relationships.

You may be in a season of waiting. In fact, most of our life is spent in that season. Advent is a season for us to slow down enough to pay attention to what we are actually waiting for. Instead of just speeding our way through life in a hurry, distracting ourselves from the uncomfortable realities of living in a broken world, we are called to spend Advent recognizing God’s promises and our hopes. Often, when we slow down enough to pay attention, the Holy Spirit enables us to recognize the ways Jesus is still present in our lives in the midst of our waiting. This recognition fills us with God’s peace.

Paul’s prayer at the end of the reading from Romans is that God, whom he identifies as “the God of hope,” would fill us with joy and peace in our believing. So today, can you recognize your hope in God and allow it to strengthen your faith, knowing that he is at work no matter if you can see it or feel it? You may still have to wait, but you won’t have to wait with fear and anxiety. When we can trust God, it fills us with joy and peace even in the waiting period.

“Nothing Will Be Impossible for God”

Today, we come back to the story of Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel. Mary, no more than 15 or 16 years old, is curious how she’s going to have a baby while being a virgin, and Gabriel makes clear that it is by the very power of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters in Genesis 1, bringing life and light out of the dark chaos, will come into her womb and generate the life of the child – the Son of God. There is a clear sense of this being hard to believe, so he informs Mary of another unlikely miracle, that of her barren elderly cousin who was also pregnant. Then he makes one of the most powerful statements in the whole of Scripture, “For nothing will be impossible for God.”

What impossible situations are you up against? What challenges have you faced that seem insurmountable? What has God said about those things? What has God said about you? Whatever God’s will is in those situations, however improbable or impossible, will come to pass because nothing is impossible for God.

But Mary’s response to such a powerful declaration was just as miraculous: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Keep in mind, Mary was only a teenager and yet had the faith to trust in God’s word, regardless of how impossible it sounded. So, what is God’s word to you today? Do you see yourself as Mary saw herself, the servant of the Lord? Can you trust God’s word, even if it seems impossible?

“From Everlasting to Everlasting”

I love the poetry of the Psalms. The Psalms are prayers for the people and Psalm 103 is a beautiful one. Through it, we remind ourselves of the character of God and His relationship to us. His steadfast love is beyond measure! It’s so vast that it is as “high as the heavens are above the earth” and so long-lasting that it’s “from everlasting to everlasting.” His steadfast love (His “chesed”) toward us reveals His mercy, His compassion, and His forgiveness. He does not view us through the lens of our sins and weaknesses, but His character. It is His character, not our behavior, that makes Him faithful to His covenant promises.

You may be very aware of your sin and weaknesses and think that those are making God turn away from you. But it is quite the opposite. God loves you and has abundant mercy and forgiveness ready for you. He “remembers that we are dust,” and quite frail. Even still, His steadfast love is overflowing for you! He invites you to repent of any sin, recognize your weaknesses, and turn your face back toward Him to experience His unfailing steadfast love.