As we come to the 2020 season of Advent, the world is very different from last year for all of us. Some of our loved ones have passed. Maybe there were additions to the family via a birth, an adoption, or a marriage. Perhaps there was a tough diagnosis or news of a wonderful remission. There may have been a joyous promotion or a difficult termination of a job. Then there are the relentless tensions in our nation and around the world as people struggle to get along. In the midst of these “normal” things, we’ve all dealt with the pandemic of Covid 19 and the various lockdowns and masks. All of these kinds of uncertainties put the Advent season in a different light again this year. In his unchanging Word, God speaks to us each passing year bringing us deeper and greater insight into its timeless significance thereby drawing us closer to himself. The truth is, time on earth is moving ever closer to the Return of the Lord, the final Advent.
As this is the thirteenth year of writing these devotionals, running this year from November 29th through Epiphany, January 6th, the purpose remains the same. Put simply, it is that you and I 1) encounter the Lord each day in the Scriptures, 2) grow in our theological understanding and biblical knowledge of the God we worship and finally, 3) develop (or maintain) a daily pattern of reading the Bible. There is a reason the Lord provided manna one day at a time for the Israelites. We need spiritual food daily. Paul writes, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.” That is exactly what we’re after. The passages, which focus on Advent, are chosen from the Revised Common Lectionary Year B. I’ve included a variety of kinds of music to inspire and underscore the points we are making in the short commentaries. The prayers come from the last 3,000 years of conversations with God by various people, including some from the present day. I would encourage you to make an Advent wreath and have someone light the appropriate candle as you do each devotional. (For those of you who wonder, the pink candle (joy) is lit on the third Sunday in Advent and the white Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve.) If you read these as a family, have different members read different parts. One of the good things that has come out of the times of lockdowns and cancellations of so many events is that it has given families time to be together, including eating together! You may want to read the devotionals as a family after dinner (or what used to be called supper!)
A short word about the Scripture passages themselves. The Bible was written originally without chapters and verse numbers. With that in mind, I left out the verse numbers so that it reads a little differently. I find it easier to grasp the whole of the thought. I trust you will find the same.
One final word: would you think of three or four people you could pass the link to (family, friends, and co-workers) around the country and the world who may benefit from the devotionals. The link to the free subscription is simply: sharpdevotional.com They click on the site, enter their email and that’s it! Then they will receive the emails in their boxes each morning. One of the largest international groups receiving these emails is in Hong Kong! Thank you for subscribing and passing the link along! It’s our only way to spread the word.
Watch for the Lenten Devotional beginning February 17th, 2021. Also, a HUGE thank you to my son, Jonathan Sharp, who is making all of this possible on the internet side of things and to my wife, Nancy, for proofreading all these words! The Lord be with you all.
Dan’s email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, November 29, FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT
*Read the Preface if you haven’t. It will give some context for the devotionals.
Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the first Advent candle.)
Reader: “Keep watch!”
Response: “The Lord is coming back!”
Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-9
Sometimes it seems as though we never belonged to you, as though we had never
been known as your people. (Is.63:19)
Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down!
How the mountains would quake in your presence!
As fire causes wood to burn
and water to boil,
your coming would make the nations tremble.
Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame!
When you came down long ago,
you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations.
And oh, how the mountains quaked!
For since the world began,
no ear has heard
and no eye has seen a God like you,
who works for those who wait for him!
You welcome those who gladly do good,
who follow godly ways.
But you have been very angry with us,
for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
how can people like us be saved?
We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
Yet no one calls on your name
or pleads with you for mercy.
Therefore, you have turned away from us
and turned us over to our sins.
And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
We are the clay, and you are the potter.
We all are formed by your hand.
Don’t be so angry with us, Lord.
Please don’t remember our sins forever.
Look at us, we pray,
and see that we are all your people.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
Israel is in turmoil. And they wonder why God seems far away when the people have been engaged in sin and rebellion? Hello!! The people were in difficult times, not unlike our day. Their relationship to God is estranged, not unlike our day. Israel has been at war with a frequent enemy, a distant relative, the Edomites, descendents from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Notice the overall structure of this pericope: 1) God is acknowledged as Creator; 2) the people have fallen away from God; 3) the people repent of their sin; and 4) the people desire restoration with the Lord. Isaiah’s concern is that the people would reflect a reverence for the Lord which was not happening, not unlike our day. The prophet, in talking with the Lord, begins this passage by declaring “when you [God] came down long ago.” To what is he referring? Creation. “Since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you.” (Paul much later quotes this same verse in I Cor. 1:9.) The world of Isaiah had dismissed God as irrelevant, not unlike our day. The transparency of Isaiah’s confession before the Lord is powerful . . . “we are not godly, we are constant sinners, we are all infected and impure with sin, our sins sweep us away, no one calls on your name . . .” again, not unlike our day. “Infected” seems like the perfect word to describe the days of Isaiah and of our own world. We live in a culture with a rampant, pandemic sin infection which has but One cure. Along with the people of Israel, our society is in need of the Savior. The passage concludes with this strong word of hope . . . in spite of our gross, continued failures, you are our Father, God. You made us. As your children, Lord, forgive our sins. . . As you read this devotional, some of you are undoubtedly wondering what in the world does this have to do with Advent? If you reread the passage, you’ll notice at the beginning a longing for God to again “come down.” Advent begins with a longing for the Second Coming, a “coming down” and the establishing of God’s Kingdom on earth. Advent points to the end of the world and the ushering in of a new heaven on earth. This past year of 2020 has been one of the most tumultuous of times in most of our lives with the worldwide outbreak of COVID 19, racial tension, in addition to orchestrated anarchy in the United States. We are a people deeply infected by sin. In these unsettling times, a great deal of repentance and healing needs to take place in every person as we await the Savior’s return. This passage of Scripture concludes with “Look at us, we pray, and see that we are all your people.” Yes, we are all made in the image of God. Today, let us live like it.
Music: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” arr. Alice Parker
Bonus: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” Anna Hawkins (In Hebrew and English)
O Son of God and Son of man, Thou wast incarnate, didst suffer, rise, ascend for my sake; Thy departure was not a token of separation but a pledge of return; Thy Word, promises, and sacraments show thy death until thou come again. Grant that I may, with all diligence, walk in a manner worthy of my status as a child of Thine. May I live with a repentant heart, humble soul, Spirit-quickened mind, and a quiet spirit until that great day when all will see Thee face to face. In the Savior’s name. Amen.
―adapted Daniel Sharp