Monday, January 6

Reader: “For those who live in a land of deep darkness,” 

Response: “. . . a light will shine.”

Scripture:  Isaiah 9:1-2

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

The people who walk in darkness

    will see a great light.

For those who live in a land of deep darkness,

    a light will shine.

John 1:1-14

In the beginning the Word already existed.

    The Word was with God,

    and the Word was God.

He existed in the beginning with God.

God created everything through him,

    and nothing was created except through him.

The Word gave life to everything that was created,

    and his life brought light to everyone.

The light shines in the darkness,

    and the darkness can never extinguish it.

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

We conclude these past forty days of devotionals and the twelve days of Christmastide with Epiphany, actually a day celebrated long before Christmas Day. The central themes of this day are the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the celebration of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana. In the early church Epiphany was a primary time for baptisms. An epiphany is a revealing, a discovery, a new realization. The epiphany concerning the birth of Jesus was that he came to bring salvation not just to his chosen people, the Jews, but to all peoples of every tribe and nation on earth. The visit of the Magi was significant because non-Jews came to worship the King of kings. The mission of the Baby of Bethlehem was to the entire world. The Light of the world had come to shine on people who were in despair and darkness. There was hope of a new creation. Genesis begins with these words, “In the beginning God . . .” John’s gospel begins with these words, “In the beginning the Word . . .” In Genesis there was darkness hovering over the face of the earth . . .and God said let there be light!” In John’s gospel he picks up the same theme. The Eternal Word brings light and the darkness cannot overcome it. Both Genesis and John describe our world. The people walk in darkness, can there be any doubt? May the Light of Christ shine in our lives to all those around that their “epiphany” this year may be the discovery of the risen and returning Lord! The Lord be with you. 

Music:  “We Three Kings of Orient Are”   Robert Shaw Chorale wonderful setting

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1ZOGTPsxng

Bonus: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”     Casting Crowns The message to our world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7670CXvPX0

Prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God, the Brightness of faithful souls, fill the world with Thy glory we pray Thee and show Thyself, by the radiance of Thy light, to all the nations of the world. We beseech Thee, O Lord, let our hearts be graciously enlightened by Thy holy radiance, that we may serve Thee and share Thy Light and so help to advance Thy Kingdom without fear in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; that so we may escape the darkness of this world, and by Thy guidance attain the land of eternal brightness; through Thy mercy, O blessed Lord, Who dost live and reign over all things, world without end. Amen.   ―Gregorian Sacramentary, 390 AD and Sarum Breviary, 1085 AD, adapted Daniel Sharp


Friends,

I want to thank you all for sharing these past thirty-seven days and for sharing these devotionals with friends. Our prayer as always is that we are drawn closer and deeper in our relationship with the Lord and that we have established a daily pattern of meeting the Lord in his Scriptures. I trust the music and prayers have likewise encouraged and edified you. We plan to do a new Lenten Devotional again this year beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 26th, which means I better get writing tomorrow! Blessings on you all and thank you for your kind words of encouragement. As many of you know, I no longer work at the church and am in the midst of following the Lord’s leading for the next place of ministry. I’ll appreciate your prayers on our behalf.  Dan

The source books for the prayers:

The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. Appleton, OUP

Valley of Vision, ed. Bennett, Banner of Truth Pub.

Prayers Ancient and Modern, Mary Wilder Tileston, 1897

A Diary of Private Prayer,  John Baillie

Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, compiled by Veronica Zindel

Celtic Daily Prayer, Andy Raine and John Skinner  Northumbria Community

The Quiet Corner, ed. Shirwood Wirt, Fleming H. Revell

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal,1979

Sunday, January 5

Reader: “He has been sent as a sign from God,” 

Response:but many will oppose him.”

Scripture: Luke 2:33-35

Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

John 19:25-27

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on, this disciple took her into his home.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

 We are approaching the end of this years’ Advent & Christmastide devotionals. We’ve talked about the importance of seeing the birth of Christ as part of a much larger picture of God’s plan to bring redemption to the entire created order. As far as people are concerned, the core is recognizing and responding to Jesus Christ, the Son of God come in human flesh. Today we go back to the encounter with Mary, Joseph, six-week old baby Jesus, and the old priest Simeon. Though it doesn’t say Simeon was a priest, a priest would have been the one to conduct the purification rite with the baby. The other option would be Simeon was present as a bystander and recognized baby Jesus as the Messiah and asked Mary to hold him. The former seems far more likely to me. At any rate, his words were prophetically true. Jesus was the cause of many rejecting him as the Son of Man, while others received him as Savior and Lord. At the point of his crucifixion most people had rejected him and those who had hoped he was the Messiah had, indeed, lost all hope. What Jesus did do was expose people’s hearts at their very core enabling them and others to see themselves in true light. Then Simeon concluded his words to Jesus’ parents with a reference to a sword, a strange comment in such a beautiful moment. But the reference to the sword is to Mary’s anguish of seeing her son crucified on the cross and the soldier’s piercing of the side of her Son. Mary’s involvement all through Jesus’ life emphasizes the clear humanity of the Savior. She was a very normal mother, in spite of being the mother of God, known as the theotokos in Orthodox faith. Mary was present when Jesus took his very first breath on this planet earth and present at the cross when he took his very last breath. She was present at the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts and was undoubtedly present when she saw her Son ascend into the heavens at the Ascension. She is undoubtedly the most unique woman who has ever lived on this earth. She is one I’d like to talk with in heaven!

Music:    He Is Born     USC Chamber Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzfCljfU180  

3 Bonuses!:  “The Little Drummer Boy”       The King’s Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wW_wi013ik

“The Little Drummer Boy”        BBC Orchestra and Choir Unique with drums!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOEUVxXEYP8

“The Little Drummer Boy”  (African Tribal Version) – Alex Boye’ ft. Genesis Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0mT-zNxRMw       TREMENDOUS!!!!

Prayer:

Lord Jeus, there is so much we don’t get, so much we never think about, so much we don’t even wonder about. Our minds are dull, unobservant, self-focused, self-absorbed, self-consumed and self-centered. Lord, Mary was a most remarkable woman and we’ve never thought to reflect on her life and the joys and great sorrows she endured. Lord, give us a better grasp of the relationships you had with people when you lived in Israel. The thought of you loving and hugging Mary and Joseph when you were a little boy and playing with your brothers and sisters doesn’t seem to fit in my mind with you when I think of the Son of God. But you were completely human. Lord Jesus, in this coming year may I better absorb you as I relish time in the Scriptures. Meet me every day as I open your holy Word that with Mary, your earthly mother I can say, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Amen.                 ―Daniel Sharp

Saturday, January 4

Reader: “Take off your sandals,”

Response:  “for you are standing on holy ground.”

Scripture: Exodus 3:1-5

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

In today’s Scripture we come to the familiar passage of Moses and the burning bush. A few days ago we mentioned that God does not seem to be in a hurry in accomplishing his purposes. His people have been in slavery to the Egyptians for 400 plus years. He has “remembered” his people (Remember what we said about this word in this context a few days ago? God “remembering” means he has decided to act, to move forward.) Now God has chosen an eighty year old man to lead the exodus of a million plus people! Moses was minding his own business with the sheep. He had never in his life encountered God directly before this time. Curiosity leads him to this bush that was on fire but not burning up. As he approached, an angel of the Lord in the middle of the bush spoke his name! This angel of the Lord, is none other than the God the Word (John 1:1). The bush was not consumed because God came to save people, not to consume them. God is often represented by fire throughout Scripture: Cherubim in the Garden of Eden, fire on the top of Mt. Sinai, pillar of fire leading the Israelites in the desert, “our God is a consuming fire.” Heb.12:29. At this point, Moses was a novice in dealing with God. God’s words were, “Do not come closer.” after which he immediately told Moses the reason. Take off your sandals, you are standing on holy ground. Why take off the sandals? Nothing dead is to stand between God and man. Sandals were made of leather, the skin of a dead animal. Plus there was to be nothing common coming into contact with the holy. The entire book of Leviticus makes the point that God is wholly other. When we speak of holy in relation to God, not only does it mean “completely other than human,” even pagan religions in this time spoke of their gods as holy. The Bible is unique in that when speaking of God, holy also describes God’s moral character, moral perfection. Moses, like Jacob hundreds of years before, failed to realize he was standing in God’s presence. It was then that Moses became fearful. I am wondering how often we come to worship like Moses? We might come out of curiosity or habit, pretty much oblivious that we are in the presence of God and standing on holy ground. Something to think about. Familiar is a dangerous word when it comes to God. 

Music: “Infant Lowly, Infant Holy”   Chris Rupp and The Hound and the Fox

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHGQcc4HHTU   Where do all these talented people come from?

Bonus: “White Christmas”    Andy Williams A beautiful voice from the past for all you “old people” listening to this! And for you younger ones, when popular music was beautiful. Am I sounding old??

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4ExXVVqycI 

Prayer:

Praise and glory be to the omnipotence of the eternal Holy Father, who in his providence created the world out of nothing. Praise and glory be to the wisdom of this only-begotten Holy Son, who redeemed the world with his blood. Praise and glory be to the living kindness of the Holy Spirit, who enlightened the world in faith. Praise and glory be to the holy and undivided Trinity, who formed us without our deserving it in their image. We give praise and glory to you, most blessed Trinity, for the blessing of our creation, by which you granted us bodies and souls, you adorned us with your image and likeness, and added us to your Christian flock, making us sound and whole in our senses and in our members, above all the creatures who are beneath the heavens, and gave us your holy angels as our guides and ministers. For all this be pleased that we may praise you, Holy God, world without end. Amen.    

                               ―Latin, 11th century, from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.60

Friday, January 3

Reader:  “Surely the Lord is in this place,” 

Response:  “and I wasn’t even aware of it!”

Scripture: Genesis 28:10-22

Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”

The next morning Jacob got up very early. He took the stone he had rested his head against, and he set it upright as a memorial pillar. Then he poured olive oil over it. He named that place Bethel (which means “house of God”), although it was previously called Luz.

Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Today we come to another familiar Old Testament story. We mentioned yesterday the pacing of God unfolding his plan little by little in his own time. The above passage is another small step some 1800 years ahead of the arrival of God’s Son. This story is two steps further down the road of God’s covenant with Abraham, the grandfather of Jacob. He is on his way to find a wife, a wife among his relatives. On his journey, he stops for the night. You know the story; he has a dream in the night. On that dream he sees angels “ascending and descending.” Again we ask, if the stairway, (ladder) is connecting heaven and earth, wouldn’t it seem that the angels (malach in Hebrew meaning “messenger”) would be descending and ascending rather than the other way around? But the stairway is the path connecting earth to heaven and heaven to earth. If you will, it moves us from where we are (earth) and bridges us to heaven (the presence of God). You’ll recall in the New Testament, Jesus picks up this very phrase (John 1:51) where he is talking with Nathanael in regards to his own identity. Nathanael had just affirmed Jesus, calling him the Son of God, a phrase Jesus did not use of himself at this very beginning of his public ministry. He always referred to himself as the Son of Man. But then Jesus went on to say to Nathanael, “I tell you the truth (another way of saying this is really important), you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.” Jesus is the one who makes it possible for man to move from earth to heaven. Carrying this thought further (Luke 22:67-70), in Jesus’ trial just prior to the crucifixion, as he stands before the religious leaders when asked if he is the Messiah, Jesus responds, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.” They all shouted, “so, are you claiming to he the Son of God?” And Jesus replied, “You say that I am.” At the beginning of his public ministry and at its end, he affirmed the title Son of God. In his dream of the ladder, Jacob was seeing a shadow of the Mediator between earth and heaven. He then recognized the Lord as being in his presence, though he had been unaware. He called the place, the “house of God,” the dwelling place of God. Many years later, the earthly dwelling place of God, began in a manger of all places. And now, the body of the believer is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. 

Music: “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing”  King’s College Cambridge

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqsnfgVQuyk 

Bonuses:  “The Christmas Song”   The King’s Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eEHx_a-XGQ 

“The Christmas Song”   Nat King Cole an all time classic. Where are those kind of singers today??

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwacxSnc4tI

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, I’m challenged by the words of Jacob, “the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it.” I can’t help but wonder how many times that has been the case in my own life. Father, in this coming year, grant that I would be aware when you are working in the place where I am. Give me godly eyes that see the heavenly realm at work all around me. May I daily reach for heaven, Lord Jesus, as you bridge these worlds. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will towards men. Amen.                  ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, January 2

Reader: “Abram departed . . .”

Response: “as the Lord had instructed.”

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-7

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

This is a very familiar passage of Scripture to most of us. We’ve undoubtedly heard more than one sermon on it. It’s pretty straight forward, what else is there to say? Go with me. Put yourself in Abram’s place. God speaks to you with very specific instructions an hour from now. He hasn’t asked you what you think about what he is saying. God’s words to you are: first, Dan, leave where you are living. Second, leave your community, and your nearest relatives and go where I show you. Just get started. I am going to bring blessing upon you and make you famous . . . as though that was one of my goals! In addition, you will be a blessing to others. (In Hebrew, this is a command). In fact, all the families on earth will be blessed through you. And I’m thinking, “This is really hard to believe. How will the word get out?” So now, what do you do with these promises and commands from God? You load up your wife, your flakey nephew whose dad, your brother, had passed away, all your household servants, (in this account you have servants!), and head for Las Vegas, the place God has shown you. Las Vegas?? God has asked you to move to a place surrounded by people with an entirely different culture and a completely different set of values. But Abram was obedient and worshiped God. All he had to go on was God’s word. The rest was a step at a time. Notice, God said nothing about the nation of Israel, no specifics about children or that he’d even have children at this point. The only specific was I’m going to give you this land that belongs to other people, but even then, I won’t tell you when all this will happen, just go. It was many years and a few more visits from God that Abram had a son of the promise. When Abraham died, he had exactly one son of the promise and he had purchased a burial plot. He was wealthy and relatively famous. He was hardly the father of a nation nor had he blessed the families of the earth. That was it! It was over 400 years later before there was anything resembling a nation. Through that nation came the Messiah, who is a blessing to the entire world and the hope of salvation. What’s the point in all of this? Abram believed and was obedient to what was in front of his nose without worrying what was around the corner. Like sheep, he was very near-sighted and followed by faith staying close to the Shepherd. Most often we see in Scripture that God does not unfold the specifics of the plan from beginning to end, but gives it to us step by step. My guess is, there are things today in your life that are unresolved or you wish would just resolve and go away, and the Lord is saying, “They will not go away because I am training you to go step by step, day by day. Trust me, that’s all you need to do.” That knock on your front door? It’s the moving van.

Music: “Sing We Now of Christmas”   Prestonwood Baptist Church Choir  (Texas . . . were else?)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKzdaEd6Ths 

I thought these last few days of this year’s devotionals, I’d include a few of the secular classics, not for their theology, but for their beauty, and God loves music and beauty.

Bonus: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”  Home Free Video Get ready to shed a tear!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=no2ErxNojyo 

Prayer:

O Lord of the oceans, my little bark sails on a restless sea, grant that Jesus may sit at the helm and steer me safely. Suffer no adverse currents to divert my heavenward course. Let not my faith be wrecked amid storms and shoals. Bring me to harbour with flying pennants, hull unbreached, cargo unspoiled. Help me to live circumspectly with skill to convert every care into prayer. May the world this day be happier and better because I live. Let my mast before me be the Savior’s cross, and every oncoming wave the fountain in his side. Help me protect me in the moving sea until I reach the shore of unceasing praise. Amen.   ―The Valley of Vision, p.110

Wednesday, January 1

Reader: “I have seen your salvation,”

Response: “which you have prepared for all people.”

Scripture: Luke 2:21-40

Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.” So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,

    as you have promised.

I have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared for all people.

He is a light to reveal God to the nations,

    and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As we mentioned the other day, Jesus’ parents were devout observant Jews, meaning they obeyed the Jewish law. According to the law, baby boys were circumcised and given their name on the eighth day after their birth. Why so specific about this particular day? It’s in accordance with the law and as it turns out, there is a good medical reason as well. Normally, prothrombin, the material that causes blood to clot reaches 100%, though not in the very first days after birth. On the eighth day it hits 110%, the only time it ever gets that high, and then settles back to the normal level. So circumcision on the eighth day allows the blood its maximum clotting potential. God thought of everything! The naming of the person is to reflect their character, hence Jesus means “God is salvation.” Then after his circumcision (it’s eight days since Christmas Day), Mary and Joseph went back to the Temple forty days later for the rite of purification (February 2nd is forty days). Again, this was according to the law that the first born belonged to the Lord. A sacrifice of redemption was offered. Apparently Mary and Joseph were poor as their sacrificial offering was the offering of the poor. Normally the offering would be an unblemished lamb. If not a lamb, then two turtle doves or two pigeons. Having offered the two birds as redemption, Mary would later offer their Son, the Lamb of God, as the ultimate redemptive sacrifice. We are reminded of the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, the place of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the words of Abraham, “God himself will provide the lamb for the whole burnt offering.” Simeon, who may or may not have been a priest, the text doesn’t say, was nevertheless a devout believer. The Holy Spirit has revealed to him he would not die before actually seeing the Messiah. On the particular day, that same Spirit told him to go to the Temple. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to present him as the law required, Simeon immediately recognized who he had in his arms. Simeon’s words have been set musically many, many times. Though many translations say “die in peace,” the best translation is “depart or dismiss” in peace. Not death, but a departure from this life to the next. That is actually a better description of death for the believer. In his words are also the certainty that this little baby is the Savior of all peoples, tribes and nations. One final note, as the women were the first to proclaim the risen Savior, so here Anna, the devout elderly widow, was the first to talk about this six week old baby to all who had been waiting expectantly for God to come and rescue his people. What do we learn from this pericope? God works in the details. He is tuned to every life and every aspect of every life, including yours and mine.

Music: “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace”   Robert Shaw Festival Singers As you listen to this, scroll up to the bold text above. Though it is sung in Russian (it’s from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers) you will be able to follow. The soloist sings what you are looking at! Also listen very carefully at the end and you will hear the world famous low Russian basses- in this case Americans! By the way, this is the music sung in the Eastern Orthodox worship services. They are not big on overhead screens. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEHufcT3jmw 

Bonus: “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace”  Chesnokoff Male Choir of Donskoy Monastery

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ma8NjcAUOg       Note the stories of the Bible portrayed throughout the sanctuary of this Orthodox Church.

Prayer:  The prayer of an English tin miner, Billy Bray (1794-1868) who was converted from a drunken, blaspheming life into an ardent evangelist. He is said to have spoken this prayer while waiting with his fellow miners to begin their shift in the mines.

Lord, if any have to die this day, let it be me, for I am ready. Amen.    ―Eerdman’s Book of Famous Prayers, p.113

Tuesday, December 31

Reader: “I am the light of the world.” 

Response: “If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness.”

Scripture: John 8:12-19

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.”

Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”

“Where is your father?” they asked.

Jesus answered, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

I have mentioned in other years and on other occasions, the more we know of Jewish practice and mindset, the better we’ll understand the Scriptures. Such is the case here. This discourse of Jesus took place in the fall during the Feast of Tabernacles or, as it is sometimes called, the Feast of Booths or Shelters (also known in Hebrew as Succoth or Sukkot). It is significant in Jewish religious faith because it was one of three required pilgrimage feasts, which meant Jews from near and far would be at the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate. (Remember the opening day devotional?) One of the ceremonial celebrations of this feast was the lighting of sixteen golden bowls on four menorah stands each filled with olive oil giving great light in this part of the Temple court, a place where the people were allowed only for this festival during the year. To quote, “The light celebration was reminiscent of the descent of the Shekinah glory in Solomon’s day and looked forward to the return of the Shekinah in the days of the Messiah (Exek.43:1-6).” It is in this context that Jesus spoke the above passage. His words would have registered with the Jews as the words of Isaiah pointing to the coming of the Messiah. As proof, the Pharisees immediately picked up the Messianic claim of Jesus and accused him of lying in his claim. So Jesus answered them using the Torah which says there must be at least two witnesses to validate any claim to truth (Deut. 19:15). Jesus and his Father were the witnesses. The logical question was what they asked. “Where is your father?” What immediately comes to mind is Jesus’ words, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” It then becomes very clear the Pharisees do not recognize who Jesus really was because they really do not know the God the Father, but are lost in keeping all their man made regulations and rules. Had they truly known God, they would have recognized who Jesus was. 

I have to wonder how often God is moving in our midst and we are so oblivious and engrossed in our small world, that we fail to recognize his working among us. We don’t see him working through those around us. We live with such a low expectation. The other morning when I started working on these devotionals again, I had a bright kind of flash in my eyes that wouldn’t go away. It affected my reading and I had difficulty reading my screen. I had to stop. I was scared. I prayed and asked the Lord to heal the problem. I immediately told Nancy and she prayed. I looked up what the trouble could be. What I found was not comforting, I needed to act. So I pulled up our insurance page to find an eye doctor. When “Finding an Eye Doctor” came up, the flash in my eyes immediately went away as did some floaters that I’ve had for several years. My eyes have been fine ever since. Do I think God had a hand in this? Yes. What’s the point? The Light of the world is alive and well. We need to keep our eyes and ears open. His witnesses indwell us.

Music:   “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”  Mahalia Jackson She is singing to Jesus and we get to listen! Don’t miss this. There was only one of her. The best.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5_w2XpG7DI  

Bonus:  “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” The Ladies of Lee University   Beautiful

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouoVSCwbfRI 

Prayer: An Evening Prayer

O Divine Father, whose mercy ever awaits those who return unto Thee in true lowliness and contrition of heart, hear now one humble suppliant who needs Thy help. Bravely did I set out this morning upon the life of a new day; now I lie down ashamed and burdened with memories of things undone that ought to have been done and things done, others that ought not to have been done and things you did which I missed entirely, not even recognizing your hand working in my midst.  Bring to me afresh, O God, Thy healing and cleansing power so that again I may lay hold of the salvation which Thou hast offered to me through Jesus Christ my Lord. Quicken my heart to look for your presence and working as I go through the day tomorrow. Thank you for your grace, mercy and protection as I close my eyes at the ending of this day. In the name of the Good Shepherd, Jesus I pray. Amen. ―A Diary of Private Prayer, p.79, adapted Daniel Sharp

Monday, December 30

Reader: For the things we see now will soon be gone,” 

Response: but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Isaiah 26:1-9

 In that day, everyone in the land of Judah will sing this song:

Our city is strong!

    We are surrounded by the walls of God’s salvation.

Open the gates to all who are righteous;

    allow the faithful to enter.

You will keep in perfect peace

    all who trust in you,

    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

Trust in the Lord always,

    for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.

He humbles the proud

    and brings down the arrogant city.

    He brings it down to the dust.

The poor and oppressed trample it underfoot,

    and the needy walk all over it.

But for those who are righteous,

    the way is not steep and rough.

You are a God who does what is right,

    and you smooth out the path ahead of them.

Lord, we show our trust in you by obeying your laws;

    our heart’s desire is to glorify your name.

In the night I search for you;

    in the morning I earnestly seek you.

For only when you come to judge the earth

    will people learn what is right.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

What does Paul mean, “That is why we never give up”? He had previously been describing the troubles he had encountered preaching the gospel. He had also described how God was glorified by all those that had come to faith as a result. If he died in the process, he would be raised with Christ to eternal life. He couldn’t lose, but more importantly, people were being redeemed and God was being praised. Then comes the passage you just read. During these twelve days of Christmas we have cause to pause and think a little more deeply about the transformation in our lives as a result of the birth of Jesus. Let’s look at the above words. “Though our bodies are dying . . . “, what a cheery, but true, thought! Our physical bodies are mortal. They get more “mortal” every day from about 45 on! No amount of  “tucking” changes anything. Think Ash Wednesday! “From dust you came, to dust you will return.” (Dan, you’re killing me. This is Christmas, the manger, the wisemen, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus,  a time of cheer!) The next phrase, “our spirits are being renewed every day . . .” is a breath of fresh air. God provided manna to the Israelites in the wilderness daily for forty years. It was always just enough for that day (two days on the Sabbath). Why? Was God stingy? No, he was teaching his children to rely on him for nourishment a day at a time. Daily time with God in the Scriptures is renewing our spirits every day, our manna. This daily renewal is what these daily Advent devotionals are all about. Paul’s next phrase is “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.” If we skip the “daily renewal” part, then we’re tempted to lose perspective and say these “present troubles are huge and will last forever!” Paul follows with a beautiful description of the truth―what you and I are facing now in the way of difficulties, won’t last forever. We are to fix our gaze on the eternal picture . . . which is glorious. What we cannot see presently is unending. Isaiah describes how we are to live in the meantime,  “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” ―which is why we never give up.

Music: “Away in a Manger”    Libera Angelic!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjke_DVaa_c 

Bonus: “Away in a Manger”     Home Free Beautiful video with original tune

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwfqhXhvUTs

Prayer:

Father in heaven, who hast brought us to this day, let the peace of Thy love descend upon us. May every stormy passion be subdued, every unquiet thought cast out, every earthly care and anxiety forgotten, that in the calm of Thy loving Presence we may find a remedy for our souls’ unrest, and in Thy loving-kindness an answer to our every need; for the sake of Thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.        ―Source Unknown from The Quiet Corner, p.91

Sunday, December 29

Reader: Christ is the visible image . . .”

Response: “. . . of the invisible God.”

Scripture: Colossians 1:15-20

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.

    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,

for through him God created everything

    in the heavenly realms and on earth.

He made the things we can see

    and the things we can’t see—

such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.

    Everything was created through him and for him.

He existed before anything else,

    and he holds all creation together.

Christ is also the head of the church,

    which is his body.

He is the beginning,

    supreme over all who rise from the dead.

    So he is first in everything.

For God in all his fullness

    was pleased to live in Christ,

and through him God reconciled

    everything to himself.

He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth

    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Reader: “The powerful word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As a Christian who is a musician and one who has composed thousands of notes and set countless texts for worship, I’m always keenly aware of the theology of the songs and hymns we sing. Hence, I have an unsettled concern for the large numbers of “love songs to Jesus” and the overwhelming use of the first person pronouns in the contemporary songs of much of the present worship culture. Christianity is a singing faith and we sing what we believe which is what brings the unease. One would be hard pressed to build a biblical theology based on the sung texts of some of the more popular worship songs. For example, in many cases you would never discover the Trinity. And right about now, you are thinking, what does this “soapbox” have to do with Christmastide? Thank you for asking! The passage you read from Colossians is most likely a hymn text from the early church, already in use by the time of Paul’s writing of this letter. The nature of the Greek sets it apart from the rest of the body of this letter. This is a hymn text that truly sings what we believe. In fact it is so sound, it has wound up in the Bible! I dare say few of our current day texts would ever wind up as Scripture! Take the first nine words: “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” The Greek word for image is “icon.” It means that he is exactly like the Father in every way. If you want to know what God is like, immerse yourself in Christ. Study every facet of the Savior you can find. Study what he says, why he says it, how he says it, when he says it. Ask yourself the same questions with what he does. Put yourself in the story when he’s talking with his disciples or speaking to the leaders or healing a blind man or raising the dead. The rest of this pericope answers every question you can think of: where you came from, why you are here, where did everything else come from, what’s the point of it all, how he solved the human problem, what’s the relationship between heaven and earth, in a nutshell, how everything fits together. That visible image which arrived a few years back in Bethlehem, will become visible again when he returns to bring a new heaven and a new earth . . . and visibility will be beyond anything we can imagine! Colossians 1:15-20 is a text worth singing and believing! You can see some of the other texts of our songs in the book of Revelation.

Music:  “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child”   Christ Church Nashville

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLTbDVNpowc

Bonus:  “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”   Medieval

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpsj25M1QdI

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, you are not simply the best human being, but God Incarnate in human flesh. You came from the highest and holiest and entered into this world through the lowliest door. In the same way, you entered my heart, another lowly door, another Bethlehem. And with that entrance into my life, a new life in me was born. Lord Jesus, how very grateful I am for your humbling of yourself out of love to come to us, to come to me. It is your great grace and mercy that gives light and life to all who will respond to the gospel. May you receive glory as you live your life in all those who have put their trust in you. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.                                      ―Daniel Sharp

Saturday, December 28

Reader: “Unless you turn from your sins and become like little children,” 

Response: “You will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Scripture: Matthew 18:1-14

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

“What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

“Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

As we have mentioned many times previously, when looking at a passage of Scripture, it is always important to know what comes before and what comes after. What is the larger message the author is getting at? In this case, a little bit earlier Jesus had told his disciples about his upcoming death and resurrection. While they understood the death part, but did not tie it to Jesus, it seems the resurrection side of things escaped them all together. Jesus then talked with all the disciples again about his coming death and how it would happen. The disciples had heard Jesus talk about the Kingdom of Heaven on numerous occasions. Perhaps out of jealousy towards Peter, James, and John being closer to Jesus and witnesses to the Transfiguration, the disciples were embroiled in a vigorous discussion about which one of them was the greatest. Three years of traveling with Jesus and they are having this kind of conversation? At least they were embarrassed to admit it (Lk. 9:46-48). Jesus gave them an object lesson and a picture of the heart attitude of a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, that of a humble little child. Think of the sweetness and trust of a four year old. In addition, Jesus gave a very strong warning to anyone who causes one of these trusting ones to stumble. To give indication as to how strongly he meant it, Jesus gave two drastic examples. In his words, it would be better to  cut off a hand or gouge out an eye rather cause a child to stumble. He concluded this portion with another story of the lost sheep indicating how great is the Father’s love for his children. One can’t help but notice the great contrast in our societies where the nature of the conversation of the disciples is the staple food of interaction (who’s the greatest). When was the last time you ran into someone, (other than a four year old!), who had a genuinely humble heart toward the Kingdom of Heaven? I once had a pastor tell me to not ever show your weakness, as people will think you are soft. Needless to say, I dismissed that advice! The Apostle Paul gloried in his weakness. Jesus humbled himself to the point of death. Jesus also humbled himself to find a manger as his first cradle. Come to think about it, he did become a little child. 

Music: “Angels We Have Heard on High”   Robert Shaw Chorale gorgeous

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1hegkE9Lb0

 

Bonus: “Angels we have Heard on High”  The Piano Guys, Unique! Instrumental, (32 fingers, 8 thumbs)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n543eKIdbUI

 

Bonus: “Angels We Have Heard On High”  Home Free

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teSuDu84kMc

Prayer: A Child’s Prayer

Make me, dear Lord, polite and kind to everyone, I pray; and may I ask you how you find Yourself, dear Lord, today? Amen.   ―from Eerdman’s Book of Famous Prayers, p.60

Friday, December 27

Reader: “He has given us eternal life,” 

Response: “and this life is in his Son.”

Scripture: I John 5:1-12

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony. So we have these three witnesses— the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree. Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about his Son. All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son.

And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

“But do I have to dad?” Response, “You will if you love me?” Response, “But dad, that’s manipulation!” Response, “No, it reveals your true heart, a heart that is more concerned with itself.” OUCH! “Loving God means keeping his commands.” It is never love God, and do as you please.  Loving and obedience are directly connected. In this pericope, John gives us the premiere example of what he has just admonished. Jesus Christ was obedient to the Father in his baptism. When John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Why are you coming to me?”, Jesus responded, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” demonstrating his obedience out of love for the Father. Remember the Father’s response from heaven, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” At Jesus’ baptism the third member of the Trinity affirmed Jesus’ action in that the Spirit descended upon him as a dove. Then there was another example of Jesus demonstrating his love for the Father. His love was so great that he shed drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, a place where we read these words, “. . . yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Jesus’ love for the Father manifested in obedience. When he died on the cross, his side was pierced and out came water and blood. And how does this connect to Christmastide? You’ll recall in the Old Testament that necessary of at least two witnesses to confirm a truth (Deut.19:15). Blood, water and the Spirit confirm the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. To fail to believe these three witnesses, is to call God a liar and conclude that Jesus is not the Son of God. And what does God say by testifying that Jesus is his Son? The conclusion is, if you believe in Jesus, you have eternal life. If you don’t believe he is the Son of God, you don’t have eternal life. When Mary’s water broke and a little baby boy was born with some blood on him and the angels in heaven sang, “Glory to God in the highest . . .,” that  was a clue. Did you notice that Jesus never said, “Do I have to Father?” It’s because he loves you.

Music: “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”   King’s College Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4yYb6yCNws 

Bonus: “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”         Wissmann family

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkCjddxp1g4 

Bonus: “Do You Hear What I Hear?”    Home Free Wow!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIQQDYaoWpc 

Prayer:

My Father in heaven, if obedience is the measure of my love for Thee, I am humbled to face the truth. Sometimes my intention is good and on other occasions, it is tainted. At times, obedience is a struggle. I would think I should have outgrown this reluctance by this time. Obedience brings joy and there is a wonderful feeling knowing I have walked the path I should. Why then is it so hard to be consistent? The water, blood and Spirit remind me again and again that I must dwell daily in the One who was obedient, even to death on a cross. May I likewise, die to self every day that I may live, even as my Savior lives in and through me hour by hour, day by day, year by year, decade by decade, through all of eternity. Amen.                  ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, December 26

Reader: “A cry was heard in Ramah—weeping and great mourning.”

Response: “Rachel weeps for her children.”

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-18

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,

    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,

for a ruler will come from you

    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview, the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A cry was heard in Ramah—

    weeping and great mourning.

Rachel weeps for her children,

    refusing to be comforted,

    for they are dead.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

In keeping with yesterday’s mindset, we come to another part of the Christmas Story that is also well known, the account of the visit of the wisemen. We have the many paintings of the nativity with wisemen, camels, shepherds, sheep, the donkey, and the holy family. Not wishing to wreck everyone’s image of the manger scene, we gently and humbly look again at the Scriptures. Once again, we are given a very specific historical date as to the time frame of the birth of our Savior. The Magi arrived in Jerusalem sometime after the birth, we just don’t know how long afterwards. King Herod, who by now was in his mid 70’s and already “disturbed,” got even more disturbed when he heard the news of the newborn king of the Jews. (Herod murdered two of his wives and three of his sons out of suspicion that they were plotting against him.) Herod was an Edomite, an offspring of Jacob’s brother, Esau, thus the Jews never accepted him since he was not from the kingly line of David, nor was he a Jew.  He also had a link to the Romans and was noted for his large building projects, including the reconstruction of the Jewish Temple. Though not a Jew, he apparently knew something of the Scriptures, as the birth of a Jewish Messiah troubled him greatly. The Magi were apparently in Jerusalem long enough for Herod to call them for a private meeting as he hatched his plot. You know the next part. The star led the wisemen to the house, not a stable, where Jesus was. In those days, the animals were actually kept in the lower part of the house with the living quarters being more on a second floor. My guess is that the Magi stayed a few days. The words are “when it was time to leave.” Other than the giving of the three gifts we don’t really know what the rest of the conversations were! When you meld Luke’s account with Matthew’s, you come up with some interesting things. Eight days after Jesus’ birth, in accordance with Jewish law, Jesus was circumcised and named on the eighth day at the Temple in Jerusalem, right under Herod’s nose. And then forty days later, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus back again for the purification offering at the Temple in Jerusalem where they encountered Simeon and Anna. Sometime later they left in the middle of the night to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to kill all baby boys two years old and under. 

So how does all of this play out? We may have read the above account and figured it was all over in a week or so. Not so. God’s timing and plan are different than ours. I fear he is in much less of a hurry than are we. Have you noticed that Jesus never ran anywhere? He walked. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus had a great deal of stress from the beginning and it was their first child. But their responses were always of faith and trust in God’s timing. Even in awful situations, they didn’t panic.  There may be a lesson here; in the midst of tension and difficulty, rest in God’s sovereign timing, even when people are evil and crazy.

Music: “The Wexford Carol”  Allison Kraus and Yo Yo Ma   Tremendous!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxDZjg_Igoc

Bonus: “Mary, Did You Know?”  Vocative with Mark Lowrey, (the guy who wrote the song) DON’T MISS THIS!!!! Best setting of this I’ve ever heard. Astounding voices.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaRpeMT1tjQ

Prayer:

O Lord my God, perfect us in such patience that we may be in no haste to escape from toil or loneliness or suffering; yet ever in haste to serve Thee, to please Thee, and, when Thou wilt, to go home to Thy blessed Presence. Amen.          ―Christina Rossetti

Wednesday, December 25

Reader: “Glory to God in the highest,”

Response: “And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20    (KJV)

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Reader: “The glorious word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

I would guess you have heard the Christmas Story at least as many times as your age, probably more. We pretty much know the basics. I used the King James Version as it is the most elegant translation from my perspective. The danger in knowing something so well is that it simply reads like “Goodnight Moon” or some other wonderful children’s book. It’s virtually memorized and we just enjoy the sound of hearing it again. The account of the entrance of God into this world in human flesh can become nothing other than “The Christmas Story,” followed by “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Our challenge is not to romanticize the nativity account. For example, it is very unlikely that Mary rode the 90 miles from Nazareth on the back of a donkey in the cold of December while she was nine months pregnant! The biblical account says nothing about a donkey, the cold, the month of December, or exactly when they went to Bethlehem. But the names of the people in the story were real people, not characters in a book. They lived in real time, not “once upon a time.” Real shepherds were protecting sheep in the night when a real angel, and then more real angels appeared and talked with them. That would be frightening! Yet, the shepherds were the first believers who decided to go and see for themselves that which they had been told about. It turned out to be true, and they saw their Creator as a little bundle, wrapped up in a manger. . .that sounds so much nicer than a feeding trough! Now we come to something that truly sets this story apart. Not only is it real, we are connected to this story even as you read this sentence. We are always at a distance from “Goodnight Moon” or “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” They were stories. We are in the Christmas Story. It’s living now. The Baby is an adult in heaven. What has resulted as of that night, made possible for you and me to enter into the ongoing story of that grown up Baby. I don’t know if you ever think about the words of the carols you have been singing. Many of the verbs in the carols are present tense: “O come ye, come ye to Bethlehem, come and behold him, born the King of angels,” “Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning,” “Silent night, holy night all is come, all is bright,” “Hail, the heaven born prince of peace, Hail the Sun of Righteousness,“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth,””O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,” “Come to Bethlehem and see, him whose birth the angels sing.” Why all the present tense verbs? It’s something that happened long ago. There is a significant theological reason and a Greek word for it (of course)! The word is anamnesis. The concept is bringing the Christ event that happened in the past into the present. The impact of the event is timeless, that is, because of Jesus, what happened is living in the present. Christ is outside of time, yet at the same time, present in our time. Because we are in Christ, (“if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”), we can sing present tense. When we sing these carols, we are not singing about something in the past, we are there. It’s not pretending, it’s real because of Christ. The Jewish people practice this very thing as they observe Passover every year. Remember the question the children ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In the remembering of that night, the past is brought into the present. It’s not recreating. It’s impact is continuous and eternal.  “O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”

Music: “Fanfare and Carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful”  arr. David Wilcocks Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble and Bach Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YG2woiVsJrc 

Bonus: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”    Voctave WOW!!! Tremendous, 11 singers a cappella

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CljN1YIxHiI

Prayer:

Almighty God, we give Thee thanks for the mighty yearning of the human heart of the coming of a Savior, and the constant promise of Thy Word that he was to come. In our own souls we repeat the humble sighs and panting aspirations of ancient men and ages, and own that our souls are in darkness and infirmity without faith in Him who comes to bring God to man and man to God. We praise Thee that Thou hast drawn us into Thyself and hast not left us out of Thy story, the best of all stories. O God, prepare Thou the way in us now, and may we welcome Thy Holy Child anew day by day. We pray that the glorious day of Thy birth may lead to the glorious day of new birth for multitudes of Thy children. In the name of Jesus. Amen.     

   ―from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.360, Samuiel Osgood, 1862, adapted Daniel Sharp

Reminder: the Sharp Devotionals go all the way to Epiphany, January 6th.

Tuesday, December 24

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is here!” (As you light the Christ Candle.)

Reader: “Glory to God in the highest,”

Response: “And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!

    She will give birth to a son,

and they will call him Immanuel,

    which means ‘God is with us.’”

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

While Luke wrote what was going on in Mary’s life in regard to the visit of the angel, Matthew gives us insight into what was going on in Joseph’s mind. Don’t you wonder how Mary broke the news to Joseph? Imagine his shock! He obviously did not believe her story. I doubt anyone would. As a man who followed the law, he could not marry an adulteress. He had a couple of options. He could expose her to a public trial and have her put to death, or he could pay a fine and divorce her quietly. He decided on the latter. As he was thinking things through, an angel appeared to him in a dream and confirmed Mary was telling him the truth. What must have gone through his head when he woke up. After the dream, he resolved things in his mind and took Mary as his wife, but did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. Joseph was a remarkable man. In fact the Scriptures say he was a good man. He strikes me as a quiet unassuming carpenter who stayed out of the limelight. He and Mary did go on to have four more sons and several daughters. He apparently died before Jesus began his public ministry as we hear nothing about him after Jesus was twelve. I think it would be fascinating to talk with Joseph. What was it like to raise a little boy who was God? Did you teach him to walk? How did he relate to his siblings? It is also touching that it was Joseph who named him Jesus, showing that he accepted Mary’s baby as his own. In fact elsewhere the Scriptures state that people just assumed Jesus was Joseph’s son. If we just stop and think about this whole story, who would ever have come up with this tale? God, the Creator of the universe, lovingly sends his Son to earth who is conceived as a human being. The Son would be completely human in every way, hence born of a woman, and, at the same time, retain his divinity because he would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Only the Creator of all could bring this about. This whole story reads like fantasy except that it is tied to human history and is true and people’s lives are changed by this Jesus.

Music: “O Holy Night” Home Free

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CO6OZIY-lYw

 

Bonus: “O Holy Night”  Il Divo You will listen to this one multiple times. Voices from heaven!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5j_XuATgRU      DON’T MISS IT!! One of the best of the whole Advent Season!

Prayer:

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: grant that we, being regenerated and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.     ―BCP

Monday, December 23

Reader: “The Annunciation.”

Response: “God is conceived in his earthly mother!”

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

With the birth of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s baby boy, I’m sure they were wondering what’s next? And for six months nothing happened. In fact, Elizabeth went into seclusion. I’m sure she appreciated being out of the limelight and hearing all the gossip. Can you imagine the talk if a 75 year old woman got pregnant with an 80 year old husband now? They’d be on 60 Minutes! Seclusion makes perfect sense. Then the same angel, Gabriel, visited the teen-age girl, Mary. In those days it was common for girls to marry in their mid-teens. Also, “engaged” in that culture would have the same understanding as “married” does today. The normal practice was for the bridegroom to take a year to prepare their home. Then he would come to get his bride and take her to their new home and the marriage would then be consummated. Hence, Mary’s comment that she was a virgin, and wondered how she would become pregnant. Luke makes a point of saying that Joseph is of the lineage of King David, the tribe of Judah, the tribe of the Messiah. Any number of scholars hold that the genealogy in Luke 3 is actually Mary’s genealogy and that Heli is her father and Joseph’s father-in-law resulting in both Mary and Joseph being of the royal tribe of Judah and descendants of King David. Notice the difference in the responses of Zechariah and Mary to the angel Gabriel. Zechariah’s words were, “How can I be sure this will happen?” i.e. I have doubts it will occur. Now let’s look at Mary’s situation. Note Gabriel told Mary she would conceive, give birth to a son and name him Jesus. He would be called the Son of the Most High and he would have an eternal throne. He would be the eternal king in the line of David. (As a young Jewish girl, Mary would have known all about King David.) He would reign over Israel forever! That is a lot of information for a teenage girl to absorb!! Mary’s response was, “How can this happen?” i.e. I don’t doubt it, but since I’m a virgin, how is it that I’ll become pregnant? Gabriel answered plain and simple. You will become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Your baby will be holy, the Son of God. Deity. Then the angel gives Mary a kind of reassuring touch, letting her know she is not alone in these miraculous happenings. Her cousin, Elizabeth was six months along in her pregnancy. It is quite possible Mary didn’t know about Elizabeth, since Nazareth was about 80 miles from the Jerusalem region where Elizabeth lived. With all this information from Gabriel, Mary gave a remarkably mature answer for a young girl. “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Within a few days  Mary took off to visit Elizabeth. Mary also probably needed some time away from home and news undoubtedly would have spread. “Did you hear? That young girl, Mary, the one engaged to the carpenter, is already pregnant!! Oops!” But, Mary and Elizabeth had three months together as the Forerunner of the Messiah and the Son of God grew in their mothers’ wombs. The mother of God was truly a remarkable young woman!

Music: “Silent Night”  

 Sissel Kyrkjebϴ    This Norwegian lady has one of the most beautiful soprano voices you will ever hear. Effortless!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK3_Kr2nLtA&list=RDuK3_Kr2nLtA&start_radio=1&t=127&t=0 

Bonus: “Silent Night”   Libera -Exquisite Boy Choir    The Brits know how to do Christmas!!! Don’t miss this either!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PNzMy3lzAA 

Prayer:

Holy Father in heaven, Gabriel said nothing is impossible with you. Young Mary believed him and all of creation was eternally changed. Grant that I may be as trusting, simple, and transparent as was Mary. She continues to give us a picture of uncomplicated obedience and complete childlike trust in you. She ultimately suffered greatly as she stood at the cross watching her Son die for those he created. Thank you for her glorious example and for choosing her to be the earthly mother of your Son in whose name we pray. Amen.     ―Daniel Sharp

Sunday, December 22

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the fourth Advent candle.)

Reader: “My words will certainly be fulfilled . . . ”

Response: “. . .at the proper time.”

Scripture: Luke 1:5-25

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.

When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. Soon afterward, his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”

Reader: “The certain word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Friends, there is such richness in that first paragraph. Our tendency is to read the words and move on. It pays to linger and ponder why Luke included each phrase that is there. When Herod was king of Judea (37-4 BC) put Luke’s account in historical time, E.g., this is an actual event in history. We’ll say more about Herod in a few days. Zechariah was a Jewish priest. All priests had to be Jewish and descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. In clarifying Zechariah’s lineage, Luke tells us he was of the order of Abijah. If we look in I Chronicles 24:10, we learn that Abijah was a direct descendent of Eleazar or Ithamar, two sons of Aaron. Luke also mentions that Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. When a priest married and the wife was also from the priestly line, this was viewed with even greater distinction in regard to piety. This is borne out in Luke’s next statement as he writes of their righteousness in the eyes of God. They were obedient to the Lord’s commands. The fact that they had no children was a distinct social stigma. Dr. Luke states bluntly that Elizabeth was unable to conceive. To make matters more hopeless, they were old! There is a recurring occurrence throughout Scripture.  Have you noticed the various accounts of barren women? Sarah-Isaac, Rebecca-Jacob, Rachel-Joseph, the unnamed woman who was the mother of Samson, Elisha and an unnamed woman, whose son he raised from the dead, Hannah-Samuel, and Elizabeth-John the Baptist. If you think about it, each of these sons of previously barren women played a significant role in the unfolding of God’s grand plan of redemption. Back to Zechariah. There were twenty-four orders of priests with a large number of priests in each order. So the privilege of burning incense in the sanctuary of the Temple, the Holy Place, (not the worship center!) was determined by lot. Since there were hundreds of priests, this opportunity may come only once in a priest’s lifetime. This burning of incense was not in the Holy of Holies, since only the High Priest could enter that part of the Temple and Zechariah was clearly not the High Priest. You can imagine his excitement in being chosen for this task with a great crowd of people outside praying during his time in the Holy Place. Then an angel appears! Appearances of angels were rare and the usual response was one of fear and terror. Gabriel gave a rather blunt and shocking message.(This is the same Gabriel from the book of Daniel some 500 years earlier.) I cannot imagine being in that situation. He had doubts about Gabriel’s words. Ever the diplomat in his response, Zechariah described himself as old and his wife as “well along in years!” You know the rest. Zechariah was unable to speak until the child was born. Their child, John the Baptist, was of priestly lineage, proclaimed as a prophet, and hailed the coming of the King. God is in the details, then and now. There are no wasted words in Scripture.

Music: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”   Josh Groban

www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiSqct-Ei80

Prayer:

Grant, O Lord, that thy Spirit may permeate every sphere of human thought and activity. Let those who believe in thee take with them into their daily work the value of thy kingdom, the insights of the gospel and the love of their fellow-men. Hasten the time when justice and brotherhood shall be established and when all men shall be brought into the unity of thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.    ―The Oxford Book of Prayer, George Appleton

Saturday, December 21

Reader: “He is from heaven.”

Response: “We are of the earth.”

Scripture: John 3:31-36    

“He has come from above and is greater than anyone else. We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but he has come from heaven and is greater than anyone else. He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but how few believe what he tells them! Anyone who accepts his testimony can affirm that God is true. For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”

Some thoughts: 

These next days of devotionals will be focusing specifically on the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. The above passage were the words of John the Baptist. Previously, John had told his own disciples that he was not the Messiah, but that the Messiah would become greater and he would become lesser. Then we have his above words. John is stating a magnificent truth in regards to Jesus. The words “He has come from above” have a deeper significance than is first apparent. The Greek word for “above” carries with it the idea of a completely different reality and world. The origins of the two worlds are vastly different. Think about a human that looks, acts, and is every bit as much of a human being as you are. In fact, go in front of a mirror and look at yourself, your arms, face, your whole body. Now imagine that person you are looking at came from another world, an “environment” totally different from this world. (Movies make a living with this idea!) In that dimension everything was perfect, but more perfect, holy, and pure than anyone from this earthly world can conceive of. This “heavenly being” speaks of his “other world” as to what he has seen and heard and why he has come to this earth at all. Furthermore, he claimed to be God and forgave sin! (Movies leave this part out!) The Creator of the earth, came to the very place he created. People who lived then touched and talked to the One who made them and this planet. Grasping that truth boggles the mind even now. One would think people would flock to this vastly superior human being and drink in every word. Why would such an eminent person care about this earthly world with all its troubles in the first place? The truth is, all of the earthly humans ultimately rejected the words of the heavenly Savior and, to our shame, killed him. It was only after his resurrection and victory over death, that people of this earth began to repent and believe in him. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is the bedrock of the faith. One person, fully God, fully human, came from a different dimension from heaven to bring restoration to the entire created order on earth. His arrival to planet earth will be celebrated in just a few days. Don’t let the festivities of the day cover the significance of his largely unnoticed arrival. When he returns again, it will be noticed by all!

Music: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”   Celtic Women Beautiful voices! . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xw38pGhPXIk 

Bonus: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”    Kings College Choir Spectacular Brass and Cathedral setting, don’t miss it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hRq3vy7I-4 

Prayer:

O Source of all good, what shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts, thine own dear Son, begotten, not created, my redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute, his self-emptying incomprehensible, his infinity of love beyond the heart’s grasp. Herein is wonder of wonders: he came below to raise me above, was born like me that I might become like him. Here is love; when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace, to raise me to himself. Herein is power: when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart he united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreate and the created. Herein is wisdom: when I was undone with no will to return to him, and no intellect to devise recovery, he came, God-incarnate, to save to the uttermost, as man to die my death, to shed satisfying blood on my behalf, to work out a perfect righteousness for me. O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds, and enlarge my mind; let me hear good tidings of great joy, and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore, my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose, my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father; place me with ox, ass, camel, goat, to look with them upon my redeemer’s face, and in him account myself delivered from sin; let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart, embrace him with undying faith, exulting that he is mine and I am his. In him thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

                ―from The Valley of Vision, p.16

Friday, December 20

Reader: “It is not so much God the Father out looking for children”

Response: “as it is we are orphans in search of a Father.”    ―Matthew Henry

Scripture: Galatians 4:1-7

Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had.They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

“But when the right time came . . .” That’s an interesting phrase. What made it the right time? God only knows, but it was the right time to fulfill the Law. God would make everything new. What is certain is that God was working out his plan for the entire created universe and everything in it. At the time of the birth of Jesus, his people, the Jews, lived under the Law as given to Moses 1400 years earlier. The Law was given to show the people that they could not keep it, but were sinners, ultimately in a hopeless situation in relation to God. It is at this point that God personally stepped in to solve their problem by the birth of his perfect Son. God greatly loved his children, flawed as they were. In his great love, the Father made a way to adopt these spiritual orphans. In adopting them, he claimed them as true heirs giving to them all the rights and privileges as his very own children. He sealed this relationship by giving them the Holy Spirit in their hearts. And the Spirit bore witness to this marvelous truth. What you have probably noticed that everything above was past tense and in the third person. The wonderful truth is, we are all those spiritual orphans. Because of the “right time” all the third person pronouns become second person (you and me) and all the past tense is, in fact, present tense. “Now is the time of salvation.” God’s grand plan is still unfolding and we are part of it! Ask the Lord what part you have in what he is doing today. His timing will be “right.”

Music: “The First Noel”    University of Utah Singers    Gorgeous!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRSqp4hoFVo

Prayer:

Give us courage, O Lord, to stand up and be counted, to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, to stand up for ourselves when it is needful for us to do so. Let us fear nothing more than we fear you. Let us love nothing more than we love you, for thus we shall fear nothing also. Let us have no other God before you, whether nation or party or state or church. Let us seek no other peace but the peace which is yours, and make us its instruments, opening our eyes and our ears and our hearts, so that we should know always what work of peace we may do for you.    ―Alan Paton, 1903-1988, author of Cry the Beloved Country, from Eerdman’s Book of Famous Prayers, p.94

Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.   ―BCP

Thursday, December 19

Reader: “The coming of Christ . . .”

Response: “opened the door to everyone.”

Scripture: Galatians 3:23-29

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

I’m not sure we fully grasp these words; we certainly have a different understanding than did the people of Galatia. The Jews knew they were God’s chosen people. They were born his chosen people. The heart aspect of a relationship to God had escaped many of them. Paul went to great lengths to drive home that there was more than ethnicity involved in being God’s children. Jesus challenged the Jewish religious leaders again and again on this very point. Faith was essential. No one could perfectly keep the Law. In reading the last paragraph above you can begin to see how striking it would be to Jews and Greeks and Romans as well realizing how radical this truth was in light of their culture. Not only do you have ethnic unity, you have unity between slave and free, male and female. Have you noticed how hard some factions in our society work to separate people into various groups where the group defines itself by its own system of beliefs and values. There is little interest in any kind of unity among people. Other groups are enemies to be defeated. The beauty of the gospel is that being united by saving faith in Christ and dying to self and being buried with him in baptism brings a oneness that spans ages, cultures, languages, economic states, and all peoples. All “groups” are unified in Christ Jesus. He is the one who shapes everyone’s values, put simply, he is God over all. It is likely that some barn animals, on behalf of all creation, were among the first living creatures to see the One who made all of this possible. The lowly shepherds came. The angels got heaven involved with their singing. Eventually wealthy non-Jewish magi arrived to pay homage. An old Jewish priest held the Savior and an old widow’s prayers were answered as she too saw this infant Unifier of all people. As you walk around today doing what you normally do, look at the people around you, (don’t stare!), and realize they can all be part of Abraham’s heirs through faith in Jesus. Pray for them as you go your way.

Music: “Angels from the Realms of Glory”  BYU Idaho Dept. of Music

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfY439TNxJA

“Angels from the Realms of Glory”   Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Sissel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocenOoBWwTM&list=PL1EBB3A25BDE4EE48&index=2

Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, this world is filled with nations, tribes, ethnic groups, peoples and factions hopelessly fractured and warring with one another. Nations squabble. People groups within nations wage vitriolic verbal wars. Civility barely survives. Lord God of heaven and earth, Creator of all that is seen and unseen, source of redemption, love, and healing, grant that this year’s celebration of the birth of the Savior may in some remarkable way point this troubled world to unity in the person of your perfect Son, our Savior. May the celebration of the nativity by millions of your children serve to draw many others to repent of their ways and their cold hearts and receive forgiveness, discovering the joy of true fellowship with all peoples as brothers and sisters in Christ. And Lord, may we be useful to you in that process. In our Savior’s name we pray. Amen.
―Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, December 18

Reader: “The entire town came out to meet Jesus. . .”

Response: “and told him to go away and leave them alone.”

Scripture: Matthew 8:14-17; 28-34

When Jesus arrived at Peter’s house, Peter’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a high fever. But when Jesus touched her hand, the fever left her. Then she got up and prepared a meal for him.

That evening many demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. He cast out the evil spirits with a simple command, and he healed all the sick. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah, who said,

“He took our sicknesses

    and removed our diseases.”

When Jesus arrived on the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes, two men who were possessed by demons met him. They came out of the tombs and were so violent that no one could go through that area.

They began screaming at him, “Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before God’s appointed time?”

There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding in the distance. So the demons begged, “If you cast us out, send us into that herd of pigs.”

“All right, go!” Jesus commanded them. So the demons came out of the men and entered the pigs, and the whole herd plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water.

The herdsmen fled to the nearby town, telling everyone what happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.

Reader: “The word of the Lord,”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
You have undoubtedly read this passage many times. But what is going on besides a mere narrative of a another day in the life of Jesus and the disciples? Let’s look a little closer. Jesus cures Peter’s mother-in-law of a high fever instantly in this case. Sometimes his healing is over a longer period of time. Jesus has power over disease, but the “high fever” responds to Jesus much as a person would answer a command. Did you notice, Jesus absorbed her fever into himself when he touched her? Look at Isaiah’s words, “He took our sicknesses and removed our diseases.” In this case, Jesus did it literally. The mother-in-law responded with gratitude by preparing a meal for Jesus. Word got out about Jesus’ presence in town and many demon-possessed people came to be delivered and with a simple command, the demons left. Whether by touch or by word, Jesus’ authority extends over sickness and the world of demons. Following Jesus’ stilling the storm, (his authority over the elements), Jesus arrived at the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Here we have the encounter with the demoniacs. Did you notice the men’s response when Jesus arrived? Their word . . . “Why are you interfering with us, Son of God?” Jesus always referred to himself as the Son of Man, until the very end of his trial before the religious leaders when they asked him point blank, “Are you the Son of God?” And he responded, “You say I am.” The reason being, I believe Jesus was pacing the full revelation of himself in order to preach repentance and the Kingdom of Heaven before the final confrontation. He needed the disciples to get the full picture, which they didn’t! The demons speaking through the men’s voices knew of their coming judgment and damnation. They bargained with Jesus for a delay in their final doom. They asked to be sent into a herd of pigs, the vilest of unclean animals to the Jews, and an occupation unlawful for Jews. At his command the demons entered the swine. The pigs’ herdsmen spread the news of what had happened. The entire townspeople came out to meet the man who had brought this deliverance. Their response to Jesus was interesting to say the least. You would think they would be glad for what happened. But no, the opposite occurred. They asked him to leave! Don’t you wonder why? The presence of God in their midst made them uncomfortable. They wanted the status quo to remain, as do we. Things and people have a certain place in our lives. We know where we stand. Everyone knows their place in the scheme of things and needs to stay in their place. When something dramatic happens to someone, that changes all the relational dynamics. Power shifts. We like the way it used to be, especially if we had the power. Since Jesus was the cause of upsetting the social structure, he needed to leave. Two demon possessed men were now in right mind and body, they were normal. The people weren’t quite sure how to relate to them. Before Jesus did any more upsetting things, they asked him to leave. Many people around you these days respond to Jesus the very same way. They hear the manger story, but make sure he stays the baby in the manger, not the Lord of creation and Lord of their lives. When Christmas is over, they ask baby Jesus to leave them alone and stay in the manger.

Music: “Lo, How A Rose”  Pacific Chorale
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqkSPPVLf24 

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Ruler of all that is seen and unseen, grant that we would have the courage to not run away when you get close to us. Your call to our lives is transformational. We admit we resist. We like to be in control and we like things to stay the same, that way we don’t have to change and go through unsettledness. We know where we stand and where others stand. We like comfort. Where there is a change, we want to be the ones to control it at our pace. We confess as we study your word and listen to your indwelling Holy Spirit that you are ever calling us to conformity to your Son. Put simply, it means you call us to change. You do not always do what we want or expect. At times your ways are very unsettling and upsetting as in casting out the demons and sending them into the pigs. In those kinds of instances, give us courage to embrace you and not ask you to leave us alone. May this be a day of greater conformity to your image that you may be glorified in every moment. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.     ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, December 17

Reader: “Build each other up”

Response: “in our most holy faith.”

Scripture: Jude 1:17-25

But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.

Reader: “The word of the Lord,” 

Response: “coming from the Jesus’ earthly brother who came to believe in Him.”

Some thoughts:
The author of this book is Jude, the same person named Judas in Mark 6:3, one of Jesus’ earthly brothers, another of the sons of Mary and Joseph. (Can you imagine having Jesus for an older brother??) Jude’s purpose in writing this short book is to warn the people in the early church to resist false teachers. The core of their teaching was that God’s grace covered everything so they could indulge in whatever they wanted. Mix that with the Greek view of the separation of body and spirit and you have a recipe for a disaster. Prior to the passage you just read, Jude reminded his readers of the judgment the Israelites received for their rebellion against God, the doom the rebellious angels face, and the conflagration that enveloped Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude then harkened back to the biblical characters of Cain, Balaam, and Korah, all of whom revealed ungodly behavior and wicked hearts. With those things in mind, Jude builds towards the consequences of such a mind set. People in rebellion against God breed division. In their desire to satisfy themselves and their ideas, they drive division, pitting people against other people. They have replaced God as Lord, and put themselves in that position. In truth, they have become their own god. They make their own truth. Sound familiar? This is Jude writing about 45-50 AD! People haven’t changed much in the last 2,000 years. Jude then writes an encouraging word to the believers and to us. Build each other up; pray in the power of the Holy Spirit; show mercy wisely. He touches on something rather tricky here. Jude urges his readers to show mercy, but in showing mercy to do so with wisdom, not embracing the sin in the person’s life while at the same time embracing the person. So often in our culture, embracing the person is interpreted as embracing and accepting the sin they are involved in. Hence, Jude’s words, “embrace with great caution.” Be wise and have a good day in the mission field.

Music: “O Come, Let Us Adore Him”    Voctave
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CljN1YIxHiI 

Prayer:
O Thou who art the only origin of all that is good and fair and true, unto Thee I lift up my soul. O God, let Thy Spirit now enter my heart. Now as I pray this prayer let not any room within me be furtively closed to keep Thee out. O God, give me power to follow after that which is good. Now as I pray this prayer, let there be no secret purpose of evil formed in my mind, that waits for an opportunity of fulfilment. O God, bless my enemies who have done me wrong. Now as I pray this prayer, let me not still cherish in my heart the resolve to requite them when occasion offers. O Holy Spirit of God, as I rise from these acts of devotion, let me not return to evil thoughts and worldly ways, but let that mind be in me which was also in Christ Jesus, my Lord. Amen.
―from
A Diary of Private Prayer, p.31

Monday, December 16

Reader: “God’s power is revealed,”

Response: “and the people respond.”

Scripture: Acts 5:12-16

The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade. But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women. As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.

Some thoughts:
The events as described above probably occurred within a couple of months of the resurrection and only weeks after Jesus’ ascension into the heavens. It was a singularly charged time in Jerusalem. You can imagine how stories circulated! Believers were gathering regularly in the Colonnade at the Temple. They were not waiting for Sunday services! Solomon’s Colonnade is a massive open space adjacent to the Temple. It could easily accommodate several thousand people at a time. The word was out, miraculous things were happening in relation to this new faith, somewhat related to the well-known Jewish faith. The apostles held in awe as they were given the power to heal and cast out evil spirits. Have you noticed that people are attracted to the unusual, the powerful, the mysterious, the awe-inspiring? There was clearly something very different about these men, these apostles. The “different” was the indwelling Holy Spirit. There is another phrase elsewhere in the New Testament referring to the disciples that “they had been with Jesus.” When people are attracted to you, could it be that it is because you have been with Jesus or that they are drawn to Jesus who indwells you? I remember back when I was teaching music in a public elementary school. One day, one of the little first grade boys came up to me and, out of the blue asked, “Are you Jesus?” I have no idea what sparked that question but he must have sensed something of the Savior. I just told him I was not Jesus, but I knew him! In this Advent season, I pray that as you move throughout this day and the days ahead, that, like the apostles, people will be drawn to you because they sense the power of the Lord within you. May the winsomeness of the Savior shine through you as you stand in line waiting to checkout!

Music: “I Wonder as I Wander”     Cambridge Choir
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JcXbaNpaq4 

Prayer:
My Lord and Savior, cause me to be a mirror of thy grace, to show others the joy of thy service. May my lips be well-tuned cymbals sounding thy praise. Let a halo of heavenly-mindedness sparkle around me and a lamp of kindness sunbeam my path. Teach me the happy art of attending to things temporal with a mind intent on things eternal. Send me forth to have compassion on the ignorant and miserable. Help me to walk as Jesus walked, my only Savior and perfect model, his mind my inward guest, his meekness my covering garb. Let my happy place be amongst the poor in spirit, my delight the gentle ranks of the meek. Let me always esteem others better than myself, and find in true humility an heirdom to two worlds. *May his beauty rest upon me as I seek the lost to win. And may they forget the channel, seeing only him. Amen.
―from
The Valley of Vision and *May the Mind of Christ My Savior, v.6

Sunday, December 15

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the third (pink) Advent candle.)

Reader: “A Magnificat . . .”

Response: “from the New Testament.”

Scripture: Luke 1:46-55

Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,

    and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation

    to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

He has brought down princes from their thrones

    and exalted the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

    and sent the rich away with empty hands.

He has helped his servant Israel

    and remembered to be merciful.

For he made this promise to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and his children forever.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord,”

Response: “from the mother of the Lord.”

Some thoughts:
As mentioned yesterday, Hannah’s song, regarding the birth of Samuel, the judge, prophet, and priest who anointed Israel’s first king, was a shadow of what was to come in its fullness, the son of Mary, the Messiah, the final Prophet, Priest, and King. There were some striking parallels between the two women. Did you notice Hannah’s faith when the old priest Eli said, “May God grant you your request.”? Her mourning was over. She ate. She believed God. Mary’s response to Gabriel was one of faith in God as well. “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you said about me come true.” Hannah gave her first born son to serve the Lord. Can you imagine how hard that must have been? She prayed years and years for a child. She had him for the first few years and then gave him up as he lived at the Temple after that and she saw him only occasionally. Mary likewise gave up her first born Son who was the Temple. Both women had additional children afterwards. Hannah had three additional sons and two daughters and Mary had four additional sons and several daughters. The New Testament books bearing the names of James and Jude were written by two of Jesus’ earthly brothers, sons of Mary and Joseph. And what is the point here? Hannah and Mary are two remarkable women who trusted God in unique situations. God blessed their faith and counted it as righteousness. They both believed in God’s biggest picture of what he was doing and chose to be a part of God’s working in the world. The result changed a nation and changed a universe! Trust the Lord for the path you walk this day.

Music:  “Magnificat” JS Bach     In case you ever wondered what it looked like when Bach wrote it! He did not have a computer, just pen and ink and a gift from God. At the end of every piece he wrote, he put  S.D.G. soli deo gloria, “to the glory of God” Also this tempo is about twice as fast as the Mormon’s sang it yesterday! But you can see the notes they were singing!

Translation:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: 

for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QROi3CgekoI

Prayer:
Father, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will. Whatever you do, I will thank you. I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, as in all your creatures. And I’ll ask nothing else, my Lord. Into your hands I commend my spirit; I give it to you with all the love of my heart. For I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands with a trust beyond all measure, because you are my Father. Amen.
―Charles de Foucauld

Saturday, December 14

Reader: “A Magnificat . . .”

Response: “from the Old Testament.”

Scripture: 1 Samuel 2:1-8

Then Hannah prayed,

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!

    The Lord has made me strong.

Now I have an answer for my enemies;

    I rejoice because you rescued me.

No one is holy like the Lord!

    There is no one besides you;

    there is no Rock like our God.

“Stop acting so proud and haughty!

    Don’t speak with such arrogance!

For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;

    he will judge your actions.

The bow of the mighty is now broken,

    and those who stumbled are now strong.

Those who were well fed are now starving,

    and those who were starving are now full.

The childless woman now has seven children,

    and the woman with many children wastes away.

The Lord gives both death and life;

    he brings some down to the grave but raises others up.

The Lord makes some poor and others rich;

    he brings some down and lifts others up.

He lifts the poor from the dust

    and the needy from the garbage dump.

He sets them among princes,

    placing them in seats of honor.

For all the earth is the Lord’s,

    and he has set the world in order.

Reader: “The word of the Lord . . .”

Response: “as written in the First Testament.”

Some thoughts:
One of the recurring stories in the Old Testament is that of barren women being blessed by God with a son. Whether it was Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, an unnamed woman, or in this case, Hannah, God was faithful in fulfilling a prayer. In most every instance, the promised son proved to be significant in the unfolding of God’s grand plan. It is interesting to note how Hannah’s words are the parallel to Mary’s prayer of adoration to God following her conception of Jesus. Hannah had been harassed by her husband’s other wife because she was barren. Hannah’s song of joy rejoices in the fact that God answered her prayer in conceiving and giving birth to a son. She could now silence the harasser! Both Hannah’s and Mary’s songs of praise emphasize bringing down the rich and powerful and exalting the poor and the humble. God will bring judgment on the wicked. God is sovereign. The boy, born out of the vow of Hannah, was Samuel. This son of the promise was given to the Lord. Samuel was tremendously significant in the history of the nation of Israel. He was Israel’s last judge and first prophet. In addition, he carried out priestly duties. It was Samuel who anointed Saul as Israel’s first king. And then later he anointed David as king of Israel when God rejected Saul. Samuel was a major player in the history of Israel. The song of his mother was a precursor to the song of Mary and the birth of our Savior. Here is another example of an event in the First Testament pointing prophetically to a significant event involving Jesus in the Last Testament. It is important to recognize and be reminded that all of Scripture fits into one grand narrative of the working of God in bringing redemption and transformation to his creation. 

Music: “Magnificat”   JS Bach Mormon Tabernacle Choir
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDbGJRHua-Y 

Translation:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: 

for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Prayer:
Dearest Lord Jesus, O the joy of the barren woman who discovers she is pregnant! Her relentless prayer has finally been answered. The tears of sadness and longing have been replaced with tears of ecstatic joy and gratitude. No more lying awake at night wondering if it will ever happen. It has happened! The gift of motherhood has been given. She is pregnant. Thank you, Jesus! Lord in this prayer we also pray for those who are wishing to be mothers who continue to wait. Grant them hope, trusting in your goodness, kindness, and sovereign will for their lives. We praise you, Lord, for all those who are part of the adoption process, mothers, care givers, and new parents. For, indeed, Lord, we have all been adopted by you as we were orphans in need of a Father. In a culture that has lost its way, devaluing infant life, babies waiting to be born, and motherhood itself, Lord forgive our foolish ways. Forgive our arrogance, our selfishness, our lack of responsibility, our deadness and coldness towards you Father God. Thank you for Hannah’s persistent prayer that resulted in the blessing of the nation of Israel and showing us more of your great compassion. This we pray in the name of our Savior. Amen.
―Daniel Sharp

Friday, December 13

Reader: “Here are more words from Peter. . .”

Response: “to a people who are under stress and persecution.”

Scripture: 2 Peter 3:11-18

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.

And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.

And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him— speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.

You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
Like Paul, Peter is writing this most likely from Rome. We learn from history that Peter was most likely martyred by Nero in 64-65 AD. Tradition says he was crucified head down. Persecution of Christians was significant. Peter is writing to encourage the believers in the midst of a hostile environment. Have you noticed how very certain both Paul and Peter are of the Lord’s return and judgment? Both their words urged holiness and godly living in anticipation of that great day. Like Paul’s words, the Day of Judgment for the earth brings fire. Peter adds the “elements will melt away.” This event is unlike anything the world has ever experienced. On a very positive note Peter writes “we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised.” I’d like to expand a bit on this last statement. Frankly, we wonder what that phrase means. As human beings we think of things like this in terms of our own physical world. We’re looking for a descriptive picture. You notice when Jesus described something he would often say, “It’s like a  fig tree . . .” In other words, he painted the overall picture using images the people could understand. In describing a new heaven and earth, Isaiah employs a kind of descriptive picture (Is. 65:17-25). I’ll summarize, though it would be worth looking up and reading the whole passage for yourself. In a descriptive list of the new heaven and new earth: no one will think about the old heaven and earth anymore; it will be a place of happiness and joy; God will delight in his people; there will be no weeping or crying; no infant deaths; people 100 years old will not be considered old; adults will not die in mid-life; people will live in houses they build and eat fruit from their own vineyards; people will live as long as trees―another way of saying life expectancy will be entirely different; God will answer prayers before they are even prayed; the Lord is central in everything; there will be no death, sorrow, hurt, or pain; no corrupt people anywhere; even animals will get along!  Have you noticed how much this description is like the Garden of Eden prior to the Fall? This is what Peter is referring to when he speaks of a new heaven and earth. This world is coming! The reason it has not yet arrived is because of the Lord’s patience giving people time to repent of their sin. Peter then makes a reference to the fact that Paul had written about these same things, acknowledging that some of the things Paul writes are “hard to understand!” Did you notice also that Peter refers to Paul’s letters as Scripture? This is the very first historical reference to the Canon of Scripture. In other words, Paul’s letters were considered on a par with the Old Testament as the word of God from the very beginning. The coming of baby Jesus to earth is central in bringing all of these things into being. I can’t help but think of Paul’s words in I Cor.2:9 “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 

Music: “No Eye Has Seen”  Michael W. Smith Northland Choir
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQOX5Cxkz-Y

Prayer: As we wait for the Lord’s return . . .

Be off, Satan, from this door and from these four walls. This is no place for you; there is nothing for you to do here. This is the place for Peter and Paul and the holy gospel; and this is where I mean to sleep, now that my worship is done, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is one of the earliest Chrsitian prayers recorded

Thursday, December 12

Reader: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think.” 

Response: “No, he is being patient for your sake.”

Scripture: 2 Peter 3:1-10

This is my second letter to you, dear friends, and in both of them I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking and refresh your memory. I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles.

Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”

They deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
Isn’t it interesting that there are so many references in the Last Testament to the return of the Lord? Those first century readers of Paul’s and Peter’s letters, as did Paul and Peter, believed that the return of the Lord was imminent in their lifetime. In turbulent times our thinking must always begin with “What is true?” Peter reminds his readers to focus on truth. What did the prophets say. What did Jesus say. Apparently there were those who ridiculed the truth of the Lord’s return saying things were always the same, (a circular view of history). Our day certainly has no lack of mockers of the Christian faith. Paul writes in the book of Romans how these kinds of people deliberately suppress the truth and live by their own made up rules. lThey have their own truth! With the attacks on the Judeo-Christian perspective on life, on marriage, on the life of those babies waiting to be born, and the sexual identity confusion, our age is no different than Peter’s, and we continue to be in the last days. What is completely ignored in our society is the recognition and submission to the power of God’s word. He spoke the world into existence and he will speak the final judgment into occurring. Peter clues us in on God’s view of time. A day as a 1,000 years and 1,000 years as a day is another way of saying God’s dealing with time is completely different from ours. It’s in an entirely different dimension. What we do learn is that God is patient wanting everyone to repent and not face the final judgment. But Peter is very clear. In God’s dimension of time there will be a moment when he will again speak and judgment will come instantly, with a great sound and without warning. Peter wants people to be prepared for that moment when heaven’s timeframe engulfs this world and the heavens above and the earth below are consumed in fire and what we know of this place is no more. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!

Music: ““Comfort, Comfort Now My People”  Plymouth Congregational Church, Lincoln NE
www.youtube.com/watch?v=119C58F3dnQ

Prayer:
Who can tell what the day may bring forth? Cause me therefore, gracious God, to live every day as if it were to be my last, for I know not but that it may be such. Cause me to live now as I shall wish I had done when I come to die. O grant that I may not die with any guilt on my conscience or any known sin unrepented of, but that I may be found in Christ, who is my only Savior and Redeemer. For it is in his name I make this prayer. Amen.    ―Thomas à Kempis, 1380-1471

Wednesday, December 11

Reader: “Hear God’s promise. . .”

Response: “from the First Testament.”

Scripture: Genesis 15:1-18

Some time later, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.”

But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.”

Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.

Then the Lord told him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.”

But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?”

The Lord told him, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” So Abram presented all these to him and killed them. Then he cut each animal down the middle and laid the halves side by side; he did not, however, cut the birds in half. Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away.

As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a terrifying darkness came down over him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.”

After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. So the Lord made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River—

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
Nothing in all of Scripture functions in a vacuum. As we draw closer and closer to celebrating the birth of the Savior, today’s reading takes us back in history to the time between the Fall and the Redemption. God had come to Abram earlier and revealed his plan to bless all the nations of the earth through Abram’s family. Though there was the promise, there was no family in the offing. This passage moves things ahead in God’s larger unfolding of history. In God’s time he gives Abram more specifics. (Have you noticed this pattern in your own life? Quite often it seems that God gives to us his plan in bits and pieces rather than unfolding the whole story all at once.) In this case, Abram calls God on his promise of blessing pointing out that he has no offspring, only a substitute heir. But again, God doesn’t reveal the whole only promising that Abram will have a son that he himself fathers. At this point, that was good enough for Abram and he believed God and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. God then promised Abram the land for his family. Abram’s next question was logical. As one man, how can I possess it? Then he had what is, to us, a rather mysterious encounter with God. Having established a relationship with Abram, God took the initiative in ratifying the Covenant. Have you noticed in Scripture how often it is God who initiates? Abram followed God’s instruction concerning presenting and preparing the animals. Did you notice that vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses and Abram chased them away? This is symbolic of another attempt of the devil to short-circuit God’s plan of redemption. Think of the serpent in the Garden, Pharoah’s order to kill Jewish baby boys, King Herod’s attempt to kill the infant Jesus, the devil’s temptation of Jesus, the attempt of people in Jesus’ hometown to throw him off a cliff, or Peter’s attempt to talk Jesus out of going to the cross. The devil was and is relentless in his attempts to thwart God’s plan of redemption and restoration. As the sun set during a deep sleep, God told Abram history in advance. Then a very remarkable thing happened, God appeared as a flaming pot passing between the halves of the split animals. God is often portrayed in Scripture as fire, cleansing, holy, unapproachable. Here, God confirms his Covenant with Abram. The significance of the fire pot passing between the split animals makes this statement: “May I become like these animals if I break the covenant I have made.” It was a promise to Abram that did not depend on Abram’s faithfulness (or ours), but on God’s faithfulness to us.  The result some 2,000 years later was the birth of a baby boy in Bethlehem, the singular hope of the world.

Music: “Mary’s Boy Child”    Charlotte Church
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeVc03rBpYU 

Prayer:
Almighty God give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

Tuesday, December 10

Reader: “How should we live during the season of Advent?”

Response: “Hear the words of Paul written to you.” (Can you hear his voice?)

Scripture: Romans 15:14-21

I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. Even so, I have been bold enough to write about some of these points, knowing that all you need is this reminder. For by God’s grace, I am a special messenger from Christ Jesus to you Gentiles. I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit. So I have reason to be enthusiastic about all Christ Jesus has done through me in my service to God. Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says,

“Those who have never been told about him will see,

    and those who have never heard of him will understand.”

Reader: “This is the word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
The Jewish view of time growing out of God’s conception of time as it exists on earth, was markedly different from all other cultures. Time has a purpose, a coherent plan and meaning. Whereas other peoples’ thought of time in a repeating cycle, in other words, time goes in a circle and repeats itself. Reincarnation would be a primary example. The Jewish mind viewed time in a linear fashion. God has one great story with a beginning (Creation), a middle (the present), and an end (the establishment of the eternal heavenly Kingdom). This story is also described as: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Recreation. Therefore, the observation of Advent year after year is not simply a repetition of what happened the previous year. Think how different the world is this year from last year. How different are your own circumstances from last year? The ramifications of Advent are certainly different in my own life. I look at the whole season with a different set of eyes. I’m at a different place in life than last year. Each year goes deeper and deeper and I am confronted in new ways with our wondrous God. Linear repetition is good. Circular repetition is deadly. 

In Paul’s words above, he refers to “these things.”  Reading those words beckons us to go back to what he wrote up to this point. In the previous chapters we read he reminded the people to: help the brothers and sisters, live in unity, don’t cause others to stumble, respect authority, pay your taxes, love your neighbors and live moral lives. Like the season of Advent affords, we are a people who need to continually be reminded of the basics which is what Paul is doing. We live in a world that is fascinated by the new, the latest, but alas, has lost the basics of morality, civility and respect for others. There are a couple of other words Paul uses that would register with the Jews, words which have a subtlety we might miss. Though the translation is “special messenger,” the Greek word used could be translated “minister.” Jews often applied this word to “priests.” Paul functioned as a priest in his evangelistic efforts. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of yourself as a “priest,” but as you live your life, practice the basics, and practice the things Paul describes, and you will as a result function as a priest to those around you. You are helping to bridge heaven and earth as Christ lives through you this day. We are, afterall, the priesthood of believers. You may run into people today who have never heard the Good News. Tell it!

Music: “Go Tell It on the Mountain”  Home Free DO NOT miss this!!!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyccv0sb-f4 

Prayer:
Lord God, Father in heaven, Creator of all that is seen and unseen, out of your great love you have brought into being all that is. You have a grand plan to bring us to yourself for all eternity, when time ceases to exist and we enjoy you forever. Have mercy on us who struggle to remember and get the basic things right. We know you are coming back to set up your kingdom, yet we live as though this world is all there is. In the midst of people who have lost their way, may we, who have seen the Light, share that Light with those around us who are walking in darkness. As a kingdom of priests, let us help others, bring unity and civility, love others, and live in purity in a world that is desperate for meaning and purpose. These things we pray in the name of our one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created and through whom we live. Amen.
―Daniel Sharp

Monday, December 9

Reader: “Until the end of time when the Lord returns. . .”

Response: “how should we live?”

Scripture: I Thessalonians 4:1-12

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor— not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a fellow believer in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

Reader: “The word of the Lord,”

Response:”from the Apostle Paul.”

Some thoughts:
We have mentioned several times previously regarding the importance of seeing the season of Advent in the larger context of the whole of God’s plan of ultimate restoration of the whole created order. By this we mean, the Return of Christ, the establishment of his eternal kingdom, and the renewal of all parts of his entire creation making everything new. In these immediate days we are looking forward to the celebration of the birth of Christ, but we are reminded again and again throughout the New Testament to be looking forward to the Return of Christ. In fact, the verses and chapter immediately following the above passage is one of the classic places in Scripture describing the Second Coming. But Paul is always practical in his writing: “The Lord is coming, but for now . . .” The logical question is, “Until Christ returns, how should we live? What should we be doing this Monday, December 9th?” His words put simply, “live in a way that pleases God.” And how is that? Be holy. And what does that look like? Stay away from sexual sin. Doesn’t it seem that sex always immerges as a primary problem for human beings?! Paul points out that the sexual sin is actually a sin against the Holy Spirit and a rejection of God as demonstrated by the above italicized word “Therefore.” Secondly, his words are to live with integrity. We are to love fellow believers. We are to live a quiet life. How are you doing at these? A “quiet life” sixteen days before Christmas?? Paul admits, it takes work to be still! And we are to mind our own business. Again, how is this going? Finally, we are to work with our hands. The Greeks, to whom Paul was writing, were prone to do no labor, feeling that work was beneath them and fit only for their slaves. Some believers were so convinced that Christ would return at any minute, they quit doing anything. So if you ever wonder what is the will of God for you, it could not be more clear, obedience to his will is holy living. This Advent season 1) love your brothers and sisters, 2) mind your own business, 3) be quiet, 4) be holy, 5) wrap those presents!

Music: “O LIttle Town of Bethlehem” Salt Lake Vocal Artists  These 8 minutes will help you be quiet. Just listen. It’s gorgeous!!!    Arr. Dan Forrest
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=196EvS9ohbM 

Prayer:
Gracious God, I seek Thy presence this day, beseeching Thee to create a little pool of heavenly peace within my heart ere I lie down to sleep this night. Let all this day’s excitements and anxieties now give place to a time of inward recollection and quietness, as I wait upon Thee and meditate upon Thy love. Give me tonight, dear Father, a deeper sense of gratitude to Thee for  Thy mercy, a mercy great enough to blot out all my sins. May I not lose the joy and comfort of knowing that I have peace with Thee through the blood of Thy dear Son, my Savior and Lord in whose name I make this simple prayer. Amen.      

―from A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baillie, revised and adapted Daniel Sharp

Sunday, December 8

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the second Advent candle.)

Reader: “The prophet cries in the wilderness.”

Response: “Repent!”

Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!

    Clear the road for him!’”

John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize with  water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

Reader: “The challenging word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
In this second Sunday in Advent, the theme of the prophet, John the Baptist, emerges. Prophecy is a consistent recurring theme in the First Testament. You’ll notice throughout the Scriptures God gives hints; he points to what is coming to those who are paying attention. In fact, he sent prophets time and again to challenge the Israelites to repent of their sin. You will also notice that those prophets, to a person, paid dearly for proclaiming God’s truth. Then nothing, nothing for 400 years. Suddenly John the forerunner, the “Elijah,” bursts on the scene. And John the Baptizer was not subtle! He had not taken sensitivity training! Some people’s feelings were hurt by what he said and they were deeply offended. Imagine that!  His message was direct; God’s Kingdom was coming. Repent of your sin. The fact that you were a Jew made no difference. That in itself was shocking. Apparently, God didn’t care who you were. How does that relate to today? Sometimes we may be inclined to think that because we are a “Christian,” we get a pass with God. God is our “friend” and gives us breaks. John reminds the Pharisees (and us), who have perhaps become “too familiar with God,” that God has great power, even the power to turn rocks into his children! When he says “children of Abraham” he means faithful children of his Covenant. To further remind the Pharisees and Sadducees of the nature of the God they claim to know and speak for, John speaks of fire, the fire of judgment, the fire of the Holy Spirit, (Pentecost), and the fires of hell! Repentance is serious business. Advent is actually a penitential season and John the Baptist reminds us all again, turn our hearts in humility to the Lord, for he is coming again for the final harvest. Let us not become so familiar with God, that we minimize our own sin, God doesn’t. A cross looms over the manger.

Music: “Let All Mortal Flesh”  Fernando Ortega
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wl4u8lnDQs 

Prayer:
Blessed Lord Jesus, give me that purity of conscience which alone can receive, which alone can respond to Thy inspirations. For my conscience is tainted with my rebellious heart. My ears are dull, so that I cannot hear Thy voice. I must confess dearest Lord, that there are times I do not want to hear Thy voice.  My eyes are dim, so that I cannot see Thy tokens of affection and kindness. Thou alone canst quicken my hearing, and lift the shadowed veil surrounding my sight, and cleanse and renew my heart. ―John Henry Newman, adapted Daniel Sharp

Saturday, December 7

Reader: “the glory of the Lord will be revealed,”    

Response: “and all people will see it together.”

Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, comfort my people,”

    says your God. 

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

Tell her that her sad days are gone

    and her sins are pardoned.

Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over

    for all her sins.” 

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,

“Clear the way through the wilderness

    for the Lord!

Make a straight highway through the wasteland

    for our God!

“Comfort Ye, My People”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5etTCdfDic   Robert Shaw Chorale, 

Fill in the valleys,

    and level the mountains and hills.

Straighten the curves,

    and smooth out the rough places. 

“Every Valley”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utMK44ZaOoA   Jon Humphrey and Atlanta Symphony

Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

    and all people will see it together.

    The Lord has spoken!” 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUNWVSNhc7A   Gramophone Chorus  wow!

A voice said, “Shout!”

    I asked, “What should I shout?”

“Shout that people are like the grass.

    Their beauty fades as quickly

    as the flowers in a field. 

The grass withers and the flowers fade

    beneath the breath of the Lord.

    And so it is with people. 

The grass withers and the flowers fade,

    but the word of our God stands forever.” 

O Zion, messenger of good news,

    shout from the mountaintops!

Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.

    Shout, and do not be afraid.

Tell the towns of Judah,

    “Your God is coming!” 

Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.

    He will rule with a powerful arm.

    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd.

    He will carry the lambs in his arms,

holding them close to his heart.

    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-bAXm-A3Ls    Barbara Bonney

Reader: “The prophetic words of Isaiah. . .”

Response: “The Lord is coming.”

Some thoughts:
One would be hard pressed to find a section of Scripture where nearly every verse has been set to music. Such is the case with this portion. Beginning with Isaiah chapter forty, we have a prophetic voice speaking to what is yet to happen. These are recognized as the words of John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. But they are words that also apply to the coming age when Christ returns and makes all things new. The world as we know it will be redeemed. All things will be made new. In our present state, we are unable to see, comprehend, or even imagine God’s new creation. There is a faint hint, at least it begins to move us to see things differently in C. S. Lewis’ little book, “The Great Divorce.” In it, redeemed things have different “physical” properties, the description of which we have no parallels in this world. Isaiah speaks of the realities of this world. The grass withers and fades; it’s beauty fleeting. As I write this in the early days of October, I’m sitting in a little library in Eureka, Illinois, looking out the window at the beautiful dark green grass knowing that in a few short weeks it will be dead, brown and frozen. The leaves are beginning to turn and we are moving ever closer to the coming of the Lord. Some of you are thinking, “No, you are just getting ready for another winter and the cycle goes on.” That’s actually not true. The unique and great thing of the coming kingdom of which Isaiah speaks above, is that God’s time is not circular, but rather has a beginning, middle, and ending. The coming of the Savior, his mission, and return to his Father was real and part of this long progression to the end when he will make all things new. The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people will see it. The Lord has said so! Look for that opportunity to tell the good news as you go through this day.

Music: See Above Selections

Prayer:
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever, and until the Lord comes again. Amen.  

―Jude, a son of Mary and Joseph and the earthly brother of Jesus

Friday, December 6

Reader: “Right behind you a voice will say,”  

Response: “This is the way you should go.”   ”

Scripture: Isaiah 30:19-26

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem,

    you will weep no more.

He will be gracious if you ask for help.

    He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.

Though the Lord gave you adversity for food

    and suffering for drink,

he will still be with you to teach you.

    You will see your teacher with your own eyes 

Your own ears will hear him.

    Right behind you a voice will say,

“This is the way you should go,”

    whether to the right or to the left. 

Then you will destroy all your silver idols

    and your precious gold images.

You will throw them out like filthy rags,

    saying to them, “Good riddance!”

 Then the Lord will bless you with rain at planting time. There will be wonderful harvests and plenty of pastureland for your livestock. The oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat good grain, its chaff blown away by the wind. In that day, when your enemies are slaughtered and the towers fall, there will be streams of water flowing down every mountain and hill. The moon will be as bright as the sun, and the sun will be seven times brighter—like the light of seven days in one! So it will be when the Lord begins to heal his people and cure the wounds he gave them.

Reader: “This is the word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
Sometimes these pericopies may seem a little distant. They were spoken to a specific people, the Jews, at a particular time in their history. The people were in a difficult situation. They were under much stress. They had been in rebellion and were paying the price. My guess is their situation is not all that dissimilar to the world of today. The food of our society seems to be adversity, much of it manmade. While these words were spoken at a specific moment in history, they are words equally apropos for our day. These beautiful words still ring true and God’s calling the same: “He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.” I don’t know what might be pressing in on you today, but my guess is that something is. Heed Isaiah’s words. I’m very tempted to think that the small details of my little life are not worth God’s time. He is holding the universe in place after all! Does God know of my incidental thought? A little while back I was wondering if my life in ministry really made any difference to anyone. Was I being useful to His kingdom? The day I was struggling with that thought was the very day I got an email “out of the blue” (right!) from someone who had been in the choir thirty years ago commenting on the impact it had on his life. I had lost complete track of this person. In my book, that was “a smile from God” saying, “Dan, I know exactly where you are and what you are thinking. Ask for help, I will respond. I will be with you to teach you. I’m speaking to you with the voice of someone you know.” 

“You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him.”  Years later the Jews did see and hear the Rabbi Jesus with their own eyes and ears. But it is that same voice to which we are to listen. Notice the path given leads to holiness. Take ten minutes today of silence and do nothing but open your heart to listen for His voice and then walk in his path. The final portion of this section points to a day, a glorious day in the future when God makes all things new. This description is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden when the whole creation will be “Edenized.”

Music: Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”   Fernando Ortega
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dmO8UPlWoo&t=43s

Prayer:
May the time not be distant, O God, when Thy name shall be worshiped in all the earth, when unbelief shall disappear and error be no more. We fervently pray that the day may come when more and more people invoke Thy name, when corruption and evil give way to purity and goodness, when superstition no longer enslaves the mind, nor idolary blinds the eye. We pray to the end that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Then shall Thy kingdom be established on earth and the word of Thine ancient seer be fulfilled. The Lord will reign for ever and ever. Amen      ―freely adapted from the Evening Service for the Day of Atonement, Union Prayer Book, (Jewish), Daniel Sharp

Thursday, December 5

Reader: “Blessed be the Lord,”

Response: “the God of Israel.”

Scripture: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Give your love of justice to the king, O God,

    and righteousness to the king’s son. 

Help him judge your people in the right way;

    let the poor always be treated fairly. 

May the mountains yield prosperity for all,

    and may the hills be fruitful.

Help him to defend the poor,

    to rescue the children of the needy,

    and to crush their oppressors. 

May they fear you as long as the sun shines,

    as long as the moon remains in the sky.

    Yes, forever! 

May the king’s rule be refreshing like spring rain on freshly cut grass,

    like the showers that water the earth.

May all the godly flourish during his reign.

    May there be abundant prosperity until the moon is no more.

Praise the Lord God, the God of Israel,

    who alone does such wonderful things.

Praise his glorious name forever!

    Let the whole earth be filled with his glory.

Amen and amen!

Reader: “The word of the Lord. . .”

Response: “from a psalm of King Solomon.”

Some thoughts:
This psalm of Solomon, which concludes Book II of the five Book organization of the Psalms, points to a future king. Note the description of this king. He judges the people with righteousness and the poor with justice. It is a time of prosperity for the people. This king “defends the poor, delivers the needy, and crushes the oppressors.” Note that these are phrases picked up by the prophet Isaiah. (11:4) They appear again in Matthew 11:5 when John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah. These Messianic phrases have survived 1,000 years from the time of Solomon to the days of Jesus. In verse five, Solomon  uses the words “may he live. . .” indicating that he is speaking of a future king who will live eternally in a world where peace abounds. Phrases like “till the moon be no more!” simply means for all eternity. The rest of the psalm goes on to describe the scope of this everlasting reign of the Messiah, concluding with a final benedicton. Think of it, from the time of Solomon, roughly 1,000 BC through the time of Isaiah around 700 BC, people were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. A thousand years of people died never having their longing and waiting fulfilled. Then the arrival of the long-prophesied One! Virtually everyone with the exception of a few shepherds and some animals missed the arrival. Whatever the people were expecting with the arrival of the Messiah, this was not it! They missed it entirely. With the exception of a few short passages, we know little of this Lord of Glory until he was thirty years old. His public ministry was not without incident. His mission was accomplished and he returned to heaven to intercede on his children’s behalf which continues to this day.  Next, as people waited 2,000 years from the promise to his arrival, we have waited 2,000 years since he left this earth. We too await his arrival, his advent, which means “coming.” Maranatha, “come Lord Jesus!” When he comes again, apparently it will be hard to miss!

Music: “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”  Washington Choral Arts Society
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouw9bQp-keQ 

A contrasting setting of the text:   arr. Heather Sorenson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aF-GgdR80B4 

Prayer:
Gracious Lord, our heavenly King, we long for and await your return. In truth it seems like something far away, almost unreal. We read about it throughout the Bible from beginning to end. It most certainly will happen, but we never think it could happen in our lifetime. Give to us a mindset that lives in the reality of the heavenly kingdom even as we live in the reality of this earthly world. Do not let us separate those worlds as if one is real and the other just a truthful idea. Let us live in the expectation of your return and the establishing of your coming kingdom where your will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In the name of our coming King, our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ.  Amen. ―Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, December 4

Reader: “Jesus talks about the end. . .”

Response: “and how we should live.”

Scripture: Matthew 24:23-35

“Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.

“So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it! For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.

“Immediately after the anguish of those days, 

the sun will be darkened,

    the moon will give no light, 

the stars will fall from the sky,

    and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

“Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

Reader: “The inspired word of God.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
You are well aware by now that the opening focus of the season of Advent draws our attention to the final Judgment of God and the establishing of the reign of the King of kings. We’ve mentioned the importance of seeing the Nativity of Jesus in the context of the whole of God’s plan of redemption and restoration of the whole created order. We dare not think of Jesus’ ministry in terms of isolated, singular events. Everything God does is connected to everything else God does. Every word, every phrase is significant. There have been a great many words written about the meaning of these words of Jesus. I’ll add a few more! Jesus addresses our gullibility in the first thought. We are naturally drawn to the unusual, the magical. The nature of a magic trick is to deceive the observer. We find ourselves asking, “How did they do that?” Jesus warns about falling for false claims of power, even if there is a “miracle.”  He then directs our attention to the trap of our curiosity. It reminds me of the old Flip Wilson 1970’s TV sketch with “The Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.” Rev. Leroy was always trying unsuccessfully to be cutting edge. The parody was remarkably prophetic. Jesus warns against chasing the latest dynamic preacher or famous church. I believe the reference to the vultures is symbolic to the end of history as we know it, in other words, the history of this present world comes to an end, to its death. What is very clear is that everyone in the world will know when the Son of Man appears at the end of earthly time. Jesus then talks about the fig tree. What was his point in each of these references? The message is simple, watch and wait. Pay attention to the bigger picture of what is happening around you. Don’t be consumed by the immediate surroundings. Remember we have dual citizenship. Be diligent because the coming of the Son of Man most certainly will happen. Jesus even harkens back to Noah, touching on the idea that the people of Noah’s day were taken by surprise as God brought judgment upon the whole earth. His words. . . “Don’t be like them.” Jesus continues on in the following verses and chapter with the same theme of being ready; He is coming back. Set your house in order.

Music: “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”     Nordic Choir of Luther College
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMmSxiZZ5LA 

“Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying”      Philip Nicolai, 1597, trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1858

Wake, awake for night is flying: 

The watchmen on the heights are crying,

   Awake, Jerusalem, arise!

Midnight’s solemn hour is tolling, 

His chariot wheels are nearer rolling,

   He comes; prepare, ye virgins wise.

Rise up, with willing feet, 

Go forth, the bridegroom meet: Alleluia!

Bear through the night your well-trimmed light,

Speed forth to join the marriage rite.

 

Zion hears the watchmen singing, 

Her heart with deep delight is springing,

   She wakes, she rises from her gloom: 

forth her Bridegroom come, all glorious,

In grace arrayed, by truth victorious,

   Her star is ris’n, her light is come!

All hail, Incarnate Lord, 

our crown, and our reward! Alleluia!

Wew haste along, in pomp of song,

And glansome join the marriage throng.

 

Lamb of God, the heav’ns adore thee,

And men and angels sing before thee,

   With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone.

By the pearly gates in wonder

We stand, and swell the voice of thunder

   That echoes round thy dazzling throne.

No vision ever brought,

No ear hath ever caught such rejoicing!

We raise the song, we swell the throng

To praise thee ages all along. Amen.

 

Prayer:
Our gracious Father in heaven, by whom all things were created and for whom we live and our Lord Jesus, through whom all things were created and through we live, grant that all our heart, soul, mind and strength may be given to watching and waiting for thy glorious return. May we not be so consumed with the things of this world that we neglect our citizenship in heaven. Likewise, may we not be so consumed with the things of eternity that we neglect the needs of our neighbor, our widows and our children. In this Advent season, give unto us hearts that are tender, souls that live in expectancy, minds that grasp the significance of these days and godly strength to endure to the end. These things we pray through our coming King. Amen. ― Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, December 3

Reader: “This is God’s covenant. . .”

Response: “with all living creatures.”

Scripture: Genesis 9:1-17

Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables. But you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.

“And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. Now be fruitful and multiply, and repopulate the earth.”

Then God told Noah and his sons, “I hereby confirm my covenant with you and your descendants, and with all the animals that were on the boat with you—the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals—every living creature on earth. Yes, I am confirming my covenant with you. Never again will floodwaters kill all living creatures; never again will a flood destroy the earth.”

Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” Then God said to Noah, “Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.”

Reader: “The account of God’s covenant. . .”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
In today’s passage, much like the initial account of creation, we find this blessing from God. His words are, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth.” After all, the world was starting over! We see in this part of the account of the Flood, though, that some basic things have changed. Whereas previously man was to reign over the animals, now animals are to live in fear of man. Why? Man has been given permission by God to increase his diet to include meat.  We also see the great significance in man being made in the “image of God” and an argument for capital punishment. But, we’ll move on to the Covenant God made with Noah and all creation. “Covenant” means a “bond.” In spite of human being’s continued unfaithfulness, our faithful God made a covenant promise to Noah and all creation that such a flood would never happen again as a judgment on the world. In God’s graciousness, he gave Noah a physical sign of this covenant, a sign we can still see today, the rainbow. Not only is it a sign of God’s promise, it is a reminder of his judgment and care about how people live and treat each other both then and now. It is also a reminder that there is still one more judgment coming to this earth and this one will be with fire. The next time you see a rainbow, realize God is still speaking. There is this phrase we read yesterday that puts a qualifier on the Covenant. It’s this little phrase, “as long as the earth remains.” In Revelation we read of the final judgment by fire. The book of Hebrews reminds us that our God is a consuming fire. Have you noticed how all Scripture points to the consummation of all history where Christ assumes his royal throne and establishes his eternal Kingdom? Even the beautiful rainbow in the sky points to that glorious end which as C.S. Lewis writes at the end of The Last Battle, “now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (p.184)

Music: “Joy to the World”   John Rutter and Cambridge Choir
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M__vp0Mgh-0 

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, until the day comes when we and all of creation sees you coming on the clouds with the hosts of heaven to bring to an end this world as we know it, when you will right all wrongs, heal every disease, in short, solve all the mess we’ve made of ourselves and your creation and separate the sheep and the goats, we have your rainbow to remind us of that coming day and your promise to us in the meantime. Help us in these Advent days of anticipation to watch and wait with expectancy of your glorious return. It’s good for us to try to imagine what it will be like to be in your very presence in our resurrection bodies and seeing you face to face and not dimly nor through a mirror. Lord Jesus, make me more aware this day of that certain reality.  You are my faithful God who will certainly bring it all to pass. I love you Lord and eagerly await that day, either during this lifetime or when I depart for the next better chapter to be with you. In my wonderful Savior’s name. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, December 2

Reader: “God’s word given to us.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Scripture: Genesis 8:1-19

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and livestock with him in the boat. He sent a wind to blow across the earth, and the floodwaters began to recede. The underground waters stopped flowing, and the torrential rains from the sky were stopped. So the floodwaters gradually receded from the earth. After 150 days, exactly five months from the time the flood began, the boat came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. Two and a half months later, as the waters continued to go down, other mountain peaks became visible.

After another forty days, Noah opened the window he had made in the boat and released a raven. The bird flew back and forth until the floodwaters on the earth had dried up. He also released a dove to see if the water had receded and it could find dry ground. But the dove could find no place to land because the water still covered the ground. So it returned to the boat, and Noah held out his hand and drew the dove back inside. After waiting another seven days, Noah released the dove again. This time the dove returned to him in the evening with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. Then Noah knew that the floodwaters were almost gone. He waited another seven days and then released the dove again. This time it did not come back.

Noah was now 601 years old. On the first day of the new year, ten and a half months after the flood began, the floodwaters had almost dried up from the earth. Noah lifted back the covering of the boat and saw that the surface of the ground was drying. Two more months went by, and at last the earth was dry!

Then God said to Noah, “Leave the boat, all of you—you and your wife, and your sons and their wives. Release all the animals—the birds, the livestock, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—so they can be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth.”

So Noah, his wife, and his sons and their wives left the boat. And all of the large and small animals and birds came out of the boat, pair by pair.

Reader: “An account of what happened.”

Response: “Thank you Lord, for your word.”

Some thoughts:
Does God forget? In the first verse we read that God “remembered” Noah and all the creatures in his boat. A proper understanding of the Hebrew word for “remembered” simply means “God decided to act.” In some pretty specific ways we have a description of a “new creation.” Note the language. “In the beginning God created…,” God decided to act. The wind blew over the face of the waters (Gen.1:2 & 8:1). Eventually, as the waters receded dry land appeared (Gen.1:10 & 8:14). In the initial Creation, birds were created before people. In this account, the birds left the ark first. A “clean” bird, the dove, a vegetarian, returned to the ark, the raven, an unclean bird and carrion did not return. In verses sixteen and seventeen note that the birds and livestock left the ark and “animals that scurry along the ground” (Gen. 1:24 & 8:17) before the people. It is the same order in the first Creation. We also read the same phrase “be fruitful and multiply.” Noah’s first act in coming out of the ark was to offer a burnt offering sacrifice. This particular type of sacrifice always indicted a complete devotion of one’s entire being to the Lord. The burning completely consumed the offering. The extra pairs of animals taken into the ark were for this purpose. The concept of pagan sacrifices was that the offering fed the gods in order to appease their anger and keep them in a good mood. Pagan gods were generally in a bad mood! How very different were the offerings to the Creator. At this point, God made a covenant to never again curse the ground because of the human race and their continual bent to evil. He would never destroy all living things. Planting and harvest and seasons would continue as long as the earth remained. One other thing you may have noticed in your reading―there is continual reference to so many days or months throughout the pericope. The point is the Flood happened in real time; it is not an allegory or myth. There is so much more to say, but we need to stop.

By now you are really wondering, “What in the world does this have to do with Advent?  Where is Christmas?” As long as we see Advent only in the light of a couple of weeks leading up to Christmas Day, we’ll kind of miss the point. Advent is about the coming of the infant Redeemer of the world, Redeemer of the whole created order, and not just the Redeemer of people. Secondly, he comes into the hearts of all those who believe. As we’ve said, this season thematically begins with the end of the world when Jesus comes a third time and establishes his eternal Kingdom. The account of Noah paints the picture of God stepping into his Creation to make it anew, being aware that even then, the hearts of the people are not fully redeemed. In his Return, Christ will make all things new. Hearts will be fully redeemed; no more sin. Like the account of the Flood, at the end of Advent, God again steps into creation to bring redemption to a very broken world. With the coming of the child in the manger, God “remembered” his creation.

Music: “What Child Is This?”    Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbvwwwTqeRo 

Prayer:
As Thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice, so lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us, and make us glad with the tokens of Thy love. Be Thou with us, O Lord, and let Thy grace follow us this day, and all the days of our life. Be Thou our Guide unto death, in death our comfort, and, after death, our Portion and Happiness as we enter Thy everlasting Kingdom where there is no more morning and evening but one glorious Light of Thy presence for ever and ever. Amen   ―Benjamin Jenks, adapted D.S.

Sunday, December 1

Preface

As we come to the 2019 season of Advent, the world is very different from last year for all of us. Some of our loved ones may 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. All of this kind of unsettledness puts Advent in a different light each year. We read these Scripture passages gaining deeper and greater insight into their timeless significance. The truth is, time on earth is moving ever closer to the Return of the Lord, the final Advent. 

As this is the twelfth year of writing these devotionals, running this year from December 1st through Epiphany, January 6th, the purpose remains the same, which is simply to help us grow in our understanding of the God we worship and to develop or maintain a daily pattern of spending time with the Lord in his word. There is a reason the Lord provided manna one day at a time. 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 A. 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. It is wonderful if the whole family can all sit down and eat at the same time, concurrently, simultaneously, all together at least once during the week! On the farm in Illinois we all ate together every night after the milking was done. The cows brought the family together for supper! It was wonderful! You may want to buy a cow!

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, feel free to pass the link along to family, friends, and co-workers around the country and the world who may benefit from the devotionals. Then they will receive the emails in their boxes each morning. One of the largest international groups receiving these emails is in Hong Kong! So far we have subscribers in North and Central America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Of course subscribing is free. The link to subscribe is: sharpdevotional.com It’s that simple and thank you for subscribing and passing the link along!

Watch for the Lenten Devotional beginning February 26th, 2020. The Lord be with you all.

Sunday, December 1 – FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT

* Read the Preface if you haven’t. It will give some context.

andle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the first Advent candle.)

Reader: “Keep watch!”

Response: “You don’t know what day your Lord is coming.”

Scripture:   Matthew. 24: 36-44

No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.  Only the Father knows.

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left. So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”

Reader: “The words of Jesus”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This passage of Scripture is part of a conversation Jesus had with his disciples during Holy Week, just a few days before his Crucifixion. Jesus has spoken about the destruction of the Temple that was yet to come (it occurred in 70 AD) but he also spoke of the coming of the Son of Man. The point in his words to the disciples has to do with the suddenness of the end of time as well as  the people’s lack of awareness of God’s ultimate redemption of the whole created order. The Lord is coming again. This truth is not simply a verse in the Bible. My guess is that most of the people you encounter today, if they even believe or thought of the Lord’s Return, would think of it only as a line in the Bible, not something to take very seriously, certainly not something that could actually happen in their lifetime. The people in Noah’s day were completely, unabashedly consumed with the present, not unlike people today. Jesus’ strong warning to his disciples―keep watch! Always be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. What many Christians have forgotten is that we hold two identity cards simultaneously. We are citizens of this earth and we are citizens of heaven concurrently. The latter is the more significant of the two. We are seated with Christ in heaven right now. Though this is the world we currently see, make no mistake, we are united with Christ in the heavenlies as Paul says. (Eph.1:4) Live this day as a practicing citizen of heaven until the time when heaven will be visible and this earth a faint, dim memory. . .if that.

Just a passing note. Jesus always referred to himself as the Son of Man throughout his ministry, a Messianic phrase associated with the book of Daniel (7:13) and the prophet Ezekiel. In referring to himself in this manner, he was emphasizing the humanity of Christ while claiming to be the Messiah in a more subtle way. It was not until he appeared before the Jewish high council at his trial early in the morning of Good Friday when asked by the high priest point blank, “Are you the Son of God?” that Jesus replied, “You say I am.” This affirmation was the only time Jesus referred to himself with this phrase. The next time we read it, it comes from the lips of the Roman soldier stationed at the cross. At that point, his identity as Lord of heaven and earth was emphatically stated and our dual citizenship papers stamped in the blood of the Lamb. The power of Satan was shattered!

Music:  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”       Peter Hollens
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zshzkkD-NYA 

Bonus:  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”    Anna Hawkins (In Hebrew and English)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD-jBLZSZNU

Prayer:
O Lord, I live here as a fish in a vessel of water, only enough to keep me alive, but in heaven I shall swim in the ocean. Here I have a little air in me to keep me breathing, but there I shall have sweet and fresh gales. Here I have a beam of sun to lighten my darkness, a warm ray to keep me from freezing; yonder I shall live in light and warmth for ever. My natural desires are corrupt and misguided, and it is thy mercy to destroy them. My spiritual longings are of thy planting, and thou wilt water and increase them. Quicken my hunger and thirst after the realm above. Here I can have the world, there I shall have thee in Christ. Here is a life of longing and prayer, there is assurance without suspicion asking without refusal. Here are gross comforts more burden then benefit, there is joy without sorrow, comfort without suffering, love without in constancy, rest without weariness. Give me to know that heaven is all love, where the eye affects the heart and the continual viewing of thy beauty keeps the soul in continual transport of delight. Give me to know that heaven is all peace, where error, pride, rebellion, passion raise no head. Give me to know that heaven is all joy, the end of believing, fasting, praying, mourning, humbling, watching, fearing, repining and lead me to it soon. This I pray through the Son of God. Amen.       ―Valley of Vision, p.203


April 21

Easter Sunday   “He is not here, he is risen!”

Scripture: John 20:1-18

20 Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Let’s play out this scene a little bit. Early on the first day of the week, the first day of the New Creation, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. Do you remember what happened on the first day of creation in Genesis? Darkness covered the deep waters and God said, “Let there be light.” Here the Light of the world is ushering in a new creation on the first day! Death has been defeated! Mary saw that the stone was rolled away and the body of Jesus gone. So she went and got Peter and John, two of the disciple leaders and told them someone took Jesus’ body out of the tomb. So the men ran to the tomb. John was faster than Peter (Why did John put that information in the Scriptures? A playful dig at Peter?) John looked into the tomb; Peter walked right in. The clothes were there but no body. It says John believed right then. Then both men went home! Apparently Mary stayed or came back to look into the tomb. When she did, she saw two angels (remember there are always two witnesses to verify?) who asked her why she was crying. (At this point Mary still thought the body had been moved or stolen. As for John and Peter, we don’t know what they were doing at home.) She told the angels that someone had taken Jesus’ body and she wondered where it was. Can you imagine the next few moments? She turned and a man asked her the same question as to why she was crying and who she was looking for. Her answer was the same as her answer to the angels. Then Jesus simply said her name, “Mary.” She instantly recognized her risen Lord! Notice what Jesus said. Go find my brothers and tell them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. Jesus immediately identifies the brothers with himself and with his God. Our Brother has opened the way to God the Father. The Temple curtain is torn and the way to the Father has been opened to all by our High Priest, Jesus. Mary went to the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Mary’s mission is our mission. “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”

Music: “Messiah Part III”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGlAN_FE69o

“I Know that My Redeemer Liveth”   Sylvia McNair St. Martin in the Field Orchestra

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg7aXEvCeXY             Sylvia McNair is  a Wheaton College grad and follower of Jesus Christ. It shows in her singing! The story goes that Robert Shaw chose her for his recording of the Messiah because he wanted someone “who believed what they sang.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, the moment we have longed for has come; the night of our desires is here. What greater occupation could there be than for us to proclaim the power of your Resurrection! This was the night when you shattered the gates of hell, and you took up the victory banner of heaven This was the night when you set us among the stars. When your mother Mary gave birth to you she was overwhelmed with joy at your power. The blood which flowed from your side has washed away our sins. Your body rising from the tomb has promised us eternal life. Eternal are the blessings which in your love you have poured upon us.   ―from the  Gelasian Sacramentary.

Postscript:
Friends, thank you for journeying with us through the season of Lent 2019. This marks the tenth Lenten Devotional I’ve written and I am more in awe of our Lord each year. He truly speaks through his word in transforming our lives. Watch for the next Advent Devotional beginning December 1, 2019. A huge thank you to my oldest son, Jonathan, for putting all of this together. He has made all of this possible and I’m deeply grateful to him for his time and effort in helping make this resource available. I am grateful it has gone to some thirty states and countries all over the world: Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Nigeria, UK, France, Jamaica, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, and even Texas (!) to name a few. Feel free to pass the link along! If you have any questions use this email: dansharp9@gmail.com. Blessings on you all.

Sources:

The Valley of Vision, The Banner of Truth Trust

The Worshiping Church,  Hope Publishing, 1990

The Worship Sourcebook,  CRC Publications, Faith Alive, & Baker Books, 2004

Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1983

The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. George Appleton, Oxford University Press, 1985

The Book of Common Prayer, Seabury Press, 1928

Prayers for Easter, Ideals Publications, Nashville

The Book of Uncommon Prayer, Word Publishing

April 20

Holy Saturday in Holy Week   “so he rested from all his work”

Scripture:  Genesis 2:1-3

2 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Put yourself in the mind of the disciples today. The one you have traveled with the past three years was dead. You had seen him raise people from the dead; you had seen him walk on water, feed thousands of people miraculously, cast out demons, make crippled and blind people well. He talked about proclaiming the Kingdom of God has come yet avoided following through on setting up his Kingdom and in fact had gotten killed in the process. You had the added guilt in running away instead of standing up for him. Things were in a mess! You really don’t know what to think about anything. You thought he was the Messiah, but that idea is over. You are sad and depressed and guilt-ridden. This is an awful day!

Now look at this day from another perspective. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Through each of the seven days, God added to the work he had done the previous day. On day six he made male and female in his own image and gave them free will and finished up his work. On the seventh day God rested from all his work and declared it a holy day because it was his day of rest, it separated the ordinary works from the holy. It was laying the foundation of Israel’s worship. It was also the day without end. Each of the other six days all end with the phrase “it was evening and it was morning.” That phrase is absent from the seventh day. Why? It anticipates the unending fellowship between God and his people. Sin entered and the perfect communion between God and his people was broken. What does this all have to do with Holy Saturday? What were Jesus’ last words on the cross? “It is finished!” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” After he finished his work of creation, God rested. After Jesus finished his work of re-creation, he rested in the tomb. He commended his spirit back to his Father, his work of redemption completed. No one but the Father and the Son knew what had happened. But soon, that would all change. Just a few more hours!

Music: Messiah Part II      Dream Orchestra    Daniel Suk conductor

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONCXnPbYUok

Prayer: This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son. How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred and brings peace and concord. How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God. All glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit world without end. Amen.
―Book of Common Prayer

April 19

Good Friday in Holy Week  “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Read each of these verses noticing how thoroughly, willingly, and fully Jesus identified with humanity. Ask yourself this question each time, “Why is this phrase significant? What does it reveal?”

Scripture Isaiah 53

1 Who has believed our message
       and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
       and like a root out of dry ground.
       He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
       nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

 3 He was despised and rejected by men,
       a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
       Like one from whom men hide their faces
       he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 4 Surely he took up our infirmities
       and carried our sorrows,
       yet we considered him stricken by God,
       smitten by him, and afflicted.

 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
       and by his wounds we are healed.

 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
       each of us has turned to his own way;
       and the LORD has laid on him
       the iniquity of us all.

 7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
       yet he did not open his mouth;
       he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
       and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
       so he did not open his mouth.

 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
       And who can speak of his descendants?
       For he was cut off from the land of the living;
       for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
       and with the rich in his death,
       though he had done no violence,
       nor was any deceit in his mouth.

 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
       and though the LORD make his life a guilt offering,
       he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
       and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

 11 After the suffering of his soul,
       he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
       by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
       and he will bear their iniquities.

 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,  
       and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
       because he poured out his life unto death,
       and was numbered with the transgressors.
       For he bore the sin of many,
       and made intercession for the transgressors.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This chapter is the gospel in the First Testament. As each verse furthers the story, you see God’s plan of redemption unfolding. What aspects are key from God’s perspective? Let’s walk our way through the chapter. We begin with God speaking powerfully. We are introduced to God’s Servant who will be the path. The person is humble and very ordinary looking; nothing striking about his appearance. The Servant was rejected, even despised by those around him. The amazing thing was that this man empathized and carried the weaknesses and grief of those that hated him. The people dismissed him figuring his troubles were a result of God punishing him for his own sin not realizing it was their sins for which he was suffering. Isaiah, the speaker, goes on to describe the Servant being pierced, beaten, whipped as he bore our sins. He also reminds us that every person has rebelled and gone their own way and out of love, the Servant took the punishment for their rebellion upon himself. He did not fight back when condemned. He had done nothing wrong and yet was killed like a criminal. In an interesting twist, he was buried in a rich man’s grave. We are then told clearly that it was God’s plan to bring redemption about in this exact manner. The Servant’s perfect, holy life was made the sacrificial offering for the sin of the world. Though he died alone, his death paved the way for many descendants to be made righteous in the sight of God because he carried their sin to the cross. In his death on the cross he was counted as a rebel. We are the rebels but he stood in on our behalf bearing the brunt of what we should have received. Having defeated death for all eternity, we have been redeemed by this Suffering Servant, Jesus the Christ, and not only us, but the entire created order.

Music: “Were You There?”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5qUnKC9rPU Kings College

Hymn: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded    ―Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

O sacred Head, now wounded,

with grief and shame weighed down,

now scornfully surrounded

with thorns, thine only crown:

how pale thou art with anguish,

with sore abuse and scorn!

How does that visage languish

which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered

was all for sinners’ gain;

mine, mine was the transgression,

but thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior!

‘Tis I deserve thy place;

look on me with thy favor,

vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow

to thank thee, dearest friend,

for this thy dying sorrow,

thy pity without end?

O make me thine forever;

and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never

outlive my love for thee.

Prayer:  Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross.
He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon his face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.
We venerate thy Passion, O Christ.
Show us also thy glorious Resurrection.
–Hymns for Good Friday, Orthodox

April 18

Maundy Thursday in Holy Week   A new command I give you: Love one another.”

Scripture  John 13: 33-35

 33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
If you knew you were doing to die in the next day or so, what would you say to your family and closest friends?  What would you talk about? I seriously doubt you’d be talking about soccer games, politics, the weather, the stock market or work. My guess is you’d be telling them how much you loved them. You’d want them to remember what you had taught them and to not “get off the track.” You’d tell them that you wanted them to love and look after each other and that you’d miss them but that you’d see them again. That’s pretty much what Jesus did in John chapters 13,14,15,& 16. In chapter 17 we get to listen in first hand on Jesus’ conversation, his prayer, to his heavenly Father. Chapters 13 through 19 cover less than 24 hours and is about a third of the entire book. John was an eyewitness this whole time. He thought it extremely important to record these conversations of the final hours of Jesus on earth. Some of the are extended conversations with the disciples. They include some of the most notable and oft-quoted words of Jesus. What is likewise of utmost importance is that we get to read and hear what Jesus thought was most important to say in the few hours before his death. It would then seem to me that we should give great attention to this portion of the book. John 17 is like eavesdropping on Jesus as he prays to his Father. We hear Jesus bearing his heart to his Father as he prays concerning the fulfillment of his mission to earth, his disciples, for us (!), and finally the truth of his indwelling of his children. In this section of the John’s gospel we have a model of grace, confidence, love, concern, and faithfulness as one leaves this world for heaven.  Over the next couple of days, take your time and read these passages again putting yourself in the midst of the disciples. What would (will?) you say to your loved ones if you knew you were going to die? You are. Tell them now what you want to say.

Please plan to be with us tomorrow night for the Good Friday service with the Chancel Choir. I’ll be preaching on “What All Happened on Good Friday?” at 7:00 PM. Being a part of these Holy Week services will change your perspective on Easter Sunday morning!

Music: “Ubi Caritas”       Ola Gjeila Very beautiful setting of text “a new command” (mandatum in Latin from which we get Maundy)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvI5sNucz1w     This is just the choral piece (text below)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_7mcGqsKP8   Same piece but the composer improvises on the piano with the choir.

Hymn:  Ubi Caritas      

(This hymn text was written specifically for Maundy Thursday worship possibly as early as the 4th century.)

Where charity and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one flock.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other (and Him).

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Therefore, whensoever we are gathered as one:
Lest we in mind be divided, let us beware.
Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Together also with the blessed may we see,
Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:
A joy which is immense, and also approved:
Through infinite ages of ages.
Amen.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, you have shaped our faith by making us believe you shared our mortal nature. In Gethsemane real drops of sweat fell from your body.  Lord Jesus, you have given us hope, because you endured all the spiritual and physical hardships which mortal nature can suffer. In Gethsemane your soul was sin torment, and your heart shook at the prospect of the physical pain to come. You showed all the natural weaknesses of the flesh, that we might know that you have truly borne our sorrows.
―Saint Bonaventura

April 17

Wednesday in Holy Week    “One of you is going to betray me.”

Scripture: John 13:21-30

21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

   “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, 28 but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Betrayal is one of the most difficult, awful acts between supposed friends. To be disregarded and despised by a friend is horrible. The betrayer must put self and self-interest above the relationship and the other person. In the case of the disciples’ forsaking Jesus and all running away, that form of betrayal was pure cowardice. Judas’ situation was far worse. I was a calculated betrayal. For this kind to work, the betrayer must have the complete trust of the one who is to be betrayed. That is what makes it so despicable. Betrayal is a complete and hostile disregard of the friend and relationship. Judas was all about money and power. I believe he wanted to force Jesus’ hand against the Romans figuring he would be in a position of power should that happen. He was apparently a crook long before this incident. One who looks out for the best interest of another, will not betray. Jesus shows us how to respond when we are betrayed. Jesus washed the feet of Judas right before Judas left to collect his betrayal money and tell the Romans where to find Jesus.  Jesus knew what Judas was about to do, even as he washed the feet of Judas! Jesus let the consequences of Judas’ action deal with Judas. Jesus’ words were “I did not come to judge the world but to save it.” Remember, betrayal pays its own horrendous dividend, always. Can you imagine Jesus saying this about you? “It would be better for you if you had never been born.” On the other hand, Jesus offers forgiveness. Just ask Peter who also betrayed his Lord. When betrayed, Jesus is our model. When we betray, Peter is our model.

Please plan to be with us tomorrow noon at 12:15 PM for the Maundy Thursday service and then  for the Good Friday service with the Chancel Choir. I’ll be preaching on “What All Happened on Good Friday?” at 7:00 PM. Being a part of Holy Week services will change your perspective on Easter Sunday morning!

Music: “And He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgiCVwOZDEY          arr. Moses Hogan       Solo

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Qy_1QdWe80             Derric Johnson      Choir

Hymn: “Ah, Holy Jesus”            Johann Heermann ,  early 17th century

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?

Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!

‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;

I crucified thee.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, like Judas, we have betrayed you; like Peter, we have denied you; and like the other disciples, we have forsaken you. Yet you remain faithful to us unto death, even death on a cross. We plead for your forgiveness and mercy. And we ask that you strengthen us so that we do not turn aside but follow you to the very end-for the final victory belongs to you.
-The Worship Sourcebook, p. 597

April 16

Tuesday in Holy Week   “They still would not believe in him.”

Scripture John 12:37-38; 42-50

 37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:
   “Lord, who has believed our message
      and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

 42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

 44 Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

 47 “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
“If I can just see it, I’ll believe it.” How many times have you heard that? It’s not true. We can see and still not believe, especially when it comes to faith. Remember the story Jesus told of Abraham, Lazarus and the rich man after they had died? The rich man told them to go tell his brothers he was tormented in Hades and that they should believe God so they wouldn’t have to come to his place of torment. Abraham’s response was if they didn’t believe Moses and the prophets, they wouldn’t believe someone coming back from the dead. Jesus had just raised someone from the dead and done other miraculous signs in the Pharisees’ presence and still they would not believe. Yet many others did see and believe. A major factor in the unbelieving Pharisees was, “What will my friends think?” Have you ever been embarrassed to say what you believe? Have you ever stood silently while others expressed beliefs contrary to Scripture? We live in a culture that ridicules and mocks Christian belief in regards to marriage and sexuality to name a couple of hot button issues. Have you noticed Jesus was not influenced by anyone but his heavenly Father. In his words, he came to save the world. People’s own words and decisions in regard to Jesus’ words would be their own judge. He spoke the exact words his Father gave him and in the way his Father told him to speak them. Their concern was their rejection of the words of God. Our perspective is to speak the words of God in love and grace. We are speaking of the glory and beauty of another eternal world accessed through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ . . . and we’re concerned what others think?

Music:Hymn of the Cherubim”    by P.I. Tchaikovsky

The USSR Ministry Of Culture Chamber Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyFkPd6fEuI&list=PL8A419B6451EB7C7D

Translation of the Russian below:

“We, who mystically represent the Cherubim,
And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity,
Let us set aside the cares of life
That we may receive the King of all,
Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts.”

Hymn: “Ah, Holy Jesus”            Johann Heermann,  early 17th century

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,                                                                                                     That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended? By foes derided, by thine own rejected,                                                                                                              O most afflicted.

Prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, you have said that you are the way, the truth, and the life. Suffer us not to stray from you, who are the way, nor to distrust you, who are the truth, nor to rest in anything other than you, who are the life.
–Erasmus, 1469-1536  

Please plan to be with us Thursday noon at 12:15 PM for the Maundy Thursday service and then  for the Good Friday service with the Chancel Choir at 7:00 PM. It will change your Easter Sunday morning!                     

April 15

Monday in Holy Week    “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?”

Scripture John 12:1-11

 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

 7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

 9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

The events described above actually happened on the Saturday before Palm Sunday but the point is so significant. How is it that two people can look at one situation and see things so completely differently? From Mary came worship; from Judas condemnation. The actions reveal the heart. Days later, Mary saw the risen Christ and Judas hanged himself in remorse.  How does what Mary said relate to what Jesus said in the passage above? There is a connection. What did Jesus mean when he said you always have the poor but you won’t always have me? It seems Jesus was reminding those gathered that honoring him was primary. Mary recognized that the Lord would not always be physically in their presence; but there would always be poor people present in society. She wanted to honor the Lord while she could. Notice, Jesus did not say, do not help the poor. He did affirm Mary’s choice and expression of her devotion. We need to be aware that we don’t get lost in doing good works and neglect our first priority, actually our only priority, that of worshiping our Redeemer. It is not even a matter of highest priority, it’s not even a priority. Breathing is not a priority in daily life, we just do it in order to live. In the same way, we worship our God in order to live. What we do in helping the poor follows; it is an outgrowth of our devotion to the Savior. This week is about Jesus and what he did to make possible the restoration of the whole created order. Like Mary, lavious your attention on Jesus. Because of him, the course of humanity and the universe was altered forever.

Music: “Agnus Dei”    by Samuel Barber    The same piece two interpretations. It’s worth your time. Put on headphones to listen to the Shaw recording. There is no doctoring of dynamics with dials etc. All the dynamics are controlled by Mr. Shaw live. Note the different treatments of the text.

“Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” is the translation.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRL447oDId4      Vlaams Radio Koor     7:36

www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6ilqJW3fV8       Robert Shaw Festival Singers.    10:55

Please plan to be with us for the Maundy Thursday at noontime (12:15 PM) this year due to the massive 5K race in the evening. The Good Friday service begins at 7:00 PM. I’ll be preaching on “What Happened at the Cross?” The Chancel Choir will sing in the service. These services will change your Easter Sunday morning!

Hymn:  When I Survey the Wondrous Cross                   Isaac Watts

When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God

All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.

Prayer: Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: grant your people grace to love what you have commanded and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. ―from Book of Common Prayer

Please plan to be with us Thursday noon at 12:15 PM for the Maundy Thursday service and then  for the Good Friday service at 7:00 PM. It will change your Easter Sunday morning!

April 14

Palm Sunday   “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Scripture: Luke 19:28-40

28 After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. 29 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. 30 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. 33 And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

34 And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

   Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
You’ll recall that when Jesus told the disciples that they would all be going back to Jerusalem, Thomas’ comment was “We’ll go back and die with you.” We pick up the unfolding of history as Jesus does go back to Jerusalem. Here we see him entering the city on the back of a young donkey. From this account it is very clear in Jesus’ mind what is happening and what will happen. Everything unfolded exactly as he said. There is an interesting paradox here. 1,000 years earlier, King David rode on this very road on a donkey as he fled Jerusalem because his son, Absolom, who was leading a rebellion to overthrow David and gain power for himself. Donkey’s were the vehicle of choice for the king coming in peace. Mules and horses were vehicles for battle. Absolom came after David on a mule. King David left Jerusalem via the road by the Mount of Olives and 1,000 years later, his earthly descendent, King Jesus, entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Absalom was killed in battle and David returned as King. In this case King Jesus was killed and we await his return to set up his eternal kingdom. The people cheered hoping that Jesus’ kingdom would begin shortly and that the Romans would be defeated.When the people’s plans for what Jesus should do didn’t materialize, they turned on him resulting in his death. I would guess that the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter morning has to be the darkest day in the history of the world. All hope was gone. But that all was later. Now there is rejoicing and celebration. There is great hope for the peace that the Messiah would bring. The Pharisees read what was happening because they realized that the people were cheering a Messiah believing at that moment that Jesus was the long prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament. They considered the cheering blasphemous and told Jesus to tell his cheering crowd to be quiet. Jesus, understanding the situation perfectly, responded that if the people quiet the very stones on the ground would cheer. This entrance into Jerusalem had been prophesied to this exact day in the book of Daniel! Though the people cheered they still did not understand and things unraveled very shortly. Within forty years Jerusalem was ransacked and the Temple totally

destroyed because in Jesus’ words, “you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.” Thus begins Jesus’ final week on earth.

Music: “Hosanna in excelsis”   from Placido Domingo Andrew Lloyd-Webber

www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuexxtDGo5c

Prayer: My Lord and Savior, like the people of Jerusalem that day, all too often I presume, predict, expect, hope you would do things in a certain way. There is far too much “me” in my thinking. They had your word but presumed too much.  Jesus, help me to just be quiet and listen and wait for you. Help me to be able to live peacefully without knowing what lies ahead. Help me to live willingly at your pace of change. I say with those in crowd on that Palm Sunday “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.
―Daniel Sharp

April 13

“. . . see the glory of God.”

Scripture  John 11:36-45

 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  

 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
      “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
      Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Mary, Martha, and the mourners get to see the rest of the story! Jesus enabled all of them to see the glory of God in his raising Lazarus from the dead. As a result many more Jews put their trust in God. They had seen someone with power over death. Think of it. An inanimate thing such as death, the ceasing of all bodily functions, is subject to one man who actually has power over natural processes. And, the people standing around saw this actually happen. To many people who saw it happen believed in Jesus! But this victory, while bringing joy to many, also was hugely significant in moving things ahead to the completion of God’s plan for redeeming the world. Because of jealousy and hatred from the Jewish leaders, because the status quo and positions of power and influence of the Romans were all being challenged by this itinerant carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus had to be killed. On still a grander scale yet with the crucifixion and death of Jesus, it appears that God missed it again, that things did not turn out as they should have. If anything, we are shown again and again and again in the life of Jesus, that we can trust the Father regardless of how the situation looks at any given moment then or in our life today. If we continue to trust in “thy will be done,”  we will see “the glory of God.” The empty tomb still speaks!

Music: “Hark! I Hear the Harps Eternal”      Robert Shaw Chorale An American folk hymn on the journey from this world to the next! Note “crossing the river” motif.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbCGk1QrFhg

Prayer: Lord Jesus, here I am again praying with words, words, and more words. I seem stuck with the same old ones all the time. I have trouble finding the right ones to express my love and complete gratitude for what you have done and continue to do on my behalf. Words are so limiting! If you had not done what you did, there would be no hope at all. I cannot begin to imagine what that would be like. I very much connect with Paul Gerhardt’s phrase, “What language shall I borrow to thank thee dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?” I still don’t have words, but please listen to my heart, it’s trying to tell you what’s in there. This I pray as Jesus intercedes on my behalf, my loving Lord. Amen.
―Daniel Sharp, 2009

April 12

“Jesus wept.”

Scripture   John 11:28-35

28 And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
      “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

 35 Jesus wept.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This shortest verse in the Bible underscores this whole passage. Why did Jesus weep? He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew what was coming. So why cry? The mourners visiting Mary and Martha, assumed he was weeping because of the death of his friend. Was he weeping out of pity for the sisters because of the sadness of their own sadness? His was a different kind of weeping. Normal Jewish expression of sorrow at death would be a loud wailing which was the case of the sisters and those comforting them. The passage says that “deep anger” arose in Jesus. It may have been he was angered at the whole idea of death bringing this kind of grief to people. He was experiencing the “sting of death” and was angered by its reality. The word used for Jesus’ weeping is used only one time in the New Testament and it is here. The word is for a soft, subdued weeping. It seems most likely that his sorrow was for all of them in not grasping the bigger picture of who he was and what he had come to do. Here he was, only a few days from giving his life as the ultimate, perfect, and final sacrifice as the Lamb of God, and none of his friends or the people around him understood the magnitude of what was about to take place. The impact would eventually affect the entire universe! The people were so immersed in their own world and their perception of their world that they were unable to see with the eyes of faith. As the end of his earthly ministry approached, they still did not get it. Have you ever felt frustrated that someone you deeply loved, just couldn’t understand something? You tried and tried again to help them understand and it just did not happen. There is sorrow that they don’t understand and their is greater sorrow on what they are missing out on if they did understand. If they only understood, it would be so much better for them. There is joy and fulfillment they are missing. That brings a special kind of sad sorrow. Jesus knows exactly how you feel.

Music: “Death Shall Not Destroy My Comfort”    Washington Master Chorale

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghaL4mGJmq8

Hymn:  When Jesus Wept   William Billings, 1746-1800

When Jesus wept, a falling tear
In mercy flowed beyond all bound.
When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
Seized all the guilty world around,

Prayer: O Jesus, who wept over the death of Lazarus, be with all who grieve. O Jesus who wept alone in Gethsemane, be with all who feel alone, all who face difficult decisions. O Jesus who cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” be with all who are tortured, all who are victims. O Jesus who offered up prayers with loud cries and tears, hear our prayers. O living God who knows all our pain and joy, be with us in our lives. Amen.
―The Worship Sourcebook,p.573

April 11

I am the resurrection and the life.”

Scripture  John 11:25-27

 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
No more glorious words have been spoken since the beginning of language. Is there life after death? Without a doubt! Jesus’ words couldn’t be clearer. Believe in him and live on, even when your body doesn’t! The current body you have now will turn to dust. Our mortal bodies will be transformed into immortal bodies that will never die. You’ll recall when Jesus was a baby, Mary and Joseph took him to the old priest Simeon. Do you remember Simeon’s words about his own death? They were, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” He didn’t say “die in peace.” On the Mount of Transfiguration the same word was used in speaking of Jesus’ “departure” from this earth. Our bodies are simply transformed. When we die, we simply depart from this earthly time-bound body. (Read I Corinthians 15 for a fuller discussion.) There is life after death. This “I am the resurrection and the life” is the same “I AM” who spoke to Moses in the burning bush, the Good Shepherd, the Light of the World, the Way, the Truth and the Life. The Jews who were at Martha and Mary’s home would have picked up on the I AM reference in associating Jesus with God. Certainly the Pharisees did as they accused Jesus of blasphemy in his claiming to be God. As you walk around today or tonight, take a couple of minutes and go outside and look at the sky and remind yourself out loud (you may want to find a solitary place for this!), “Jesus, I believe in you, and because of you, the real me, my soul will never die. I will only depart this mortal body to gain an immortal body in your presence. Thank you.”  

Music: “In Christ Alone”     Christina Grimmie Yes, this is the young girl who was shot and killed following her concert here in Orlando. She lived this song and its truth.

No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand
‘til He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0PonGNP3wA   

Hymn: In Christ Alone                                  Stuart Townend and Keith Getty

In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All, here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid, here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay, light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day, up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine, bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand
‘til He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Prayer:  You are God and we praise you; you are the Lord and we acclaim you; You are the eternal Father; all creation worships you. To you all angels, all the powers of heaven, cherubim and seraphim sing in endless praise, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might; heaven and earth are full of your glory.’ Throughout the whole world the holy church acclaims you, Father of majesty unbounded; Your true and only Son worthy of all worship and the Holy Spirit advocate and guide. Come then Lord and help your people bought with the price of your own blood; and bring us with your saints to glory everlasting. Amen
– from
Te Deum, 4th century

April 10

“if you had been here . . .”

Scripture: John 11:17-24

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Does it ever seem like all hope is lost? Sometimes the answer is yes. Martha, the more impetuous of the two sisters, was the one who went to meet Jesus. Apparently, with Jesus’ two day delay, he wouldn’t have gotten there in time anyway since Lazarus has already in the tomb four days, but then Jesus knew he was already dead before they came to Bethany. Lazarus had apparently died during the day trip to tell Jesus that Lazarus was ill. Jewish burial was held as soon as possible after death. The Jewish belief was that the soul of the deceased hung around for three days in case life returned. On the fourth day it left. Lazarus’ being dead four days is John’s way of telling us Lazarus was really dead.  Martha’s response to Jesus’ comment is kind of a mixed faith. She had been around Jesus and seen him heal people before, maybe even raise people from the dead and wished that he had been there earlier because he could have brought healing to her brother. She believed in a final resurrection, unlike the Sadducees, but that was of little consolation now. This is one of those challenging times when we have faith in the biggest picture, but are still in pain for the present time. A certain future does not provide much relief for the present. Martha reached out to the Lord and expressed her broken heart. Jesus did not recoil nor rebuke her. Never be afraid to express your true heart to the Lord in a tough time. Talk with him and listen carefully with ears of faith. Sometimes there are surprises. Just ask Martha!

Music: “If You Will Trust in God to Guide You”   Fountainview Academy

www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFPe_G-Lqcc

Hymn: If You Will Trust in God to Guide You                      -Georg Neumark, 1641

If you will trust in God to guide you and place your confidence in him,

You’ll find him always there beside you, to give you hope and strength within.

For those who trust God’s changeless love build on the rock that naught can move.

Sing, pray, and keep his ways unswerving, offer your service faithfully,

And trust his word; though undeserving, you’ll find his promise true to be.

God never will forsake in need the soul that trusts in him indeed.

Prayer:  And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling and lift us from the dark valley of despair to the bright mountain of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy; to him be power and authority, for ever and ever. Amen.
–Martin Luther King Jr., 1928-1968

April 9

“…but his disciples thought…”

Scripture  John 11:7-16

 7 Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

 8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”

 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. 10 It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.”

 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

 16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The little phrase at the top is far too often descriptive of my response to the way of the Lord. “But I thought Lord that . . .”  Here we see the single-mindedness of Jesus. A short time prior to this, Jesus had to flee Judea because the people wanted to stone him. (A geographical reminder here may be helpful. Jesus and the disciples spent a great deal of time in the region of Galilee which is roughly sixty miles north of Jerusalem and the region of Judea. The region of Samaria lay between the two areas. The people of Jerusalem viewed Galileans as unsophisticated hicks.) Jesus’ response of “there are  twelve hours in the daylight” was a way of telling the disciples God, his Father, had given him a task to do. “You do your work while it is daylight. You accomplish the Father’s will. Someone who walks in the dark stumbles and gets off course.” Here he is affirming that he is committed and in perfect accord with his heavenly Father’s plan and will. Jesus knows now what is going to happen and the effect it will have on the religious Jewish community as he heads back to the place where Jewish leadership had tried to kill him. Certainly going back to Jerusalem has serious risk. Jesus also knows that the Passover is coming, which is celebrated at the Temple in Jerusalem, and that his time on earth is coming to a close. He has repeatedly told the disciples that he will be killed and will rise from the dead on the third day. They don’t really get it yet. It’s “daylight” which means God’s plan is unfolding now according to plan! The raising of Lazarus from the dead was part of his Father’s course of action so Jesus spells it out specifically for the disciples. In Thomas’ final comment, he still doesn’t get the biggest picture. His response was perfectly natural in light of the political and religious situation. The appearance of Jesus and his disciples, in light of their last time there, meant considerable risk to all of them. What is the central point in this pericope as relates to you and me? The next time you and I are tempted to respond “Lord, but I thought…”, let’s listen to Moses’ words to the Israelites before crossing the Red Sea, “be still and watch the mighty hand of God.” What followed in the raising of Lazarus and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea brought great glory to God. Remember, his ways are not our ways.

Music: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”    Graham Kendrick

www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5-DQmhKPY4

Hymn: God Moves in a Mysterious Way                    William Cowper, 1774

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform                                                                                       He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rise upon the storm. His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour,                                                                                              The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower. Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain, God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.

Prayer: Lord God in heaven, who knows all things, who understands all things, who has power over all things, who has created all things, who sustains all things, who loves all things, who is over all things, who is everywhere present, who has been revealed in Jesus Christ, who is present in the Holy Spirit, who has given his written word, who has made provision for the restoration of the whole created order, grant us one more thing: faith to trust you when we cannot understand your ways in this world. This we pray through Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
―Daniel Sharp, 2009

April 8

“When he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was . . .”

(A side comment here. This week we will look at the account of Lazarus. This event happened shortly before Palm Sunday and was a major triggering event which hatched the plot to kill Jesus. (John 11:51-53) As we move to the conclusion of Lent, our focus moves from more introspection and repentance in our own  lives, to the events that led Jesus to Calvary. In the ancient church, yesterday, the fifth Sunday in Lent, was called the First Sunday of the Passion.)

Scripture John 11:1-6

1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Does it ever seem like God doesn’t do the right thing, or at least his timing is noticeably off? He clearly could do something and just doesn’t?  In fact sometimes it seems as if he deliberately tries to annoy us. The Lord says in Isaiah 55 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways.” Then when that plays out in real life, we’re surprised! Such was the case with Lazarus who was sick at home. His sisters sent word for Jesus, who was in another part of the country, to come and attend to their brother.  After all, Jesus had healed many, many people. Jesus was not mad at Mary, Martha, and their brother. They were good friends and had honored him on various previous occasions. In fact, he often stayed with them. Yet in this critical situation, he ignored their request because, though they did not know it nor could imagine it, something better was in store. That something better was not the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, it was the glorification of Jesus, as the Son of God, as the One who had the power over death. Think about it. Which is greater, power to resuscitate someone who had died, or power over eternal death? Lazarus was dead dead! You may be going through the “Jesus stayed two more days” phase of your life. Pray that God might be glorified in what is coming your way. Have you noticed how often in Scripture Jesus walks people through the experience and they see afterwards what he had in mind from the beginning. E.g. Feeding of the 5,000; casting their nets over the other side of the boat; Peter walking on the water; parting of the Red Sea; and on and on. In every case, trusting in God was involved. As my father-in-law so often reminded us, “The Lord may tarry, but he is never too late.” Just ask Lazarus!

Music: “In His Time”     This is another “contemporary oldie”! A simple song with a simple text that speaks of the truth we’ve been talking about.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo-rGzx2OZk

Prayer: O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health or life except to spend them for you, with you and in you. You alone know what is good for me; do therefore what seems best to you. Give to me or take from me; conform my will to yours; and grant that with humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence I may receive the orders of your eternal providence, and may equally adore all that comes to me from you.
―Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662

April 7

Fifth Sunday in Lent    “All these years I’ve slaved for you . . .”

Scripture: Luke 15:25-32

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
It’s most interesting the way Jesus concludes this parable. We have a crabbing older son. The older son came late to the party. He asked a servant what was going on with the party and was told simply that your brother is back and we are celebrating his return. You might think the older brother would be glad to see his younger sibling. Apparently he was not concerned about his wayward brother during the time he was gone. At any rate, he was throwing a major pity party for himself and refused to join his brother’s party and pouted outside. We again are given insight to the character of their father. Whereas the father ran to embrace the younger son, here the father comes out to the childish older son and begs him to join the celebration whereupon the whining continues. Note the choice of words, “This son of yours.” The older brother refuses to identify with his repentant brother. Can’t you just hear, “It’s not fair!”? In one sense he’s right. Thank goodness our Father in heaven isn’t fair. But thank goodness he’s just and loving. In this parable the father absorbed the younger son’s foolishness and granted forgiveness to the repentant son. Have you noticed Jesus did not tell us how the older son responded to his father’s comments in verses 31-32? In the parable, the Jewish religious leaders were the older son. These leaders still had a chance to respond positively to the father (Jesus). Earlier in this chapter (v.7) we read of the great rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son all point to a persistent God who is diligent in pursuing his children. He does not give up. Our God is faithful even when we are faithless.

Music: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”     Fernando Ortega

www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsXcCdWjsmg

Prayer: Holy Lord, how little repentance there is in the world, and how many sins I have to repent of! I am troubled for my sin of passion, for the shame and horror of it as an evil; I purpose to give way to it no more, and come to thee for strength to that end. Lord God, I know that my sudden anger arises when things cross me, and I desire to please only myself, not Christ. There is in all wrongs and crosses a double cross―that which crosses me, and that which crosses thee; in all good things there is somewhat that pleases me, and somewhat that pleases thee. My sin is that my heart is pleased or troubled as things please or trouble me, without my having regard to Christ. Thus, I am like Eli, the subject of punishment for not rebuking sin; whereas I should humbly confess my sin and fly to the blood of Christ for pardon and peace. Give me, then, repentance, true brokenness, lasting contrition, for these things thou wilt not despise in spite of my sin. For it is in the completed work of Christ that I make this prayer. Amen.
The Valley of Vision, p.89

April 6

“This son of mine..was lost and is found.”

Scripture: Luke 15:22-24

 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This part of the parable is about restoration and forgiveness. Notice the father (God) barely responds to the son’s words of confession. He hugs him and kisses him!  No lectures on past failures, poor decisions, personal greed, none of the “I hope you learned your lesson!”and so forth. The father calls for the “best” robe, the robe of royalty.  He puts a signet ring on his son’s finger to remind him that he is still an heir, implying he still has an inheritance in spite of what he forfeited. The father saw a truly repentant son, a son who acknowledged his sin was against God, his vertical relationship, and against his father, his horizontal relationship. He had violated Jesus’ greatest two commandments: love God with all your heart, and soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The son’s sin was that he violated both and confessed such to his father. The son remained an heir, even through foolishness, distance from home, and wonton self-will.  He is given shoes for his worn, dirty and cracked feet. The father completely restored the son’s position and identity. Both the vertical and horizontal relationships were re-established. This called for celebration! Do you ever think of God “rejoicing” over you when you turn from self-will to his will? Are there some “prodigals” you have been praying for for a long time? Keep it up. They may not have made it to the pig pen yet. Keep watching the horizon and get ready to run!

Music: “The Love of God”     Wintley Phipps

www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OzpQF97zU8

Prayer: Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nursing them, minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: ‘Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.’ Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. May I give as gracious love as do you my Father. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or impatience. Lord, increase my faith, bless my efforts and work, now and for evermore, Amen.
–Sister Teresa of Calcutta, 1910-1997    adapted D.S.

April 5

“While he was still a long way off . . .”

Scripture: Luke 15:20b-21

 “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

 21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
We may think of this story as a parable about the two sons, but this phrase tells us it may be more about the boys’ father and his love for them. Jesus’ parable is truly to show the depth of the father’s great heart and generous love for his sons, both of them. There is something here that is unique in all of Scripture. Something occurs in this parable that does not happen anywhere else in the Bible. Read the verses above again and see if you can figure out what it is. What is it?

Except for this parable, nowhere else does God ever “run” towards his children. Jesus walked everywhere. He never ran to a situation. Sometimes he deliberately stayed where he was and made a point of not going after someone (E.g. Lazarus). God never runs after people. He does not force his way into people’s lives. But he is always near at hand ready to receive his own. He gives people freedom and choice. But here is a beautiful picture of God’s love for the repentant person. The son had turned on his own toward home, and the father, filled with love, saw him and ran to him, put his arms around him and kissed him. The running was motivated by love and compassion. He hugged his son and kissed him. Can you imagine the son’s response. What did the son learn about his father? What do we learn about God? God is patiently waiting for us to turn around when we push down the road where the street sign says “Self.” There is not a wagging bony fingered condemnation for our stupidity but a warm embrace and “glad you have come back home.” Can you offer this kind of love to someone today?

Music: “He Ran to Me”    Craig and Dean

www.youtube.com/watch?v=FenkAVsGmEQ

Prayer: Bring us, O Lord God, at the last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end.
–John Donne, 1571-1631

April 4

“When he came to his senses…”

Scripture: Luke 15:17-20a 

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
What was I thinking!  Have you ever said that? When we first wander off the path, it’s hardly recognizable. We used to live in Seattle. We drove to the farm in Illinois every summer. There was a point in eastern Washington where the interstate highway split. We could go straight and go through Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota or choose to make a slight veer to the south and a day later be somewhere in Nebraska, hundreds of miles to the south of where we might have been. At the time of making the split, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it did set the course for the next several days. When the prodigal son left home, all he could see was wealth and good times ahead!   The path became bumpier with more rocks and ruts the farther he went. Finally the ruts became more like a grave with open ends. If you are in fantasy land or on the wrong road, turn around! (Just to clarify, it is not a sin to drive through North Dakota, though it apparently is if you are near 90 mph…and there is nothing out there except one other car… (another story!) The seed of humility in the son we hinted at yesterday began to grow. There is this most powerful line, “When he finally came to his senses . . .” I have to wonder if the father was not praying for this very thing for his wayward son. The teaching that had been instilled, finally kicked in. He recognized his sin against not only his earthly father, but against heaven itself. This is key. Like King David, he realized his sin was against God. He repented, and went back to the place where he got off track. Home. Notice how much more there is here than a simple “I’m sorry, dad.” There is a complete attitude and heart change. A complete change in direction. That is what happens in true repentance. The wiser you are, the faster you’ll recognize you are on the wrong path and turn around. What path are you on today?

Music: “In His Hands”    Radiance Acapella   great group from Zimbabwe                 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7O0k1fv-Iw

Prayer:  Fix thou our steps, O Lord, that we stagger not at the uneven motions of the world, but steadily go on to our glorious home; neither censuring our journey by the weather we meet with, nor turning out of the way for anything that befalls us. The winds are often rough, and our own weight presses us downwards. Reach forth, O Lord, thy hand, thy saving hand, and speedily deliver us. Teach us, O Lord, to use this transitory life as pilgrims returning to their beloved home; that we may take what our journey requires, and not think of settling in a foreign country.
―John Wesley, 1703-1791

April 3

“. . . no one gave him anything.”

Scripture: Luke 15:13-16

 13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
When the “trinity of self” is worshiped, it rewards the worshiper handsomely. Welcome to the world of “self” son! Should we be surprised that no one gave him anything? His primary relationship and friendship was with himself! Stealing a line from a movie, “He was his own best friend!” That is part of the benefit of this kind of worship. Look with whom he was spending his time and money. This was not a community that was known for giving. This was the takers, the crowd of “the trinity of self.” It became particularly evident when everything headed south. (Look at all the people and corporations today with their hands out, people and companies who have “squandered their wealth on wild living,” Look at the people with their hands out wanting “their share of the stash.” Look at those “living beyond their means” expecting someone else to bail them out. We speak not of those who have genuinely fallen on hard times not of their own making.) We see the seeds of humility being planted in the son’s soil of desperation. His loneliness is overwhelming and spurs him to change is course. Change only happens when the pain of the current situation is great enough. People have different pain thresholds which is why some people last longer in horrible situations. In hiring himself out to feed the pigs (unclean animals to the Jews), he has not quite yet reached the pain level that will cause him to alter his course, though he is close. Look for people in your life today who may be in the son’s situation, and extend a hand in whatever form to bring encouragement and hope. Perchance you may even be that person. Go back home. Ask forgiveness. You won’t be disappointed at your Father’s response.

Music: “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” Odetta   This is the best authentic recording of this piece I’ve come across. I can easily envision the prodigal son singing this to himself as he eats the pig’s food. Remarkable voice!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXg9UFUXFXU  

Prayer: Lord, I am blind and helpless, stupid and ignorant. Cause me to hear, cause me to know, teach me to do, lead me.
–Henry Martyn, 1781-1812

April 2

“Give me my share . . .”

Scripture: Luke 15: 11-12

(Jesus had just told the parable to the Pharisees about the lost coin.)

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
We live in an era of a new trinity. This one is not mysterious in the least! It is easily understood by even the smallest child. It is the trinity of “I, me, and myself.” There is actually a pop song entitled “It’s All About Me!” Those four little, simple, short words speak volumes. The season of Lent is about helping us to recognize how often that idea slips into and shapes our lives. We live in a society, and indeed in our own lives, where we are very aware of our “rights.” Look at all the lawsuits and the encouragement to sue in television commercials. “Have you been injured in an accident? Call:  888-LAW-CALL.” Law offices proudly tout how much of a settlement they got for their clients. We live in a litigious society. Where did we get this idea of my rights?  And how far do my rights extend? In this parable, the son was a rightful heir, albeit an impatient, immature, self-centered, short-sighted one! He used another version of the personal trinity and four words. Give me my share!  I’m embarrassed for him. But notice the Father did not reprimand him, humiliate, nor dishonor him in his foolish demand. I’m not sure I would have been that gracious. He granted the demand, knowing full well the consequences of this ludicrous request. There are certainly times when our heavenly Father does the same for us. He does not impose his will or force us in any direction. The father here likewise does not override the son’s stupidity and immaturity. Can you imagine a love like this so honoring and strong?  There is no “thy will be done” in this son’s demand! This son gained nothing from his father’s wisdom. He didn’t ask. He didn’t reflect. He didn’t wait. In effect he said, “Father, I wish you were dead so I can get my inheritance. Come to think of it, I don’t want to wait for you to die, so I want it now. See ya.” Are we ever like this son with our Father in heaven? As you pray today, be careful of what you ask for. In God’s gracious way, he may give it to you!

Music: “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOXnzYPMhWY  

Prayer: O God our Father, help us to nail to the cross of thy dear Son the whole body of our death, the wrong desires of the heart, the sinful devising of the mind, the corrupt apprehensions of the eyes, the cruel words of the tongue, the ill employment of hands and feet; that the old man [in us] being crucified and done away, the new man may live and grow into the glorious likeness thy Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.
-Eric Milner-White, 1884-1964

April 1

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart.”

Scripture: Psalm 51: 13-19

 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
       and sinners will turn back to you.

 14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
       the God who saves me,
       and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

 15 O Lord, open my lips,
       and my mouth will declare your praise.

 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
       you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
       a broken and contrite heart,
       O God, you will not despise.

 18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
       build up the walls of Jerusalem.

 19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
       whole burnt offerings to delight you;
       then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
When our boys were little, I remember the immediate joy that returned in them after they had been disciplined for an “attitude problem.” One little guys words were, “Daddy, I feel happy again!” Our family rule was that the offense would not be mentioned again. There would be no, “Look what you did again!”  The God-quality of forgiveness includes forgetting. Like our boys, King David returns to joy in the Lord. His mouth is again open in praising God. He makes a beautiful distinction concerning God’s perspective. God’s greatest joy is not in receiving the offering of a sacrifice, however necessary and wonderful that is in worship. The joy in God’s heart came from the humble, broken heart of David, the worshiper, who was making the sacrifices. Even from the first Genesis recording of the sacrifices of Cain and his brother Abel, God’s words to Cain were, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Communion with the Lord was the central significant factor in sacrificial worship. While offering of the Old Testament sacrifice was necessary and of a significance of the first order, the ultimate point was the heart of the worshiper. Have you noticed the qualities of heart God is looking for? A truthful heart, a humble heart, a transparent heart, a heart like the heart of Jesus is what God is looking for. Honestly, how truthful, humble, and transparent are you with the Lord?  As you pray, ask the Lord to reveal his perspective on your heart.

Music: “Father of My Heart”       Fernando Ortega

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Wnm7cp0E4s

Hymn: Come, Ye Disconsolate                             -Thomas More 1824

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,                                                                                                  Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.     Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish.  Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Joy of the desolate, Light of the straying,                                                                                                          Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure,        Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.”

Prayer: Take, Lord, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my whole will. You have given me all that I have, all that I am, and I surrender all to your divine will, that you dispose of me. Give me only your love and your grace. With this I am rich enough, and I have no more to ask
―Ignatius Loyola 1491-1556

March 31

Fourth Sunday in Lent  “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
From my perspective, this is one of the most powerful passages in all of Scripture regarding the impact of the work of Christ. I want to walk us through it. It would seem in the opening verses of this portion, Paul is reflecting back on his earlier days when he persecuted the church. He arrested and terrorized followers of Jesus precisely because he believed that Jesus was simple a human being with heretical and blasphemous ideas. Jesus’ followers needed to be eliminated. Jesus was dead and they were propagating a lie. Then there was the Damascus road encounter with the risen Jesus himself! In his own words, Saul became a new person. His old life was gone and he was now living an entirely new life with a completely different understanding of who Jesus Christ was and is. He humbly acknowledges that it was by God’s grace that he was transformed. Now his mission is to spread the message of reconciliation. The powerful phrase is simply “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” What does that mean exactly? At creation God spoke (sang) a perfect world into existence bringing order out of chaos, a world that he would enjoy and one that would be in pure harmony and communion with the Godhead. That was the purpose and the ideal. As you know both then and now, human beings rebel against their Maker. With the Fall of our first parents in the Garden, every person from then on was “bent.” The bent was rejection of God. What happened next was God unfolding the action of reconciliation. What most people don’t know, don’t believe, or don’t care about is that God the Creator came to this planet in not only the form of a human being, but willingly became fully human in every conceivable way, (I mean that literally!) in order to make possible the bringing back into communion the world that had rebelled and rejected its maker. For only if Christ was completely and totally human and totally God could reconciliation be efficacious. God had no other way to redeem this world apart from Christ. The entirety of the Bible is the development and implementation of this plan. The Scriptures are the God’s Story of that plan. Paul states here by implication that there is no other system, no faith, no religion, absolutely nothing other than God’s reconciliation in Christ that solves the human and fallen world dilema. There is no Plan B.

Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane confirmed that. Glory to God for ever and ever!

Music: “God So Loved the World”    John Stainer St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5Akz6J8Rw0&t=16s

Prayer:

Glorious God, I bless thee that I know thee. I once lived in the world, but was ignorant of its creator, was partaker of thy providences, but knew not the provider, was blind while enjoying the sunlight, was deaf to all things spiritual, with voices all around me, understood many things, but had no knowledge of thy ways, saw the world, but did not see Jesus only. O happy day, when in thy love’s sovereignty thou didst look on me, and call me by grace. Then did the dead heart begin to beat, the darkened eye glimmer with light, the dull ear catch thy echo, and I turned to thee and found thee, a God ready to hear, willing to save. Grant that I may always weep to the praise of mercy found, and tell to others as long as I live, that thou art a sin-pardoning God, taking up the blasphemer and the ungodly, and washing them from their deepest stain. Amen.
The Valley of Vision p.60

March 30

“Take not your Holy Spirit from me.”

Scripture:   Psalm 51: 10-12

 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
       and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

 11 Do not cast me from your presence
       or take your Holy Spirit from me.

 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
       and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
David was aware of his fickle faith. He knew he needed the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life continually. In these days of Israel’s history, the Holy Spirit was not a continual presence in David’s life as attested in this psalm. The continual indwelling of the Holy Spirit among all believers did not occur until Pentecost as described in Acts 2. In this section, David asks for a pure heart. He has acknowledged and confessed his sin earlier in the psalm. Now he wants a steadfast spirit. Like David, we all want to be consistent in our walk of faith. Yet we are “prone to wander” as the song says. It seems our old nature hangs around, trying to get its gnarly foot in the door. The key is the presence of the Holy Spirit within us recognizing when the door is being pushed ajar. I have been grateful and amazed at times during the day when my mind began to wander off the path, at how quickly the Holy Spirit pointed out what was happening. As we journey through this Lenten season, listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit. Ask him to watch the door and give you an alert spirit throughout this day. Live consciously in the presence of God. Some of us are prone to talk to ourselves from time to time. When I am doing carpentry work and measuring and cutting wood, I frequently talk to myself and Nancy asks me who I’m talking to. What would it be like if we talked out loud to the Lord during the day? Talk with him today as you go about your business. You may wish to do so when you are by yourself!

Music: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”   by Eclipse 6

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LWyBcCH7Wg

Prayer: Prayer to the Holy Spirit                   -Christina Rossetti 1830-1894

As the wind is thy symbol, so forward our goings. As the dove, so launch us heavenwards. As water so purify our spirits. As a cloud so abate our temptations. As dew so revive our languor. As fire so purge out our dross. (Note the use of the biblical symbols for the Holy Spirit.)

March 29

“You desire truth in the inner parts . . .”

Scripture: Psalm 51: 6-9

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
       you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

 7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
       wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

 8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
       let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

 9 Hide your face from my sins
       and blot out all my iniquity.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Have you ever been amazed while watching American Idol (Admit it, you’ve seen it at least for a few minutes!) that some of the “wanna be” stars of tomorrow have so little understanding of their actual talent? They appear clueless! Remember when Simon Cowell was one of the judges? We all waited for Simon to speak because we knew he would speak the truth regarding their “talent.” Why is it that we can so easily live in duplicity? We are masters at giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We easily grant latitude to our own conduct that we will not grant to others.  We have a dozen reasons why it was not our fault; why we are the exception; why we can be excused for missing the mark; or why we should be granted leniency in this circumstance. In the Scripture passage, the “inner parts” can also be translated “inner being,” in other words, our heart, our soul, the core of who we are. The Lord wants us to be truthful with ourselves. When that happens, look what follows! Our heart gets a lesson in wisdom from God. God cleanses our sin completely. He is the one who does the washing. We physically revive. Unconfessed sin, sometimes known as rationalization, pays a heavy physical and spiritual dividend. I have to wonder if some of our aches and pains and tensions aren’t from unconfessed sin or our refusal to deal with what we instinctively know to be wrong in our lives. The devil will always tell you it’s not anything to worry about. I made a comment the other day that was to be funny. Part of it was. But as soon as I said it, I had a little voice that told me there could be too much “bite” in what I said and wished I hadn’t said it. The person about whom the comment was made asked to get together, and sure enough, I had hurt a friend. I apologized for my thoughtless remark. What struck me was that the little voice that spoke so quickly in me was right. It would have been easy just to move on, but to my friends credit, I was able to confess and get it out of my system. I’m wondering how many times we don’t follow up on those little nudges and they subtly eat away at us. Our relationship to God deadens. Confession gets a load off our chest. It is freeing. Are you telling God the truth today?

Music: “May the Mind of Christ My Savior”  Jake Armerding

www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXUOuzJo1bE        

May the mind of Christ my Savior live in me from day to day.                                                                   By his power and love controlling all I do and say.       May the Word of God dwell richly in my heart from hour to hour. So that all may see I triumph only through his power.

Prayer: Dear God, make me think about what I’m doing with my mind, with my body, with my habits, with my study, with my friends, with my hopes, with my parents, with my faith, with life. Amen.
-Carl Burke, b. 1917

March 28

“…sinful at birth.”

Scripture: Psalm 51:5

 5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
       sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Good grief, what chance do we have?!  As a friend of mine truthfully said, “There is very little ‘original’ sin. We’re just recycling!”  From the beginning we are sinners. Did you have to teach your children to say “MINE!”? I rest my case. You may have a translation that reads “In sin did my mother conceive me.”  The translation above is a far better, more accurate translation. Conception is not sin! This passage means that we are part of the fallen human race. David writes in another Psalm (143:2) “for no living thing is righteous before you.”  No one has ever gotten it right with a single exception, and in that Exception is our salvation. Have you read the paper? Have you kept track of the news? We are more self-absorbed than ever. We are not getting better as a human race. It is not “we are part of the problem, we are part of the solution.” Not true! We have abundant evidence that knowing what is right to do surprisingly does not equate with doing right. It is clearly not a matter of education or understanding or more case studies. We are an intrinsically flawed race. Can you think of some times when you knew what was right to do and didn’t do it?  Again, I rest my case! In this world we have battles, battles against flesh and blood. In some ways the season of Lent is a little like our world. Let me give us an illustration borrowed by the late Oscar Cullmann. He likened the present struggles to those of World War II. On D-Day, June 6, 1944 the Allies broke the back of the Germans when they stormed the beaches at Normandy. The next eleven months were fierce mop up battles in which the Allies prevailed. But it wasn’t until May 8 of 1945 that we got to V-Day and the peace treaty was signed. We live in such a time of mop up battles. We win some, we lose some, but victory is assured! Christ’s victory on the cross broke the back of sin, death, and the power of evil. But Christ’s return and the setting up of his eternal kingdom is yet to come and so we have intermittent battles with sin and evil though their doom is sure! Continue to wage war. Win your battles today. The word is your weapon and the Holy Spirit is your invincible ally.  

Music: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqfTB50cE4o   Dan Forrest    Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Brass

www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNeP7bGagqg   Matt Boswell

Prayer:  Blessed are all thy Saints, O God and King, who have engaged in the tempestuous battles of this mortal life, and have made the haven of peace and felicity. Watch over us who are still in our dangerous skirmishes; and remember such as lie exposed to the rough engagements of trouble and temptations. Frail is our strength, and the battles fierce; but as in thy mercy thou hast set our path to walk bearing the armour of thy Holy Spirit toward the everlasting paradise of peace, and bring us at length to the quiet haven of our heart’s desire, where thou, O our God, are blessed, and livest and reignest for ever and ever.
St. Augustine, 345-430 AD adapted D.S.

March 27

Update March 26

Friends,
In reading yesterday’s Lenten Devotional, I want to clarify something that should have been much clearer. This is the portion from yesterday I want to comment further on.
 
“Jesus absorbed David’s and our sins into himself and became our sin. He who knew no sin, became sin; took our sin into (should be  “upon”) himself. Second, David asked God to “wash away all my iniquity.” The result was that his and our sin are gone from us.”  
 
Understand, Jesus was not a sinner hanging on the cross. The part of our sin he took was the punishment, the wrath of God directed toward our sin. Just like the sacrificial lambs in the OT, they didn’t take the sin of the person, but bore the punishment and paid the penalty for the sin by their own death. He paid the penalty for sin in full. In that sense, it was once and for all finished, hence his words from the cross, “It is finished!” The last sentence of the devotional above is poorly expressed! (Needed another edit Sharp!)

March 27

“Against you, you only, have I sinned”

Scripture: Psalm 51:3-4

3 For I know my transgressions,
       and my sin is always before me.

 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
       and done what is evil in your sight,
       so that you are proved right when you speak
       and justified when you judge.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Have you ever thought “Sure I messed up, but it’s not that big of a deal. No one got hurt too badly. I’ll just keep a low profile and things will blow over?”  King David tried that approach too until he ran into Nathan the prophet. We sometimes avoid dealing with our sin by going on with life. We seek to lose the guilty feeling by getting busy with the next thing and hoping others will calm down and forget about what we have said or done. We also get busy to get “it” off our mind and hope that after a time, even we will forget about it as it fades away. Have you noticed that approach really does not work? The “it” gets buried and slowly eats away on us as a slow moving cancer. The Psalmist writes “I know my sins, they won’t go away. I think about them subconsciously.” Do you have a relentless “cloud on a string” that follows you day after day? Imagine there is a dark cloud. It has a long string that is connected to your belt and wherever you go it follows you, reminding you of the “it.” And to make matters worse you can’t untie the string. It doesn’t go away does it? David’s key in dealing with the mess he was in, was acknowledging his sin against God. He confessed what he had done was wrong in God’s sight, the only sight that ultimately matters. As we reflect on our own walk with the Lord during these days of the Lenten season, are we cognizant that the sins in our lives, while at times against other people, are also always against God? Is confession to the Lord for having sinned against him also a part of our prayers? It was so with David.

Music: “Create in Me A Clean Heart O God”    Keith Green an “oldie”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vD847UcRbL4

Prayer:  God of compassion, you are slow to anger and full of mercy, welcoming sinners who return to you with penitent hearts. That would be me. Receive in your loving embrace all who come home to you. We confess that we have been wayward children. We have disobeyed your commands; our ears have been purposely deaf to your call; our hearts have been cold to your love. In thought, in word, and in deed, in attitude we have hurt others and dishonored your name. Our sin is against you. Receive us yet again as your beloved fallen children, not because we are worthy, but for the sake of him who loved us and gave himself for us. Amen.
―Dan Sharp

March 26

Have mercy…wash away all my iniquity”

Scripture: Psalm 51:1-2

 1 Have mercy on me, O God,
       according to your unfailing love;
       according to your great compassion
       blot out my transgressions.

 2 Wash away all my iniquity
       and cleanse me from my sin.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
What words of pleading. Mercy is not something to be assumed nor guaranteed. The one seeking such is completely subservient to the ruler, his master’s wishes.  Control of the situation is gone. Having been responsible for plotting and carrying out a murder in order to cover up his own sin, King David pours out this confession to God. In pleading for mercy, he appeals to God’s own character of unfailing love and great compassion. Though David was guilty of a treacherous crime, his past walk with God had shown him God’s character first hand. His past relationship with God compelled him to turn again to his God, knowing that is what he needed to do. It is to this character of God that he appeals in three different ways. He asked to have his sin dealt with; blot out my transgressions. A blotter absorbs the liquid into itself. Jesus absorbed David’s and our sins into himself and became our sin. He who knew no sin, became sin; took our sin into himself. Second, David asked God to “wash away all my iniquity.” The result was that his and our sin are gone from us. Third, the sin itself was to be cleansed from me. Because of Christ’s action, we are pure before God. There was no blame, no excuse, no “mistake” here. David’s words were “my transgressions,” “my iniquity”, and “my sin.”  He took full ownership. In an almost incomprehensible way, we see this “unfailing love” and “great compassion” in this Psalm as Jesus’ embraces the hard wood of the cross in taking sole ownership of all of our sins and the sins of the whole world. There is no sin of yours or mine that Jesus has not carried. As a result, God has shown us mercy and washed away all our sins.  Thanks be to God!

Music:  “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”  You’ll get tired of me saying this. DON”T MISS THIS!  This is a glorious setting from believers in one of the Slavic countries. It’s in English but all the comments are in a language I don’t know! Thank you Simon Khorolskiy!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLTu1xv2-Us

Prayer: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ, our Lord. Amen. ―BCP

Update 2019-03-26:
Friends,
In reading today’s Lenten Devotional, I want to clarify something that should have been much clearer. This is the portion from today I want to comment further on.
 
 “Jesus absorbed David’s and our sins into himself and became our sin. He who knew no sin, became sin; took our sin into (should be  “upon”) himself. Second, David asked God to “wash away all my iniquity.” The result was that his and our sin are gone from us.”  
 
Understand, Jesus was not a sinner hanging on the cross. The part of our sin he took was the punishment, the wrath of God directed toward our sin. Just like the sacrificial lambs in the OT, they didn’t take the sin of the person, but bore the punishment and paid the penalty for the sin by their own death. He paid the penalty for sin in full. In that sense, it was once and for all finished, hence his words from the cross, “It is finished!” The last sentence of the devotional above is poorly expressed! (Needed another edit Sharp!)

March 25

“Today’s trouble is enough for today!”

Scripture:   Matthew 6:25-34

 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Jesus was perfectly aware of God’s timing. So often in the early parts of the Gospels, he said, “My time has not yet come.” Then as he approached his last Passover, (he had regularly observed them throughout his lifetime), the Gospels say, he set his face toward Jerusalem. Jesus remained focused on what was right before him. As Passover approached, he told the disciples “the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” He never panicked, not even when he washed the feet of Judas, the one who would betray him only minutes later. He was composed in the present because he was connected intimately to the will of his Father and their overall plan for restoring the whole created order. He was realistic as he dealt with “the day’s troubles.” It was not a “God will work everything out” or a “whatever happens, happens” mindset. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he earnestly prayed hoping there might be another way. The silence from the Father in regards to Jesus’ request for an alternative course, is another way of affirming Jesus’ earlier words to his disciples in the Upper Room where he told Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” There is no other way, period. One of the reasons I love and trust the Bible so much is that the Holy Spirit pulled no punches guiding the writers as they wrote. Nothing is sugar-coated! We see the transparent humanity of Jesus. He is no distant God with an unreal connection to human beings. He is like us in every respect. What is one thing we can take from this passage? In this Lenten season, rather than being overwhelmed by all the things in our lives that need attention, deal with one thing at a time as we walk with the Savior through these days leading to the cross. Deal with one thing today.

Music: “Day by Day”   Jessica Wu

www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpOvYdFjbR0

Prayer:  Who can tell what a day may bring forth? Cause me therefore, gracious God, to live every day as if it were to be my last, for I know not but that it may be such. Cause me to live now as I shall wish I had done when I come to die. O grant that I may not die with any guilt on my conscience, or any known sin unrepented of, but that I may be found in Christ, who is my only Savior and Redeemer.
–Thomas á Kempis, 1380-1471

March 24

Third Sunday in Lent

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts.”

Scripture: Is. 55:1-9  

“Is anyone thirsty?

   Come and drink—even if you have no money!

Come, take your choice of wine or milk— it’s all free!

2 Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?

   Why pay for food that does you no good?

Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.

   You will enjoy the finest food.

3 “Come to me with your ears wide open.

   Listen, and you will find life.

I will make an everlasting covenant with you.

   I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.

4 See how I used him to display my power among the peoples.

   I made him a leader among the nations.

5 You also will command nations you do not know,

   and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey,

because I, the Lord your God,

   the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

6 Seek the Lord while you can find him.

   Call on him now while he is near.

7 Let the wicked change their ways

   and banish the very thought of doing wrong.

Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.

   Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.

   “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.

9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,

   so my ways are higher than your ways

   and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
There is so much richness in this text appropriate for the Lenten season. As always, note the verbs of invitation: come, drink, listen, enjoy, seek, call, turn.  They are all “doing” words, nothing passive. Our God is offering salvation to all people freely. It cannot be purchased, “it’s all free!” Come with a listening heart. Do not waste your time and money on things that accomplish nothing and don’t satisfy. God made an eternal covenant with David, and through him to bless all the nations of the earth. What does this have to do with you today, afterall, the covenant was with King David 3,000 years ago? The covenant was with David, but the verses also apply to you as you hear God speak through his word. Verse six is as current as the time it takes to read it. “Seek the Lord while you can find him,” which would be now. “Call on him now while he is near.” Friends, you are reading this, which means you are alive. The fact that you are alive means you can seek the Lord and call on him right now. I called on him after the last sentence. And as I’m typing this devotional, the Lord is impressing on me that I need to learn how to listen to his voice much better. I need to learn how to sit still, be quiet and listen. His forgiveness is certain when there is repentance. Verses eight and nine give great insight into a better understanding of our God. When the the Lord says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine,” we begin to see the immense greatness of our God. Perhaps more accurately, we begin to see our actual significance and God’s great mercy. Do you see how futile it is to always try to understand what God is doing in your life. God does not think like we do at all. Say that about a dozen times a day! The word is nothing! So completely nothing that we can’t imagine it, that is, it won’t fit into our brains; we don’t have that capacity. Going at the speed of light, (circling the earth at the equator 7 times in 1 second) it takes less that a second and a half for light to get from the earth to the moon, and about 8 minutes and 12 seconds to get from the earth to the Sun, our nearest star. The far reaches of the universe are trillions of light years from the earth. So when the Lord says “just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” you begin to get the idea of the distance between our thoughts and God’s! And in all of this grandeur, he asks you to seek him while you can find him.  Do it!

Music: “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name:     First Baptist Choir Dallas, TX

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrTV0KD_qQI

Prayer:

We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.

All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.

To thee all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein.

To thee cherubin and seraphin continually do cry,

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth;

Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.

The glorious company of the apostles praise thee.

The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise thee.

The noble army of martyrs praise thee.

The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee:

the Father of an infinite majesty;

thine honourable, true and only Son;

also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.
Te Deum 4th century

March 23

“Treasures on earth . . .”

Scripture:   Matthew 6: 19-24

 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
As we focus in on Jesus’ life as the weight of the cross draws nearer, we see more and more clearly how single-minded and centrally focused he was. Notice the relationship among these three short sections. Notice we start with earthly concerns and contrast those with a heavenly perspective. What you value is revealed in your heart. The middle section addresses what pulls at the heart; that is, what you see. How often have we said when we see something, “I want that!” So Jesus warns us of our eyes magnetic effect on our heart. The final paragraph of this trilogy is simply, “This is not an either or, make up your mind! You can’t have both.” Jesus’ earlier words, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…” was lived out in his own words “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  He had no home. When he was killed, he had nothing other than the clothes he was stripped of. When he died, he had nothing. All disciples had deserted him. Jesus clearly did not store up treasure on earth. What treasure he stored in heaven, however, is glorious beyond our imagination. He asks us to do the same. Do not let your eyes mesmerize your heart to earthly stuff. A legitimate question to ask is “How much of my life (my time, energy, thought, money) is going into things or pursuits that are of little eternal consequence?” If we measure “treasure” only in terms of money, we see how quickly it can fade. Ask those who invested with Bernie Madoff! Remember him? Do you see in Jesus’ words, the point is not earthly treasures, but the affections of the heart?  The quality of the treasure is indicative of the quality of the heart. The character of the heart is central, not the treasure. It is for that heart’s affection that Jesus went to the cross. Where is your heart’s affection today?  That is the treasure you are accumulating. I take you back to the very first thing you saw as you began these Lenten devotionals, a quote from who else but C.S. Lewis. Lewis warns us, “Do not to live these days for things in our life that will end when you do.”  ‘nough said.

Music: “A City Called Heaven”    Jubilant Sykes

www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6fNY710Mu0   The full song.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFIgyXK0Qp4  This is a clip of the same song, shorter version, from the movie, Freedom. It is hard to believe that human beings were treated this way by other humans. As I watched and listened and as reprehensible as the film depicted human slavery,  I couldn’t help but think, the slaves on the ship were also a picture of our world today, where countless millions are every bit as enslaved to the things of this world, unlike in the film through their own choosing, in as vicious a manner as depicted in the film.

Prayer:  May God support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.
–John Henry Newman 1801-1890

March 22

“When you fast . . .”

Scripture: Matthew 6:16-18

 16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Fasting has long been a religious discipline in many faiths.  In the Jewish and Christian tradition it is associated with repentance. We read in the Scriptures frequently of “fasting in sackcloth and ashes.”  The longing that comes within us because of a lack of food during a fast, reminds us of our complete and utter dependence upon the Lord. Fasting is a symbol of the discipline it takes to turn away from sin. Fasting is not an isolated, individual act solely. It also has relational dimensions. Though it is the individual who is fasting, that person is in relationship with God, self, and others with whom we come in contact. Fasting sharpens the spirit and quickens spiritual perception in our interactions. The mind sharpens. There is a penitential aspect as well as an underscoring of our utter dependence upon the Lord. Fasting of some sort is a normal part of Lent. Again, Jesus said when you fast not if you fast. Sometimes there are short total fasts for a day or two or more. On other occasions there are longer fasts, maybe from specific foods, or perhaps choosing to eat only one meal a day for the specific purpose of being liberated from a fleshly habit or desire.  Fasting was a part of the life of every major character in the Bible. Jesus fasted. In Jewish culture, fasting was part of a regular weekly practice by the religious leaders.  Maybe they knew something we don’t. If this is a new area to you, it will be worth doing your own Bible study on “fasting,” and then doing it. As Jesus points out, the whole purpose is to deepen one’s relationship with our heavenly Father.  Try setting aside some regular period of fasting, perhaps one meal or one day a week for starters.

Music: “It Is Well with My Soul”    New Apostolic Church Silvertown Choir and Orchestra (WOW!)   in Cape Town, South Africa another DO NOT MISS

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qp4MjHWZS5c

Prayer: Come now, little man turn aside for a while from your daily employment, escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside your weighty cares, let your burdensome distractions wait, free yourself awhile for God and rest awhile in him. Enter the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything except God and that which can help you in seeking him, and when you have shut the door, seek him. Now, my whole heart, say to God, ‘I seek your face, Lord, it is your face I seek.’
―Anselm 1033-1109

March 21

“Pray then in this way . . .”

Scripture: Matthew 6: 9-15

9″This, then, is how you should pray:
   ” ‘Our Father in heaven,
   hallowed be your name,
 10 your kingdom come,
   your will be done
      on earth as it is in heaven.
 11 Give us today our daily bread.
 12 Forgive us our debts,
      as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 13 And lead us not into temptation,
   but deliver us from the evil one.’ 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Right after Jesus talked about the importance of praying, he gave us an example of how to do it. Notice the careful choice of words. He begins, “Our Father in heaven…” He makes a point of reminding us of whose we are at the same time reminding us of the existence of another world we cannot see. (The Bible is the one book that presumes, other dimensions and worlds outside the four dimensions we live in.) Perhaps it would be wise to think a little more carefully than we sometimes do in how we begin prayers. It might be that “God, we ask you to…” may not be the most thoughtful, reverent way to address our Creator. Our words belie our shallow understanding of the One we address. “God” is not meant as a punctuation mark. Notice the way Jesus addresses his Father in John 17. He is always mindful of who he is and who his Father is. The truth is, we live in a culture that has a very casual, dare I say shallow(?), view of God. In our worship, we give priority to being casual, late (it doesn’t matter), comfortable and relaxed. Those are the characteristics of what we want in our relationship with God. Our prayers often reflect a similar attitude in the words we use. Just listen to the opening words of our praying as contrasted to Jesus’ words here as he was teaching the disciples as to how to pray. It may be that we should pay a little closer attention to this prayer and learn from what Jesus said. Certainly there are times when a prayer is as short and urgent as “Help, Lord!”  Though Jesus is our friend, he is also our coming King, our constant Intercessor, our victorious Warrior, our compassionate Redeemer, our holy Savior, which does not make us equal! In his prayers, Jesus was always very aware of the Father/Son relationship. That kind of awareness is perhaps something we can tune our hearts to in our prayers. As you pray this week, notice how you begin your prayers. You are talking to the Creator of the universe and of all that was, is, and is to come . . . and he has revealed himself to you. Listen as well as talk.

Music: “The Lord’s Prayer”   Andrea Bocelli and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEplqV0scyo

Prayer: Our Father in heaven, forgive us for those times we pray without thinking of the One to whom we are talking; for those times when we babble, lost in our words and our little world, oblivious to your grand design; for those times when we tell you how to solve our problems and how to be God; and for those times when we are disrespectful and arrogant in our prayers as we seek to be clever or earthy. Teach us to pray as your dear Son prayed, for it is in his name that we offer this prayer. Amen. ―Dan Sharp

Book Recommendation: A Diary of Private Prayer,  John Baillie, Scribner’s

March 20

“When you pray . . .”

Scripture: Matthew 6:5-8

 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Again in a plain, beautiful way Jesus simply comments “when you pray.”  Prayer, our conversation with God, is a normal, daily part of the Christian life. This act of praying is not complicated nor is the expectation. Three words, eleven letters. That’s it! In my reading this morning, I noticed several times that Jesus went away alone into the hills to pray. In one case he was interrupted on his way to be alone. He stopped and spent time with the people who had followed him, but then he sent the disciples on ahead of him and “he went into the hills to pray” and be alone with his Father. Such was his normal practice. There is much to be said for private alone time with just you and your Father who sees everything. Do you have an “alone place” where you pray and listen to the Father? If you don’t have a daily place or practice, the Lenten season is a good time to develop this daily pattern. “When” is a word of action. It occurs in time. It signals the beginning of an event. So in Jesus’ saying “when,” his full expectation is that prayer is a regular part of our daily lives. You have heard it said undoubtedly, “There is power in prayer.” Actually, the power is in the One to whom you are praying and the fact that you are actually praying! Simply saying prayerful words doesn’t really do anything. The crafting of your words contain zero power. Jesus makes that quite clear. Maybe you want to keep (or start) a prayer list or a prayer journal. While interceding for others is an important part of prayer, don’t neglect adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. And remember, a good portion of praying is listening to the Father. Remember, prayer is dialogical. Both people get to talk! In prayer we are turning to God in dependency as we turn from sin. There are a great many examples of prayer in Scripture to guide you along. (Col. 1:9-14; Phil. 1:3-11; Dan. 9:1-19) Maybe during the Lenten season you’ll want to build a collection of all the “prayers” you can find in Scripture.

Music: “Sweet Hour of Prayer”  by Radiance Acappella Do NOT miss this!! Five guys from Zimbabwe. Absolutely gorgeous and moving. They pray as they sing!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph43J3pnBDo

 Hymn:  What a Friend We Have in Jesus                ―Joseph Scriven, 1855

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear,

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.                                                                             O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayers.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, our Intercessor, may our hearts be open to you, to see as you see.  May we be obedient to your voice. May our prayer life with you multiply many times throughout the day. We ask that you’d bring things to our minds during the day that need prayer. May we be free to pray with those in need as we go through the mornings, afternoons, and evenings of our lives. In all of this, may you receive glory. Thank you for praying for us continually. We pray this in your tender name. Amen. ―Dan Sharp

Book Recommendation: Deepening Your Conversation with God, Ben Patterson, Bethany House

March 19

When you give to the needy . . .”

Scripture: Matthew 6:1-4

1 “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Prayer, fasting, and giving alms are three central themes of Lent. We’ll look at each over the next three days.

Some thoughts:
We don’t need big words to say powerful things. These words of Jesus have four or fewer letters and most have a single syllable.  He couldn’t be clearer. Ours is a faith that expresses itself in actions. Giving to the needy is one of those actions that is done not to buy God’s favor or earn salvation. We are not graded by God based on what we do. We “give to the needy” to live out a relationship with our heavenly Father. Giving to those in need is what we do as Christians. Jesus was clear. He didn’t say “if you give to the needy,” but rather “when you give to the needy.”  Giving is one of the three primary themes of Lent along with fasting and praying. Have you noticed that is exactly what Jesus did his whole life? And we are the “needy” who benefit. So our question is how and when do we give to the needy?  Maybe adopt a World Vision child. Put together a “Grace Bag” for your car. In the bag you might have a toothbrush and toothpaste, a little bottle of shampoo, a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of water, a bar of soap, some baby wipes, a can of beans with a pop top and plastic spoon. Then when you see a homeless person who, like you is made in the image of God, you’ll have something practical you can give to one in need. Look them in the eye and don’t be afraid to talk with them and listen to their story, whether it is true or not. Listening gives dignity. Giving to the needy acknowledges their humanity. They are not like a pet that needs to be fed, but an actual human being that has come across your path. Another thought, do you know someone who is having a tough time making ends meet right now?  Send them a gift card, or send them some cash anonymously. Ask the Lord to bring to mind someone you can encourage in a practical way. “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” The point of secrecy here is to counteract our natural instinct to broadcast what we have done for our glory. A silent gift gives glory to God.

Music: “Amazing Grace”    Zero8

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBNDdEnHCFQ&list=RDvBNDdEnHCFQ&start_radio=1

Hymn: Here I Am Lord   Daniel Schutte, 1983

I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.

All who dwell in deepest sin, my hand will save.                    

I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright,                                                                               Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?                                                         Here I am, Lord, Is it I, Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, our Sustainer and Provider, help us to be your hands and feet to those in need. Tune our hearts to your own generous heart that we may see as you see and do something about it. Thank you for coming to us in our great need. You are our only hope and salvation. May we bring hope, the hope found in you, to those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
―Dan Sharp

Book recommendation: Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster  (An “old” classic)

March 18

“Search me, O God . . .”

Scripture: Psalm 139: 23-24

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
       test me and know my thoughts.

 24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
       and lead me in the way everlasting.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
In the early days of the Church, this season was a final time of preparation for the catechumens, those who had been studying the Christian faith. Their baptisms happened at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night right before Easter Sunday. Often this process of joining the faith community took several years of preparation as those being baptized learned of the faith. There was much self-examination occurring during these final six weeks both by the individual and by the church. The last verses of this psalm are most apropos. Periodic “soul searching” is good. In a world where we are so busy and consumed with the day to day activity and pressures, taking time to stop and look into our own hearts is essential.

David picked up this theme of self-examination in the final verses of this psalm. He  concludes with the kind of transparency that resulted in God saying of David, “He is a man after my own heart.” Could that be said about you? David was more interested in God’s perspective of David’s life than he was in justifying himself before the Lord. David stepped outside of himself and gave God free rein to look into every nook and cranny of his life, as did those who were being baptized. One of the characteristics of maturity is the ability to “step outside of our person” and see ourselves objectively. In this case, stepping outside of ourselves involves asking God to search the inmost recesses of our hearts and reveal to us any wickedness he finds. Trust me, he will find things you and I need to repent of. Can we live with a consistent transparency toward God? David has given us a marvelous daily prayer for the Lenten season in these verses.

Music: “Search Me, O God”  by Jonny Priano Grove City Touring Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XOcd9iQgFk

Hymn  “O for a Closer Walk with God”                        William Cowper, 1731-1800

O for a closer walk with God, a calm and heavenly frame                                                              A light to shine upon the road that leads me to the Lamb! The dearest idol I have known, what-e’er that idol be                                                                         Help me to tear it from thy throne, and worship only thee.

Prayer: O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it, that you may enter in. It is ruinous, O repair it! It displeases your sight; I confess it, I know. But who shall cleanse it, to whom shall I cry but to you? Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord, and spare your servant from strange sins.
–St. Augustine, 354-430 AD

Additional Reading: My Heart Christ’s Home by Bob Munger
―an old-time classic

March 17

Second Sunday in Lent “we are citizens of heaven. . .”

Scriptures: Philippians 3:17-4:1

17 Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

4 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The Apostle Paul has touched on some very timely topics. Though written 2,000 plus years ago, Paul’s words ring as true as walking down the street last night or reading the news this morning. Whenever someone says the Bible is an irrelevant old book, they clearly have not read it. A few things to notice in this passage: Paul sheds tears for people whose lives are contrary to the way of Christ. In truth, I do not always have a heavy heart for those in rebellion against God. I am more inclined to be upset with their conduct and rejection of God than I am sorrowful for their alienation from God. Our pop culture as a whole certainly brags about “shameful things” and glorifies vile behavior. Depravity is celebrated, often in the name of diversity. It would appear that many people around us are consumed with present day life on this earth with little or no thought of any life after this world. It is likewise easy for followers of Christ to be singularly focused on the present. Once again we have the insightful words of C.S. Lewis: “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth thrown in: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” (The Joyful Christian) All around you and me are people aiming no higher than earth. Our calling is to let them know there is more than this earth at stake and to aim much higher. The earth they are chasing and never catching, will one day come into view as past history because they will discover they have actually been just “passing through.” People have asked me what our bodies will be like when we get to heaven. Paul gives us somewhat of a hint in this pericope. Our heavenly bodies will be transformed into glorious bodies like Jesus’ own resurrection body. Friends, let us live always preparing to leave while paying attention to each day. Stay true to the Lord and help those around you to aim at heaven. It has been secured on your behalf by our great Savior. He is the good news at the beginning and end of each day!

Music: “No Not One and This World Is Not My Home”  Guy Penrod

www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XKqlq5M32Y

“Alone Yet Not Alone”   Sam Robson

www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XKqlq5M32Y

Prayer:

You suffered throughout your life, O Lord Jesus Christ, that I might be saved. And yet, even now, you continue to bear with me, as I stumble upon the path and constantly go astray. As often as I become impatient and wish to abandon your way, you encourage me and stretch forth your helping hand. Each day I increase your burden; yet while I am impatient, your patience is infinite. Grant to me wisdom and a will to live each day noticing the day while living in eternity. In your grace, help me not separate the two but live a life of shalom through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
―Søren Kierkegaard, adapted Dan Sharp

March 16

“Do away with wickedness for good…”

Scripture: Psalm 139: 19-22

And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!  
   And you murderers—out of here!—  
      all the men and women who belittle you, God,  
      infatuated with cheap god-imitations.  
   See how I hate those who hate you, God,  
      see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;  
   I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.  
      Your enemies are my enemies!

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Do you ever get tired of the endless scandals, cheating, arrogance, and power struggles of our leaders and “famous people”? (. . . and that’s just in kindergarten! Apparently it continues in the rest of life!) I find David echoing my voice in the words of today’s reading. In the past few weeks the State of New York in the USA has passed a law making it legal to abort a full-term baby and even kill it after it is born if the mother and doctor decide to if it’s in the best interest of “the mother’s health.” The state senators cheered at the passing of the law. How can human beings be this godless? Such is the action of barbarian civilizations. When the heart is cold toward God, anything is possible. Like David, I get angry when people are defiant of God, mocking faith and integrity. Insulting God is no small thing. I also realize this dismissing of God has been in evidence since the beginning of creation, after all, Cain killed is own brother. These self-righteous immoral “wind machines” of today do not ultimately get away with their ways. They will answer to the One they have mocked. In contrast to my anger and frustration, God is patient, not willing that any should perish. But unwilling people do perish. I frankly do not have God’s attitude, I want them to perish! They have defied God! God’s desire that they repent of their deeds, however, is a convicting measure of my lack of grace and failure to see the grossness of my own sin.  In the meantime, God in Christ Jesus did something about the situation. Our Savior left the glory of a perfect heaven, of a perfect holy environment, of perfect communion with the Father and Holy Spirit, and came to a world filled with sin and arrogance, to a place of estranged people with severed relationships, a place of profane disregard for the sacred, the truth, and the holy, in order to make possible the restoration of God’s entire created order. We journey with Jesus through the slough of human brokenness to the victory on the cross. Look for someone today to whom you can give a word of hope and encouragement. Everyone around you needs God’s grace, including you. Be a vehicle of his grace to others. Maybe some calloused hearts will soften.

Music: “Sinner, Please Don’t This Harvest Pass”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcZDv9SvHCM

Hymn   Lavish Love, Abundant Beauty                      ―Peter Ellis, 1986

I am yours, Eternal Father, all my body, mind and heart.                                                            Take and use me to your glory, form yourself in every part. Lord, your love brings joy and gladness flowing forth within my soul.                                        May my very breath and being rise to you, their source and goal.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying, that we awake to eternal life.
–St. Francis of Assisi,  1181-1226

March 15

“Your thoughtshow rare, how beautiful . . .”

Scripture: Psalm 139: 17-18

Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!  
      God, I’ll never comprehend them!  
   I couldn’t even begin to count them—  
      any more than I could count the sand of the sea.  
   Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
In Psalm 119:164 David writes “Seven times a day will I praise thee.” It might be a good idea to remind ourselves aloud seven times a day of the presence of the Lord. Those words could be, “Lord, you are with me.” Or “The Lord is with me.” I’d suggest: when we awaken, when we eat breakfast, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, at dinner time, and when we go to bed. See if you can do it one day, maybe tomorrow or today if you are reading this in the morning. During the season of Lent, we want to reflect and walk with Christ on the road that leads to Calvary. Time and time again as the disciples traveled the hills of Judea with Jesus, they were surprised by what he said and did. In Psalm 139, David writes of the joys of reflecting on God’s thoughts. He notes the overwhelming scope of the mind of God. The Scriptures are filled with God’s thoughts. The Holy Spirit guides us in our thoughts and brings God’s thoughts to our minds.  I think this is what David is getting at because he writes of his longing to live throughout the day in the presence of the Lord. Did you ever notice how close Jesus was to his heavenly Father and how often they communicated during the day and night, especially during his last hours on earth? Jesus practiced what David was writing about. Resolve to talk with the Lord seven times a day for the next week. You may even have to turn the car radio off! Maybe even leave the car radio off for the rest of Lent and use that time to talk to the Lord.

Music: “Hear My Prayer”    Henry Purcell Clare College Choir, Cambridge

www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WXx5tttwGo

Prayer: You are God and we praise you; you are the Lord and we acclaim you, You are the eternal Father; all creation worships you. To you all angels, all the powers of heaven, cherubim and seraphim sing in endless praise, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might; Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Forbid it Lord, that of all your creation, we should remain dumb in your presence. Seven times a day do we praise you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
―adapted from Te Deum 4th century

March 14

“…you shaped, you formed, you know…”

Scripture:  Psalm 139: 13-16                                                                                                           

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;  
      you formed me in my mother’s womb.  
   I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!  
      Body and soul, I am marvelously made!  
      I worship in adoration—what a creation!  
   You know me inside and out,  
      you know every bone in my body;  
   You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,  
      how I was sculpted from nothing into something.  
   Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;  
      all the stages of my life were spread out before you,  
   The days of my life all prepared  
      before I’d even lived one day.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
In a time when giving attention to building “self-esteem, “self-worth,” and “self-identity” (What is the common word?) are so prevalent in our culture, we have discovered that giving everyone a trophy doesn’t do it! Authentic self-esteem, worth, identity, and everything else comes when we see our true selves from God’s perspective and realize we are loved dearly by the One who made us uniquely male and female. (Our identity is not in our sex.) In this passage written by King David, we see “self-worth” in the context of “God-worth.” God didn’t make a mistake when he made you. He knew you long before anyone had any idea you would even exist. Some of us live with greater challenges than others, but we are all wondrous works of God’s creative hand with unique gifts and skills. Though we may not see it or believe it in some cases, there are no “mistake people” along the way. We are all made “in the image of God.” God’s hand was on us from the moment of our conception through our last day on this earth. We read in the Scriptures that we were known from the foundation of the world. The image of God is stamped on every life from the moment of conception, a God-given truth that has been rejected by many in our current secular culture which has rejected God and created its own version of truth, disregarding the sanctity of life. Do you see here God’s commitment is to you as a unique person?  Note we are not “special.” If everyone is “special,” then no one is. “Unique” is a much better word. It means there is no one else in all creation quite like you! God wanted it that way. His imagination is unending. This “uniqueness” is what keeps life so interesting! In Jesus Christ, we have the most unique human being who has ever lived on earth, one whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension brought redemption to everyone who has ever lived.

Music: “He Knows My Name”    Tommy Walker (An old “contemporary” song!!)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bj-rlGcj8M

Hymn: He Knows My Name Tommy Walker

I have a Maker, He formed my heart.

Before even time began my life was in His hand.

He knows my name, He knows my ev’ry thought,

He sees each tear that falls and hears me when I call.

I have a Father, He calls me His own.

He’ll never leave me no matter where I go.

He knows my name, He knows my ev’ry thought,

He sees each tear that falls and hears me when I call.

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made, and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent. Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, perfect forgiveness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
–Thomas Cranmer, 1489-1556

March 13

“…you are there”

Scripture: Psalm 139: 7-12

7-12 Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit?  
      to be out of your sight?  
   If I climb to the sky, you’re there!  
      If I go underground, you’re there!  
   If I flew on morning’s wings  
      to the far western horizon,  
   You’d find me in a minute—  
      you’re already there waiting!  
   Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!  
      At night I’m immersed in the light!”  
   It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;  
      night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.   

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

 

Some thoughts:
Why is it that we tend to avoid being confronted with the truth?  We somehow imagine that if we just hide or ignore it, we can skip facing reality. David writes with devastating clarity reminding us that we cannot escape God’s presence. Wherever we go, “God is there.” In fact, God is there before you get there! If you head to the backside of a galaxy “far, far away,” he’s waiting for you! Is there some pattern or habit in your life that you avoid in your conversations with God? After all, if you do all the talking in your prayer life, you don’t have to listen to what God has to say to you. David reminds us that no amount of finagling on our part makes things go away. Adam and Eve were the first people to try to hide from God and it didn’t work then and it hasn’t worked for anyone since! God’s question to them of “Where are you?” was not because he didn’t know where they were, he was asking them, “Where are you in relation to me? Where is your heart?” Not even the dark of night covers those hidden thoughts and habits. Is the quality of your nightlife the same as your daylife or are those two different worlds? God cares about every part of our lives and isn’t shocked by the way we live our lives. God truly knows you better than you know yourself which is why he is in the process of transforming you into the image of his Son. The season of Lent is a time to turn specifically toward our Creator and come clean. Is there something in your closet that needs God’s broom? Do you see God’s tender love and care for you expressed in this passage? Maybe write down what the Lord is saying to you. It will mean listening and not talking.

Suggested  Lenten Reading:
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a classic book about a Christian’s journey through life. Highly recommended. I reread this little book every three or four years in the old text. It’s a great way to learn what English words really mean. It is a spiritual masterpeace and has been translated into more than 200 languages. It is often the first book translated after the Bible in Christendom and has never been out of print since it was written in 1678! It is also the first novel written in English. It appears to have staying power!

 

Music: “The Lord Is My Shepherd”    John Rutter sung by Atlanta Master Chorale

www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOtsuzM6h7M

 

A Hymn to God the Father

Wilt thou forgive that sin, where I begun,

Which is my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt thou forgive those sins through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more.

 

Wilt thou forgive that sin, by which I won

Others to sin, and made my sin their door?

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun

A year or two, but wallowed in a score?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more.

 

I have sin of fear that when I’ve spun

My last thread, I shall perish on that shore;

Swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son shall shine

As he shines now, and heretofore.

And having done that, thou hast done, I fear no more.
―John Donne, 1572-1631

 

Prayer: Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Christ our Lord.
―from Book of Common Prayer

March 12

“Lord, you have searched me and known me”

Scripture: Psalm 139: 1-6

 1 O LORD, you have searched me
       and you know me.

 2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
       you perceive my thoughts from afar.

 3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
       you are familiar with all my ways.

 4 Before a word is on my tongue
       you know it completely, O LORD.

 5 You hem me in—behind and before;
       you have laid your hand upon me.

 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
       too lofty for me to attain.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.  

Some thoughts:

Have you ever had someone stand too close to you when you were having a conversation?  There is a certain amount of distance we like to keep. Our souls also have that tendency in relation to God. We want to be in control of that “soul space.” If people get too close to our “soul space,” we can get hurt or embarrassed. In some cases it’s because deep down we know what’s there and we’d rather no one (or God) find out what we are really like. As we read the first five verses of David’s Psalm 139, we see a pretty transparent, even unnerving  picture. We learn of a God who sees right into our “soul space.” We have a God who cares about us and knows who we are, from whom nothing is hidden, and loves us anyway. He is aware of our physical movement (have you ever just missed having an accident?), what we think, where we rest, what all our habits are. He knows what we will say before we say it. He protects us and guards us as we move in our paths of life. We have a God who absolutely cares and is committed to us.  David’s response is that this is wonderful news. Is it good news to you? If we are honest, the answer is probably “yes” and “no.” Sometimes we want to run things ourselves. Is there some “soul space” that you can identify and open to a loving, understanding God? Is there some aspect of your life that you don’t want to let go of, or simply avoid addressing? If you can’t come up with anything, ask God to show you. He will! The truth is, there is always something in your life that needs attention. It’s called sanctification!

Music: “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”   Audrey Assad and Fernando Ortega

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vUhwyjdk8A&start_radio=1&list=RD1vUhwyjdk8A

Hymn: O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus                          Trevor Francis, 1890

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast unmeasured, boundless, free

Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!

Underneath me, all around me, is the current of his love,

Leading onward, leading homeward to that glorious rest above.

Prayer: O Lord our God, grant us grace to desire you with our whole heart, that so desiring we may seek and find you, and so finding you, may love you, and loving you, may hate those sins from which you have redeemed us.
–Anselm 1033-1109

March 11

He fasted forty days and forty nights”

Scripture:  Matthew 4:1-11

 1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
   ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
      and they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.  

Some thoughts:

The clearest model of the forty-day fast and time of reckoning is Jesus himself. Prior to the beginning of his public ministry we read of his temptation by the devil. The devil makes few direct appearances in Scripture. In the Garden of Eden he succeeded in derailing humanity from a perfect sinless world into one of blighted self-rule by tempting humans to doubt God’s word by appealing to human pride. There is the indirect action of the devil in King Herod’s failed attempt to kill the young child Jesus in an effort to abort God’s plan of redemption. He failed. The devil’s next direct appearance to Jesus is at the end of the Savior’s forty day fast. We see in Jesus’ confrontation with the devil, the centrality and power of God’s word. In the face of great temptation, Jesus quotes the Scriptures in each of the three attempts to cause him to yield his will to Satan’s wish. (It behooves us to memorize Scripture; to absorb its content and context. It is truly the “sword of the Spirit.”  Why not set a goal of memorizing some portion of the Bible during these next weeks of Lent? You could start with the Beatitudes and maybe branch out to memorize the whole of chapter five of Matthew, or maybe I Corinthians 13, or Philippians 2:5-11.) If Jesus quoted Scripture in times of temptation and the devil left him alone, maybe he knows something we don’t! As the devil failed in his attempt at causing Jesus to fall, the last phrase is that he left Jesus for a more “opportune” time. He could not drive a wedge between the Father and his Son causing the Son to sin which would have ended God’s plan of redemption. The truth is, the devil never gives up then or now. The next recorded “opportune” time was when Peter, (the devil will use any means), tried to tell Jesus not to allow himself to be killed. The final time before the crucifixion was when Satan entered Judas who then betrayed Jesus. The irony is that throughout Jesus’ life, the devil sought to kill Jesus thinking it would thwart God’s plan of bringing redemption to the whole created order. In the end, Jesus did die, but not by being killed by Satan. Jesus voluntarily gave his life thereby destroying the devil’s hold on humanity and bringing restoration to the whole created order. All of this came in the context of worshiping God alone.

Music: “Ah Holy Jesus”     Sufjan Stevens This video is a little unusual. Sufjan and this band are not particularly “Christian” as such, though there is somewhat of a Christian heritage which you will hear. What I want you to notice is the impact the hymn text and nature of the tune has on a non-Christian crowd…even to the point of coming back to sing an additional verse. Never doubt the power of a biblically substantial hymn text to have a powerful impact. A very interesting video. This hymn is a part of every Holy Week service at some point.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=xG7UywiMJpg

Prayer: ―Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274

Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards;

Give me an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out;

Give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside.

Bestow on me also, O Lord my God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

March 10

When they call on me, I will answer.

Scripture: Psalm 91:1-2; 9-16

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

   will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 This I declare about the Lord:

He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

   he is my God, and I trust him.

9 If you make the Lord your refuge,

   if you make the Most High your shelter,

10 no evil will conquer you;

   no plague will come near your home.

11 For he will order his angels

   to protect you wherever you go.

12 They will hold you up with their hands

   so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.

13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;

   you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.

   I will protect those who trust in my name.

15 When they call on me, I will answer;

   I will be with them in trouble.

   I will rescue and honor them.

16 I will reward them with a long life

   and give them my salvation.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

One thing about Jesus that stands out in my mind was his relationship to his Father in heaven. Have you noticed how often and how regularly he left the disciples and everyone else to go into the mountains to pray? We are admonished in this Psalm to call the Lord our refuge, the Most High our fortress, our place of safety. Jesus made his Father his place of refuge and peace. I think that is partly why he often went alone up the mountains. God often speaks with great clarity in the mountains in Scripture. There was the giving of the Law to Moses, Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, the Transfiguration, the Ark resting on Mount Ararat, and the Ascension from the Mount of Olives to name a few instances.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like for Jesus, having come from the perfect holiness of heaven to an earth filled with greedy, sinful people who, it seems, always wanted something from him or who despised him. His solace was time away from people spent in solitary prayer with his Father. That was the time most like heaven . . . no sinful people around, just the creation, the Father and the Son. Is there something here for us to learn about solitude―away from people and alone with our Father? Jesus’ resources were renewed. Notice when he came down from the mountain, his strength returned as he went straight into his ministry.

There is another verse I’d like to comment on. Verse ten states “no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.” But evil does befall us and we have great difficulties, so how do we reconcile this verse? Always start with context. Notice where we are at the beginning of the psalm . . . “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High.” In other words, when we are in the presence of God we are ultimately protected. We are in an eternally safe place. Remember, we are aliens in this world; it is not our home. We were made for another world, an eternal one. Our safety and security in that world is certain.

Music: “How Did I Make It Over?”   Mahalia Jackson Slow down and listen, this is a sung testimony! She’s singing from the “mountain!”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=iinuEJaUF1w

Prayer: Our Holy Father in heaven, it is so very clear that we live in a culture that has totally lost its way. We run around at a frantic pace. We get twitchy if we have to wait for anything. Our attention span is short. I’m praying things you already know about us. Forgive our deaf ears, distracted minds, shallow hearts, and self-absorption. Help us to live this psalm we just read. I pray it would be a reality today. Help me to find a “mountain” to be alone with you, and grant me the grace to listen, be focused on you, soften my heart, and look outward to your kingdom. Help me to live in your world during my time here until I enter your heavenly world. I praise you for your glorious Son who made all of this even possible. All glory to you Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
―Dan Sharp

March 9 

“The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast.”

Scripture: Jonah 3   

1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
      “By the decree of the king and his nobles:
       Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

What is with the forty days of Lent? The number forty has been significant in the Scriptures for a number of reasons. Think about it. It rained forty days and forty nights bringing the great Flood of Noah’s day. The Israelites wandered forty years in the desert, one year for each day for each day of unbelief when the spies were sent into Canaan to check out the land. Moses was on Mt. Sinai forty days and nights when he received the Ten Commandments. David was king of Israel for forty years. But the core of the forty days of Lent is to be a kind of shadow of Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness. In Jonah’s time, the people of Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes for forty days and revival came to the city. There are many, many more examples in the Scriptures where the number forty plays significance. Numbers are significant in Jewish history. Think of the prominence of 3, 7,10, and 12 for example. What is the common thread in the above examples?  The period of forty, whether it be days, months, or years, is frequently a period of testing, trial, probation, or chastisement ending with restoration, revival, or renewal. It is not a period of judgment as such. Rather, it is a time of coming face to face with God and seeing who we really are and what we do in his name. In the case of the Ninevites, much to Jonah’s chagrin, the people repented and God relented in his judgment. Because of the change in the people’s hearts, God’s course of action altered. God responds when people humble themselves and own up to their sin. Such action from God has not changed. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14. The story of Jonah is one of common grace. The Ninevites were not Jewish, they were not God’s chosen people, yet God demonstrated grace to these gentiles. Jonah wanted a God who was exclusive, a God who dealt only with his Chosen People, the Israelites. He did not want a God who granted his grace to everyone, to every race, tribe, and nation. That message came full force at Pentecost in the New Testament. Let this season of the year remind us all that God’s grace is extended to everyone without regard for nationality. This world is not anyone’s exclusive home because God’s grace is extended to all. Christianity is the most inclusive offer humanity has ever received.

Music: “I’m Just a Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger”     Johnny Cash

www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIlbZAP8ASQ

Trace Adkins    (in a tribute to Johnny Cash)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPpV1Wcsgk0

Prayer of Repentance: God in Heaven, you have helped my life to grow like a tree. Now something has happened. Satan, like a bird, has carried in one twig of his own choosing after another. Before I knew it he had built a dwelling place and was living in it. Tonight, my Father, I am throwing out both the bird and the nest.                        –prayer of a Nigerian Christian

March 8

”From dust you came, to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3: 13-19  

 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
      The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
       “Cursed are you above all the livestock
       and all the wild animals!
       You will crawl on your belly
       and you will eat dust
       all the days of your life.

 15 And I will put enmity
       between you and the woman,
       and between your offspring and hers;
       he will crush your head,
       and you will strike his heel.”

 16 To the woman he said,
       “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
       with pain you will give birth to children.
       Your desire will be for your husband,
       and he will rule over you.”

 17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
       “Cursed is the ground because of you;
       through painful toil you will eat of it
       all the days of your life.

 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
       and you will eat the plants of the field.

 19 By the sweat of your brow
       you will eat your food
       until you return to the ground,
       since from it you were taken;
       for dust you are
       and to dust you will return.”

           Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.  

Some thoughts:

We spoke earlier of sackcloth. Another sign of penitence and humility was expressed with ashes. In the Garden of Eden, God formed man from the dust of the earth. With our rebellion against God, we sealed our doom and broke communion with our Creator. As a result, this body of ours will in fact return to dust (to ash) again. That is why we speak those words in the Ash Wednesday service, “from dust you came, to dust you will return.” The glory is that we will get a new body, not a “remake” of this old one. The new one is not subject to death.  Stop a moment and take a look at your hands, your arms. When you are at home, look at yourself in the mirror for 30 seconds. As you look at hands and face, remind yourself that God has redeemed what you see and that it will exist for all eternity. Your hands, your face. . .you will never die. You will exist forever and that existence is underway now. Everything you see will go to dust only to be made new by the One who made this mortal model of you! You were sown into the earth in an earthly (dust) body and you will be raised in a heavenly (immortal fleshly) body, one like Jesus has. The sign of the cross made in ashes a few days ago proclaims that death is defeated forever and that this mortal body will put on immortality.  Put a little jar of ashes on your bathroom counter during this season to remind you every morning and evening that you are now in the process of living forever because of Jesus’ victory over death, sin, and the powers of evil. Take care of your body while you are here. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are indwelling you.

Music:   “What Wondrous Love”  Robert Shaw Festival Singers

www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeIECnixpM0   

Prayer: Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust the breath of life, creating us to serve you and our neighbors. In this season of repentance, restore to us the joy of our salvation and strengthen us to face our mortality, that we may reach with confidence for your mercy, in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. -The Worship Sourcebook

March 7

“Do not be hasty in your heart…”

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 5

 1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

 2 Do not be quick with your mouth,
       do not be hasty in your heart
       to utter anything before God.
       God is in heaven
       and you are on earth,
       so let your words be few.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.  

Some thoughts:

You may have counted the days from now until Easter Sunday and discovered there are actually forty-six days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. During the time of Lent people would fast and pray. Sunday was never considered a “fast” day and so the six Sundays were not counted as part of Lent. Though it was a penitential, reflective season, Sundays were always considered little “Easters.” If you take the six week period, you’ll have forty-two days, less the six Sundays makes thirty-six days fasting days. As a result four additional days were added which is why Lent always begins on a Wednesday. So what is the point and what difference does it make?

The season points to a kind of tension between the “already and not yet” aspect of faith. The Lord has risen (the “already”) and we know that part of the story, but we dare not rush through the way of the cross to get to the “not yet.” (We have “not yet” come to restoration.) It does us well to slow down. This pericope is a wonderful framer for worship.We are surrounded by people in a hurry. We purchase a new phone or computer because it is “faster.” The concept of speed has even entered our vocabulary. How often have you heard, “I have a quick question.” or “It will only take a minute.” Where is the “Can I ask a slow question?” In growing up on the farm, we planted the corn seeds in the ground in late April and waited until September or October to harvest the corn. Waiting is lost skill. We pray with a list of things we want God to accomplish, the sooner the better from our standpoint. During Lent, let me challenge you to spend one half of your prayer time listening to God and the other have conversing with him. Keep your mouth shut and give God a chance to talk! Don’t be is such a hurry. Amen!

Music:   “Miserere Mei, Deus”  Allegri 1630. This is a gorgeous setting of the penitential Psalm 51. It’s in Latin so you may wish to look at the English text. I’d suggest you read the psalm first and then slow down and listen to what you have read expressed in another language. It is gorgeous and beautifully filmed in a marvelous setting. Take the time. It will be the best 5 minutes and 30 seconds of your day! Listen with your heart.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3v9unphfi0

Hymn:             Gregory the Great    540-604

Kind Maker of the world, O hear
the fervent prayer, with many a tear
poured forth by all the penitent
who keep this holy fast of Lent

Each heart is manifest to thee
Thou knowest our infirmity
Now we repent, and seek thy face,
Grant unto us thy pardoning grace.

Grant, O thou blessed Trinity,
Grant, O unchanging Unity,
That this our fast of forty days,
May work our profit and thy praise!


Prayer: O thou great Chief, light a candle in my heart, that I may see what is therein, and sweep the rubbish from thy dwelling place.
― An African schoolgirl’s prayer

Ash Wednesday March 6

C.S. Lewis warns us, “Do not to live these days for things in our life that will end when you do.”  

Scripture:  Esther 4:1-4

 1 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

 4 When Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.  Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

We read in the Bible from time to time about people “repenting in sackcloth and ashes.” (Sackcloth is a course burlap kind of material.) Did this humbling action ever seem to you a little odd and far removed or irrelevant our day? Throughout history, the sprinkling of ashes has been associated with repentance and humbling oneself before God. The ash is a reference back to creation in the Garden of Eden where God formed man from the dust of the earth. Upon death, our bodies decompose to dust or ash. The marking with ash is an admission of mortality before God. Such a marking acknowledges God’s sovereignty over life, my life. I am visibly humbling myself before the Lord as a reflection of my heart. In the story of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and covered himself with ashes. Why? It was a sign of deep humility and his humbling himself before God. In his case, it was a time of great stress for the Jewish people as the foreign king, Ahasuerus, had been duped into signing an irrevocable decree to annihilate the Jewish people. Mordecai’s action was part of a petition to God for deliverance and an expression of total dependence upon the Lord. The use of ashes was (and is) a reminder to people of the fragile and short nature of life, a humbling thought in our world that has such an exalted view of itself.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season in which we daily die to self and focus our attention on the one person, Jesus Christ, who actually humbled himself to the point of death. He truly “died to self” in our place. In that death, he gained the victory over sin, death, and the powers of evil. In response to Lewis’ words, what things are you living for that will continue even after your death? If at all possible, find an Ash Wednesday service you can attend today. Get a piece of sackcloth (burlap) to put in your pocket or on your bathroom mirror during the Lenten season to remind you each day to humble yourself before the Lord and the One who humbled himself for you to the point of death.

Music: “Lord for Thy Tender Mercy’s Sake”   Farrant

www.youtube.com/watch?v=sugAjtysQCs

Hymn: “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days     Claudia Hernaman, 1873

1 Lord, who throughout these forty days
for us didst fast and pray,
teach us with you to mourn our sins
and close by you to stay.
2 As you with Satan did contend,
and did the victory win,
O give us strength in you to fight,
in you to conquer sin.
3 As you did hunger and did thirst,
so teach us, gracious Lord,
to die to self, and so to live
by your most holy Word.
4 And thro’ these days of penitence,
and thro’ your Passiontide,
forevermore, in life and death,
O Lord, with us abide.                  

Prayer:  Lord God, our Father in heaven, we confess that we are a people absorbed in our own little worlds. Humbling ourselves is not something we do very well nor very often nor is it even something we like to do.  May sackcloth and ashes remind us again of our dependence upon your love and mercy. May we live these days with contrite hearts and humble souls, redeemed by the One who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death on a cross.” In Jesus’ name. Amen. ―Dan Sharp

Monday, January 7 – Thank you

I want to thank all of you who have shared the Advent journey again this year. As you know, or maybe didn’t (?), we have done “The Year of the Book” at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando since January 2018 and have focused on successive books of the Bible each of the 52 Sundays. At the same time the congregation read through the Bible during the year. Each day of Advent, I took the text from a portion of that day’s reading.

Beginning in January 2019, we are beginning to roll out a ten to fifteen year vision of where our church is going. It is most time consuming as there is a direct correlation as to worship visioning. As a result, for just this year, I will not be writing a Lenten Devotional due to the time involved in the vision casting. I will be back writing an Advent Devotional in 2019. So look for it around the middle of November 2019. If you have any questions, you can contact me.

Here is a bonus from Sam Robson that is a little different!! You’ll love it!

Oh! Happy Day

www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2wKSpYa0vo&list=RDw2wKSpYa0vo&start_radio=1

Sunday, January 6, EPIPHANY

Look, I am making everything new!

Candle Lighter:I saw a new heaven…”
Response: “…and a new earth.”

Scripture: Revelation 21:1-7

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The Hebrew Bible opens with the account of creation. At the end of each day God said, “it was good” and on the sixth day, he said it was “very good.”  You may have noticed that at the end of each of the six days it says “it was evening and it was morning.” But, on the seventh day, the Sabbath, neither of those phrases are used. God says nothing in regards to goodness and nothing about evening and morning. Why? In the book of Hebrews we read that the Israelites never entered a sabbath rest because of unbelief. It would seem that God’s people have yet to enter his rest. In a nutshell there is no “good or very good” pronounced by God and there is no “evening and morning” on the seventh day because the Sabbath has not yet ended. John describes in this passage the bringing of a new, holy, perfect heaven and earth made so by the blood of the Lamb. God is returning to his people, as in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve prior to the Fall. The perfect world has been restored. Death, sin, evil are all defeated and gone forever. There will not be another rebellion against God as in the Garden. God makes all things new! And here we have the great words echoing the words of Jesus from the cross, “It is finished! I am Alpha and Omega―the Beginning and the End, in other words, evening and morning. The Day of the Lord is complete, it has ended! Like the relationship between Adam and Eve and the Lord God in the Garden of Eden, God says, “I will be their God and they will be my children.” As believers, we have been washed pure by the blood of the Lamb and experience a perfect transparency with the Lord, even as did Adam in the Garden prior to the Fall. That Tree of Life mentioned in Genesis three appears here again in Revelation twenty-two (v.2,14). This time the tree is a source of food for eternal life. Evil, sin, and death are defeated and forever separated from God’s glorious Kingdom. Those who have been redeemed enjoy eternity in the presence of God. In the meantime, we await his Return. “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Music: “How Did I Make It Over?”   Jubilant Sykes
www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ytZ-apCvKA

Prayer:
My Lord, how grateful we are that you have, in your word, shown us with perfect clarity the beginning, middle, and end of creation and where we, as your children, fit in. Sometimes it is overwhelming to try to grasp the depth of your love and the whole of your plan, the perfect creation borne out of love, the fall borne of rebellion, the redemption borne out of mercy, grace, and love, and restoration borne out of  faithfulness and love. Thank you, Father, for your infallible, authoritative, inerrant word that brings truth and light and the Savior. Thank you for what it tells of you and what it shows us about ourselves. Thank you that it is living and speaks to listening ears and hearts that are open. Thank you, God, for your great love and salvation. We look forward with great anticipation to spending eternity in your presence with the host of heaven and all the faithful who have gone before. Glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen!
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Saturday, January 5

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it.

Candle Lighter:I saw a great white throne…”
Response: “…and the one sitting on it.”

Scripture: Revelation 20:7-14

7 When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. 8 He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. 9 And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

10 Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

11 And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. 12 I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. 14 Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
A little bit of context here will help to get a handle on this passage. John has just described how two of Satan’s henchmen, the beast and the false prophet, have been cast into the lake of fire. They had deceived many and inflicted much harm on God’s people. Christ, the triumphant warrior, destroyed them. Following that, Satan was bound in chains and thrown into a bottomless pit for a thousand years. It is at this point that we pick up John’s vision in the above passage. Satan is let loose whereupon he gathers all the rebellious nations of the world to battle the Lord. Satan’s rebellious host is destroyed and cast into the lake of fire permanently as their eternal destination. We then have what is known as “the great white throne judgment,” human beings’ final appearance before God’s throne. This is the terminal judgment for all those who have rejected the message of the gospel, their only hope of salvation. The Book of Life is opened and the dead, (these are not the Christians who have died trusting in Jesus for salvation), these are those who have rejected God’s gift of his Son. They are judged according to what they have done. Unfortunately for them, it is not possible to earn one’s way into heaven by what one has done. It clearly is not a case of “Do the good deeds outweigh the bad?” Everyone who has ever lived, who has rejected Christ, awaits this moment before God the Creator. When it says “death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire,” it refers to the reality of death. This is the death of those who have no hope. Jesus was victorious over death, but not for these people. Their death is eternal separation from God with a horrible end that is eternal. All those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ alone have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Their eternal destiny is eternal life in heaven in God’s presence. The human birth of Jesus, celebrated a few days ago, brings all of this into reality. John is not writing a fantasy tale, he is writing truth as an eyewitness. God does have the last “last word.”  Hallelujah!

Music: CHRISTMAS SONGS    Fernando Ortega
www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZeIkTNdH8s

Fernando talks about the various songs in his Christmas album. You can youtube each one by title to pick the specific ones you want to hear.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, our king: rejoicing in your victory, we thank you that good is a greater power than evil.

Lord Jesus Christ, our friend: rejoicing in your sharing of our life, we thank you for your constant intercession for us now.

Lord Jesus Christ, our priest: rejoicing in the the new way you have opened up for us on Calvary, we thank you that we can approach the throne of God in full assurance of our faith.

Lord Jesus Christ, our judge: rejoicing in the love you have for all mankind, we thank you that we have no cause to be afraid. The present and the future, and all of eternity belong to you. Save us and strengthen us, and bring us by grace into your kingdom. Almighty and everlasting God, who didst raise thy Son Jesus Christ from the dead and set him upon the glorious throne of thy kingdom giving him a name that is above every name, we worship and adore thee in the fellowship of thy redeemed, ascribing to thee blessing and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever. Amen.
― Prayers for Sunday Services, Scottish, p.98

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Friday, January 4

“In a single moment it is all gone.

Candle Lighter: “At last…”
Response: “…God has judged her.”

Scripture: Revelation 18:19b-23

In a single moment it is all gone.”

20 Rejoice over her fate, O heaven

   and people of God and apostles and prophets!

For at last God has judged her

   for your sakes.

For context read all of chapters 17 & 18

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Chapters seventeen and eighteen paint a picture of worldly success and indulgence in debauchery. A point is made of wealth and luxury as the lifestyle enjoyed by the rebellious. But there is an interesting phrase that occurs three times. “These plagues will overtake her (Babylon, representing the rebellious world) in a single day.” (18:8) Then a little later in speaking again of the city, “In a single moment all the wealth of the city is gone!” (18:17). And finally concluding the section, “In a single moment it is all gone.” (18:20) We’ve all been alive long enough to know that in an instant everything can change. Normally, the change is in some situation here on earth, a birth, a death, a promotion, a marriage. In this passage the “a single moment” is for eternity. Death is the only event we have in this world which enables us to enter eternity. It is our singular “no turning back moment.” Yet much of our world gives little attention in preparing for “the single moment.”  We laugh at death, as though laughing defeats it (Halloween). We avoid thinking or talking about it. When was the last time you had a serious conversation about death?  We downplay the language by having “memorials” rather than “funerals”―too morbid. We most often spare an open casket, or even have a casket present in the memorial service, instead choosing to have lovely pictures of the deceased―avoiding having to look at the reality of death in person. Death is not pretty, but frankly, it is healthy to see death. John gives us the realistic words “In a single moment it is all gone.” The glory of the Savior and redemption is that “the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” In a single moment, in the twinkling of an eye we shall all be changed…for eternity!

Music:  “Go Tell It on the Mountain”   Mahalia Jackson YOU CAN’T MISS THIS!!!
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq5aEwtvdRI       NOBODY SINGS THEIR SOUL LIKE THIS!

Prayer:
Lord God Almighty, I ask not to be enrolled amongst the earthly great and rich, but to be numbered with the spiritually blessed. Make it my present, supreme, persevering concern to obtain those blessings which are spiritual in their nature, eternal in their continuance, satisfying in their possession. Preserve me from a false estimate of the whole or a part of my character; may I pay regard to my principles as well as my conduct, my motives as well as my actions. Help me never to mistake the excitement of my passions for the renewing of the Holy spirit, never to judge my religion by occasional impressions and impulses, but by my constant and prevailing disposition. May my heart be right with thee, and my life as becometh the gospel. May I maintain a supreme regard to another and better world, and feel and confess myself a stranger and a pilgrim here. Afford me all the direction, defence, support, and consolation my journey hence requires, and grant me a mind stayed upon thee. Give me large abundance of the supply of the Spirit of Jesus, that I may be prepared for every duty, love thee in all my mercies, submit to thee in every trial, trust thee when walking in darkness, have peace in thee amidst life’s changes. Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief and uncertainties. I pray this through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Master. Amen.
― The Valley of Vision, p.65

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Thursday, January 3

This great choir sang a wonderful new song.

Candle Lighter:Fear God…”
Response: “…Give glory to him.

Scripture: Revelation 14:1-7

14 Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together.

3 This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb. 5 They have told no lies; they are without blame.

6 And I saw another angel flying through the sky, carrying the eternal Good News to proclaim to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 “Fear God,” he shouted. “Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.”

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This pericope is a beautiful picture of what lies ahead and also answers some common questions regarding heaven and the world to come. I also want to make some observations. The Bible has many references to numbers throughout all of Scripture. We begin with the seven days of creation, not four, not eleven, but seven. Why seven? There were twelve sons of Jacob, twelve disciples, and so on. And here in Revelation we have the 144,000. It is important to approach the biblical perspective of numbers and not impose a western mindset on an oriental understanding. Some numbers are clearly exact numbers. E.g. 153 fish.(John 21:11) Other numbers are viewed more symbolically as here in Revelation. “Multiples of ten are a symbolic way to say many. One thousand is regarded as the foundational large number; 12,000 is the foundational large religious number; and 144,000 is the supreme religious number that represents the complete people of God.”* It is important not to lose the theological significance of what is happening. The Lamb of God is joined by innumerable believers forming a great choir singing a wonderful new song, music never before heard making a massive, glorious sound. We’ve all heard enormous thunder rolls. Imagine giving pitch and never before conceived harmony to the sound! This is the choir of the redeemed. I’ve often said much of what we do on earth will not be done in heaven. No more confessing of sin; we won’t sin in a perfect holy environment―never been there! No one gets cancer―no sickness there. No funerals for loved ones―no more death. No politics―King Jesus rules in love and righteousness!  But singing worship will most certainly be a part of heaven. Our great, glorious, matchless, just, loving, God has made all of this possible. Share this great news wherever you go…and keep singing as you practice for the heavenly choir…and you will have a great voice in heaven!

*The New Living Translation Study Bible, Symbolic Numbers, p.2173, Gerald Borchert

Music: “The Trumpet Shall Sound”    Philippe Sly: Bass-Baritone,   Julian Wachner: Conductor
Trinity Wall Street Baroque Orchestra
www.youtube.com/watch?v=13DpmWPV9IU

Fantastic singer. Note how Handel musically paints the picture of “we shall all be changed.”  The trumpeter plays an authentic trumpet from Handel’s era. Not like anything you normally see. Handel has attempted to give the music the theological weight of the Scripture. This is worth your time! (9 minutes)

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, we are so often busy in our worlds, consumed by the pressures of the day, that we lose sight of the bigger, more grand, eternal picture. Thank you for infusions of beauty, truth, and reverence which all too frequently go unrecognized in our world. Forgive us for the times we ignore them, are too busy, or not interested because giving beauty or truth or reverence our precious time would take too long. Deliver us, good Lord, from consuming the trivial contemporary and dieting on the eternal significant. Save us from shallow notes and light-weight words. Make us a people who sing new songs of significance, of wonder, of reverence, and joy. May we never settle for earth when heaven is at stake and end up missing both heaven and earth. Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Wednesday, January 2

It has come at last.

Candle Lighter:Rejoice, O heavens!...”
Response: “…and you who live in the heavens, rejoice!

Scripture: Revelation  12:10-12

10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

“It has come at last—

   salvation and power

and the Kingdom of our God,

   and the authority of his Christ.

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters

   has been thrown down to earth—

the one who accuses them

   before our God day and night.

11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb

   and by their testimony.

And they did not love their lives so much

   that they were afraid to die.

12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!

   And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!

But terror will come on the earth and the sea,

   for the devil has come down to you in great anger,

   knowing that he has little time.”

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This portion of today’s larger reading (chapters 12 and 13) is filled with involved symbolism requiring considerable commentary to be fair. In the setting, Christian believers are under severe persecution from Nero and Domitian, who followed Nero. The first nine verses of chapter twelve describe the war between the devil, whose wishes are carried out by Nero et al, and God’s people. In verse thirteen and following, the battle between God’s people and the evil of Satan’s hosts continues. The section we have pulled out for today’s reading is an aside of encouragement for followers of Christ.

The source of the affirming voice is from heaven. God is always aware of the situation of his people and provides words of hope and perspective. Seeing life (and death) from God’s vantage point is essential. In the words from heaven, “It has come at last―”. What is the “it?” Salvation, power, and the Kingdom of God and the authority of Christ. The devil, the accuser of us all, has been thrown down to earth. The devil has been defeated. In effect, God has said, “Enough!” As sovereign, God always has the last word. In that we rejoice! It is interesting that in verse eleven, John writes “they have defeated him (devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. Think of it. Because believers have appropriated the blood of Jesus to cover them and by their witness to that effect, the devil is beaten, his power destroyed. A key factor in all of this is the followers of Jesus are not afraid of death because they see it from God’s perspective. They are untouchable by Satan. The devil is enraged in his permanent defeat and endeavors to create as much chaos on earth as possible in his limited time before he is cast into hell for all eternity. Your job and mine is to remain faithful in fulfilling our days on this earth. And God has given us the Holy Spirit to do just that!

Music: “Gloria in excelsis Deo”   The English Concert Trevor Pinnock
www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQx2TWgxX14

Prayer:
O Omnipresent One, beneath whose all-seeing eye our mortal lives are passed, grant that in all my deeds and purposes today I may behave with true courtesy and honor. Let me be just and true in all my dealings. Let no mean or low thought have a moment’s place in my mind. Let my motives be transparent to all. Let my word by my bond. Let me take no unchivalrous advantage of anybody. Let me be generous in my judgment of others. Let me be disinterested in my opinions. Let me be loyal to my friends and magnanimous to my opponents. Let me face adversity with courage. Let me not ask or expect too much for myself.  O Thou whose love to man was proven in the passion and death of Jesus Christ our Lord, let the power of His cross be with me today. Let me love as He loved. Let my obedience be unto death. In leaning upon His cross, let me not refuse my own; yet in bearing mine, let me bear it by the strength of His.
― John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.49

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Tuesday, January 1

He will reign forever and ever.

Candle Lighter:The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord…” Response: “…and of his Christ.”

Scripture: Revelation  11:15-18

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven:

“The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,

   and he will reign forever and ever.”

16 The twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones before God fell with their faces to the ground and worshiped him. 17 And they said,

“We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,

   the one who is and who always was,

for now you have assumed your great power

   and have begun to reign.

18 The nations were filled with wrath,

   but now the time of your wrath has come.

It is time to judge the dead

   and reward your servants the prophets,

   as well as your holy people,

and all who fear your name,

   from the least to the greatest.

It is time to destroy

   all who have caused destruction on the earth.”

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Have you noticed how much and how often voices and beings in heaven are involved in John’s vision? In II Peter 3:9 Peter writes that the “Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come…” This particular section of Revelation deals with the day of the Lord and the ending of God’s patience, which is not infinite. The blast of a trumpet was used as a signal for various things, in this case, of impending judgment for all who have rejected and refused God’s offer of redemption. The hosts in heaven shout the beginning of “the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” The “was, and is, and is to come” has arrived! The “is to come” is now! The reign of Jesus Christ over his Kingdom has begun. The twenty-four elders represent all the people of God worshiping the Almighty. With the coming of the Kingdom comes also the final judgment of those who have rebelled against God and his children. It is also time to reward the faithful who have suffered for their faith. As we begin this new year, there is the feeling that things will continue as they always have and that the description of this passage is remote and just an idea in the far distant future, almost as if it will never really happen. But, God said it will. George Frideric Handel wrote one of the most famous pieces of music in the world using some of the text you just read. Notice right before the text says, “King of kings and Lord of lords” we have the iconic sixteenth notes from the trumpet―the trumpet blast of the angel described in verse fifteen. As you listen, note how the text, aside from the “Hallelujahs,” develops. The day is coming when we will be present for all that is described. It could be this year!

Music: “Hallelujah Chorus”    BBC George Handel  Trevor Pinnock The English Concert
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5Xjz6ZuVk0

Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, help us to live each day of this year as if it will be our last on this earth, you alone know what lies ahead and when this world, as we know it, will come to an end and the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ will begin an endless reign forever and ever. Hallelujah! Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Monday, December 31

Salvation comes from our God.

Candle Lighter:I saw a vast crowd, too great to count,...”
Response: “…from every nation and tribe and people and language.”

Scripture: Revelation 7:9-16

9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne

   and from the Lamb!”

11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

   and thanksgiving and honor

and power and strength belong to our God

   forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne

   and serve him day and night in his Temple.

And he who sits on the throne

   will give them shelter.

16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;

   they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
John’s vision is filled with fantastic images and descriptions of a world we cannot see. Into this world are some  actions to which we can relate. Yet, there are some more specific things we can draw from the passages. You note the vast array of human beings who have not lost their individual, national, family, or language identities. They find unity in Christ while maintaining each of their uniquenesses. In a portion of culture which strives for a united global culture where nations and the uniquenesses of the people is downplayed, the Scripture seems to stand in stark contrast. Pentecost is another example of the same idea. Unity among people is found in Christ, not in all trying to develop a generic identity. They spoke many languages with a single message. The unity was in the message, not the languages. Secondly, I noticed they were all wearing white robes, the robes of priests, indicating their fitness to serve as priests in God’s sight. The white robes and the  waving of palm branches are reminiscent of victory. On Palm Sunday the crowds, waving palm branches, the symbol of victory, shouted “Hosanna,” meaning “God save us.” Here is the heavenly completion of that “earthly shadow.” The white robes also indicate purity of character, after all, there is no sin in heaven. Worshipers are perfect in the presence of God because of the Lamb. We’re reminded of the passage in Isaiah, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Is.1:18) White is the color of rest as well as joy. It is as though the Bride of Christ is in bridal robes awaiting the marriage supper of the Lamb. In all this discussion about “white robes,” make no mistake, they are white because they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. Next we see of the angelic heavenly host singing of seven glorious qualities of our great God. (Remember what we said about the significance of the number seven a few days ago.)  The heavenly host sang at the entrance of the Savior into the world and here again they sing rejoicing in the completed work. What a glorious picture of what lies ahead!

Music: “Mary’s Little Boy Child”  Andy Williams (This an oldie by one of the smoothest voices you will hear! A very nice setting of this classic. Some of you younger people won’t know who Andy Williams was!)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=OscFkho1RI8

Prayer:
Heavenly and eternal Father, Source of all being, from whom I spring, unto whom I shall return,―Thine I shall ever be. Thou wilt call me unto Thyself when my hour comes, Blessed shall I then be if I can say, “I have fought a good fight.” I fear not death, O Father of life; for death is not eternal sleep; it is the transition to a new life, a moment of glorious transformation, an ascension towards Thee. How could that be an evil that cometh from Thy hand, when Thou art the All-good! Lord of life and earth, I am in Thy hand; do unto me as Thou deemest fit; for what Thou dost is well done. When Thou didst call me from nothing into life, Thou didst will my happiness; when Thou callest me away from life, will my happiness be less Thy care? No, no Thou art love, and whosoever dwells in love, dwells in Thee, O Lord, and Thou in him―Amen.
― Heinrich Tschokke   1771-1848, Prayers Ancient and Modern

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Sunday, December 30

Worthy is the Lamb.

Candle Lighter:I looked again,...”
Response: “…and I heard the voices of thousands.”

Scripture: Revelation 5:1-14

5 Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.

4 Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. 5 But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. 7 He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. 8 And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song with these words:

“You are worthy to take the scroll

   and break its seals and open it.

For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God

   from every tribe and language and people and nation.

10 And you have caused them to become

   a Kingdom of priests for our God.

   And they will reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. 12 And they sang in a mighty chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—

   to receive power and riches

and wisdom and strength

   and honor and glory and blessing.”

13 And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power

   belong to the one sitting on the throne

   and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

14 And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
If you were hoping for a definitive perspective on the interpretation of this book, you need look elsewhere! That material would be beyond the scope and time we have here. What I do want us to look at, though, is the general thrust of what is being described by John. There is the scroll in the right hand, the position of authority, which contains the details of God’s plans. It is sealed and needs a worthy person to break the seals so the plans can be completed. The Lamb, Jesus, was the only one in the entire universe with the divine authority to step forward and take the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. He was the central figure who completed God’s purposes in his death on the cross. Notice how often the Lamb’s suffering is cited in this section. Earthly history and heavenly reality are united in Christ. The twenty-four elders gathered around the throne sang the gospel story, the story which had brought redemption to people from every tribe, language, and nation. (What strikes me is that apparently the people retained the uniqueness of their heritage even into heaven. The creative wonder of God’s varied creation continues on into the next world.) Added to the song of worship of the Lamb were the voices of angels without number, in other words all of heaven,  singing “Worthy is the Lamb.” The number seven is the number of perfection, of completeness, in Jewish thought. So then, it is not surprising that there are seven excellencies attributed to the Lamb. The Lamb is worshiped and counted worthy of receiving power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing. You’ll also note the earlier description of the Lamb with seven horns (which refer to complete power), seven eyes (which refer to complete knowledge), and seven spirits (which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God.) And then finally as the chapter concludes, every created being in heaven, all those on earth, and even those under the earth and sea (this could be referring to the dead or evil beings), join in offering worship to the Lamb. In the latter case if may be referring to mandatory response. Paul reminds us in Philippians that “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” This may be the fulfillment of Paul’s words. The concluding word of “Amen!” confirms “so be it!” This glorious description is the fulfillment of the earthly journey that began that starry night in Bethlehem.

Music: “Worthy Is the Lamb”  from Messiah Atlanta Symphony and Chorus Robert Shaw
www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eY_4iGel14&t=37s  DO NOT MISS THIS. This piece is, in my mind, the greatest musical setting of the text we’ve been writing about.

Prayer:
Lord God, most of the time my prayers are about things I’m concerned about or people for whom I’m praying. I find it very easy to pray thinking mostly of my world and asking you to intercede for it. But this time I want to pray a little differently. How am I to say you are worthy? I have a very small grasp of your worthiness. It almost seems arrogant for me to say such. But all I can say is that you are of greatest worth to me. Without you, I have no hope at all. Therefore, you are of greatest worth to me. All power in existence belongs to you and I greatly and happily rejoice in that truth. All riches are yours. Everything belongs to you and I greatly and happily rejoice in that truth. All wisdom resides in you and I take great comfort and peace and happily rejoice in that truth. All strength is yours and I am relieved and I greatly and happily rejoice in that truth, knowing you will never tire of anything in all of eternity. You don’t wear out even when I am completely exhausted. You are honored above all and I’m glad. I delight in your receiving glory. I have intrinsic joy in saying glory to you in the highest and blessing on you. All of these words fall short of what is in my heart. Like John, there are no words invented to express my adoration. Holy Spirit speak on my behalf where language fails.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Saturday, December 29

“Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come.”

Candle Lighter: “All glory to him who loves us...”
Response: “…and has freed us from our sins.”

Scripture: Revelation 1:4-8

4 This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia.[a]

Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne; 5 and from Jesus Christ. He is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the ruler of all the kings of the world.

All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. 6 He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

7 Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.

   And everyone will see him—

   even those who pierced him.

And all the nations of the world

   will mourn for him.

Yes! Amen!

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
If you’ve been reading through the Bible this past year, we finally come to the book of  Revelation. This book of John’s is one of the more bewildering books in the Bible. (John Calvin wrote commentaries on every book of the Bible but this one, maybe not feeling he sufficiently understood it.) It is most important to keep it in its context. Psalms is poetry and addresses our emotions. Acts is history and tells us of the movement of the Holy Spirit in developing the church. The Gospels are narrative and tell us the words and identity of Jesus. Romans addresses the intellect and expounds theology. Revelation, on the other hand, in its prophecy, appeals to our imaginations. Here John is trying to describe a vision he sees for which our language is inadequate. Our section opens with a phrase common to many New Testament writings, “grace and peace to you.” Have you ever asked yourself why those words in that order? Perhaps it is that God’s grace comes first and then his peace follows. You could not have peace without God’s grace. If I am not experiencing God’s peace today, perhaps I have not opened myself to God’s extending grace. The following phrase, “the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come” is a clear statement of our eternal Savior, reminiscent of God’s statement to Moses on Sinai “I AM, Who I AM.” That phrase has always given me confidence and peace that in the end, which may be after I leave this earth, God is in complete control. Things will not go off the rails. Notice, we have the presence of the Trinity here with the central focus being on Jesus, the victor over sin and death and the sovereign ruler of all the kings of the world. We are reminded again of the significance of the shed blood of Jesus. The Father has everything under control. It is easy to give power to God, when I’m thinking that God has always been and will always be. It can free my tendency to grab hold. This passage is so freeing. God loves us and freed us from our sins. What a wonderful message to end the year! John restates what he said earlier quoting a passage from the Old Testament, “I AM the Alpha and the Omega―the beginning and the end.” Notice how many times in this short pericope we have references to “was, is, is to come.” John was writing to people under severe persecution. In their (and our) chaotic world, John’s words give us a clear, the true perspective, the Almighty will return and rule with love and justice.

Music: “Angels We Have Heard on High”  Mormon Tabernacle Choir
www.youtube.com/watch?v=UArceTs1-G8

Prayer:
Our gracious Father in heaven, we are already thinking of Christmas as a “was,” we’re looking at today as an “is,” and this coming year as an “is to come.” Our attention span is so short, shallow, and simple and we move on to what’s next. But we’ve just read words to slow us down, words that take time, are profound, and ever expansive beyond our imagination. Help us Lord Jesus, to better grasp the significance of this day in your biggest picture. May the significance of your birth sink into our hearts more deeply than ever before. May we learn to linger with you over words and ideas and imaginations your writers of Scripture have given us. Thank you for the wonder and mystery of You and help us to not run away from it and be in a hurry to move on to something else. Grant the we could see more clearly where we are between Alpha and Omega. By the Holy Spirit, help us to see you. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Friday, December 28

“All glory to him alone who is God.”

Candle Lighter: “All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time...”
Response: “…and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.”

Scripture: Jude

3 Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. 4 I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

5 So I want to remind you, though you already know these things, that Jesus first rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt, but later he destroyed those who did not remain faithful. 6 And I remind you of the angels who did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them but left the place where they belonged. God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment. 7 And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
A couple of observations to keep in mind, Jude was another son of Mary and Joseph. Second, during Jesus’ in growing up and prior to the resurrection, his own brothers did not believe in him (which we mentioned the other day). After the resurrection, however,  they did believe in him and became prominent leaders in the early Church, particularly James and Jude (also called Judas Mk.6:3). Neither James nor Jude refer to themselves as an earthly brother of Jesus, but rather as a slave or servant of Jesus Christ. They point to the spiritual relationship with their half-brother. Central in this short epistle is Jude’s concern over the entrance of false teachers into the church. The lie being perpetrated was “accept God’s grace and live anyway you want, you’re covered.” Jude makes clear that it was and pre-incarnate Jesus who rescued Israel from Egypt. The tragedy was, that though God had rescued his people in miraculous ways, they failed to trust, and, as a result, died in the desert. Jude follows his account with that of rebellious angels and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Whether it was God’s chosen people rejecting His leading, angels being cast from the heavenly realm for rejecting God’s boundaries, or the completely vile pagan culture of Sodom and Gomorrah, false teaching was embraced by each resulting in eternal death and separation from God. In the afterglow of Christmas there are often “feature documentaries” on who is the real Jesus. Most often they are filled with erroneous false teaching and pseudo sources. False teachers abound in our day. The authority of Scripture is under attack. Too often it is treated in the same way the false teachers in Jude’s day addressed the theology. In our day it appears in this way: this is the way I want to live my life; this is what I believe; the way I interpret the Bible, (if I care at all what the Bible says) endorses my life-style and decisions. In Jude’s powerful words, “They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.” (v.19) Jude concludes his letter urging all believers to show mercy and share the truth.

Music:  “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing”   King’s College Cambridge
www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqsnfgVQuyk

Prayer:
Now unto Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding great joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for evermore. Amen.
Jude 24-25

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Thursday, December 27

Whoever has the Son has life.

Candle Lighter:He has given us eternal life,…”
Response: “…and this life is in his Son.

Scripture: I John 5:6-13

6 And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony. 7 So we have these three witnesses— 8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree. 9 Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about his Son. 10 All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son.

11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
We live in an age where people want proof as to the truth of something. When a person makes a statement, there must be corroborating evidence that validates the claim. There must be independent witnesses verifying the truthfulness of the fact. In Deuteronomy 17:6, Moses states that there must be two or three witnesses to verify any charge or claim. That is the biblical model. A charge or claim may not be upheld if there is only one witness or no witnesses. Since our attention has been focused on the birth of the Son of God and all that that means, the deity of Jesus is central. In the first decades following the resurrection, and even during Jesus’ own time on earth, there was the recurring question, “Is Jesus truly God?” How do we know besides what he says about himself? In the above passage, the three witnesses as to the claim of Christ, were his baptism in water, his shed blood, and the Holy Spirit. How were these “witnesses?” John also writes that the testimony is from God. Where does that play out? You’ll recall at Jesus’ baptism a voice came from heaven saying,”You are my dearly beloved Son, and you bring me great joy.” (Lk.3:22) God the Father validated the authenticity of his Son. In the same event John writes that he saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descend and settle on Jesus at the baptism (John 1:32-34). At the crucifixion of Jesus and the shedding of His blood for the sins of the world, God the Father again validated the efficaciousness of the sacrifice by tearing the curtain in the Temple from top to bottom. And so, in accordance with Old Testament law and jurisprudence practice, the identity of Jesus is firmly established. John goes on to write to reject these witnesses is to call God a liar. Nevertheless, there are many today that reject eyewitness testimony, even the testimony of God himself! The sad thing is, I have a neighbor who rejects God and tells me Christianity is all fantasy. I’d appreciate prayers for him to be willing to see the truth. The best part follows in the last section. God gives us his word regarding eternal life for all who put their trust in his Son. In a world of uncertainty as this year draws to a close, every follower of Christ can know the certainty of eternal life. May you be a witness of the truth this day as you go about your business.

Music: ““O Magnum Mysterium”    Morten Lauridsen commentary (do NOT miss this)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=gi51yTIQJXc   Composer talks about how he composed this piece

“O Magnum Mysterium”     Los Angeles Master Chorale,   Paul Salamunovich
www.youtube.com/watch?v=lO5MheI0A8o

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.
Alleluia.

English translation…
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

Prayer:
Jesus Christ, our Lord, our God and Savior, Holy Spirit our Teacher and Witness, and God, our Father in heaven, how was it that common animals witnessed the birth of your Holy Son who was placed in their feeding trough while humble shepherds were your first human visitors? The beauty, the wonder, the mystery, the awe-filled setting is not what anyone would have guessed. But then, your ways are not our ways. Your ways are much more interesting and beautiful. There is something so attractive about the humility and simplicity of your entrance into this world. It is so clear that you love all of your creation, not just the people! Your angels sang for a small band of herdsmen upon your arrival the first time. Apparently your angels will be singing and blowing the trumpet when you return. What a glorious day that will be. Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to earth and for loving us. We love you with all our heart. In Your name we pray, amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Wednesday, December 26

“We are God’s children.”

Candle Lighter:See how very much our Father loves us...”
Response: “…for he calls us his children.

Scripture: I John 3:1-3

3 See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 3 And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
There was a line in yesterday’s closing prayer which captures perfectly a phrase we used a couple of days ago,“the Great Exchange.” These few words of the prayer express so perfectly and succinctly the mission of Christ.  “[Jesus] comes to bring God to man and man to God.” High Priest, Bridge, Incarnation. Because God has come to man in human form, man can retain his humanity in approaching a holy God through the only holy human being, Jesus Christ. Because Jesus became a child, it became possible for humans to become the “children of God.” It is essential that Jesus be fully human or the possibility of a relationship between human being and the Creator God is not even possible. For the most part, the divinity of Christ escapes the mind of the non-believer. This person has no concept of the reality of another world. The idea of human beings connecting and communing with a holy God is a fantasy, a theoretical idea, an unprovable concept to them. Hence, Christmas is a happy celebration on the order of Thanksgiving in the states, or some other national holiday. But the celebration of Christmas is not simply the remembering of an historical event long ago like we might celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Christmas is a reciprocal event. Throughout the world, we have children who don’t know to whom they belong. They are orphans in search of a Father. We have a world and culture searching for meaning. Searching by trying to redefine what a marriage is or means; searching through having all kinds of gender classifications, searching for a political identity, searching for meaning through various justice issues, searching for truth by creating “their own realities,” searching for spirituality through various religious encounters. Without overstating, the birth of Jesus brings all those searchings to an end. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism) The Creator has made humans to enter and be in communion with the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How often have you heard said of a son, “He looks just like his father.” Jesus’ own words were, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Our identity is found in Christ and in nowhere else. He is the starting place in my finding out who I am. Our prayer today is that as his adopted children, we orphans would look more and more like our Father. After all, we are now related by blood, the blood of our adopted big brother.

Music: “The Wexford Carol”  Alison Kraus and Yo Yo Ma
www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxDZjg_Igoc

Prayer:
Three in one, one in three, God of my salvation, heavenly Father, blessed One, eternal Spirit, I adore thee as one Being, one Essence, one God in three distinct Persons, for bringing sinners to thy knowledge and to thy kingdom. O Father, thou hast loved me and sent Jesus to redeem me; O Jesus, thou hast loved me and assumed my nature, shed thine own blood to wash away my sins, wrought righteousness to cover my unworthiness; O Holy Spirit, thou hast loved me and entered my heart, implanted there eternal life, revealed to me the glories of Jesus. Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise thee, for love so unmerited, so unspeakable, so wondrous, so mighty to save the lost and raise them to glory. O Father, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast given me to Jesus, to be his sheep, jewel, portion; O Jesus, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast accepted, espoused, bound me; O Holy Spirit, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast exhibited Jesus as my salvation, implanted faith within me, subdued my stubborn heart, made me one with him forever.  Let me live and pray as one baptized into the threefold Name. Amen.
― The Valley of Vision, p.3

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Tuesday, December 25, CHRISTMAS DAY

Jesus is the Word of life.

Candle Lighter:We proclaim to you...”
Response: “…the one who existed from the beginning.

Scripture: I John 1:1-10

1 We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Additional Reading: Luke 2:1-20

2 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The pairing of these two pericopes is profound. The I John passage sounds a great deal like the opening of John’s gospel, which is not surprising since scholars generally affirm that the Apostle John, “the one whom Jesus loved,” wrote both of them. Luke included “the Christmas story” in his account concerning the life of Jesus. Scholars believe his primary source was Mary, the mother of Jesus. What you have is John’s declaring the One who has existed from the beginning is the Word of life. Like Peter, he appeals to his first hand, primary source, of eyewitness evidence as to the authenticity of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, the giver of eternal life. John continues with references to God and light, reminiscent of Genesis 1, where the light came to bring order to chaos and darkness at the dawn of creation. In the epistle, the light is again associated with creation again bringing order to chaos and darkness, but not an earthly creation but the spiritual creation of fellowship with the God and other believers via the cleansing blood of Jesus. The Lukan passage narrates the thread of the creation of fellowship with God from a different perspective. In this case, the Light has entered the world in the form of a flesh and blood human baby. The general creation has now become specific as God’s grand plan comes into full play, that of restoring a broken, dark world. Heaven rejoices as the angels sing a great song of rejoicing. Rejoice this day! The Light of the world has come and is coming again!

Music:  “Many Moods of Christmas” Suite 1  Atlanta Symphony and Chorus Robert Shaw
www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpLZOyprik4

“Many Moods of Christmas” all four Suites of Christmas Music about an hour in length.      Atlanta Symphony and Chorus and  Robert Shaw
www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfETrmnZK5w&t=2246s

Prayer:
Almighty God, we give thee thanks for the mighty yearning of the human heart for the coming of a Savior, and the constant promise of thy Word that He was to come. In our own souls we repeat the humble sighs and panting aspirations of ancient men and ages, and own that our souls are in darkness and infirmity without faith in Him who comes to bring God to man and man to God. We bless thee for the tribute that we can pay to Him from our very sense of need and dependence, and that our own hearts can so answer from their wilderness, the cry, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” In us, the rough places are to be made smooth, the crooked straight, the mountains of pride brought low, and the valleys of despondency lifted up. O God, prepare Thou the way in us now, and may we welcome anew Thy Holy Child. Hosanna! Blessed be He who cometh in the name of the Lord. Amen
― Rev. Samuel Osgood, 1862, Prayers Ancient and Modern

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Monday, December 24, CHRISTMAS EVE

We were not making up clever stories.

Candle Lighter: “And there were shepherds in the fields...”
Response: “…keeping watch over their flocks by night.”

Scripture: II Peter 1:16-21

16 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21 or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The certainty and reality of the Christmas story is central upon which everything else rides. If it is fiction, the whole world has been fooled. The people Peter was writing to were being subjected to false teachers and a blending of Christianity with other belief systems. It was a “Christianity plus…” challenging the faith. It is not uncommon for us today to have false religions embracing the Bible plus an additional “holy book.” Peter challenged the people to remain true to the gospel, period. Notice his very strong eyewitness account. 1) We are not making up clever stories. 2) We saw Jesus’ majestic splendor at the Mount of Transfiguration. 3) We heard God speak with our own ears! 4) 5) We were physically with Jesus. 6) Peter quoted the words God said. Again, notice the verbs: saw, heard. Peter’s first hand eyewitness experience gives him and us great certainty as to the reality, significance, and meaning of his encounter with the Son of God. But notice Peter appeals to more than his experience with Jesus. He admonishes them to pay close attention to all the prophets wrote concerning the beginning and ending of all things. Just like he denied making up clever stories, in the same manner of authenticity, the prophets likewise did not make things up, but wrote under the influence and direction given by the Holy Spirit as they communicated the very thoughts and words of God. So when you read the Christmas story tonight, remember Peter’s words, you are reading the very words of God as given to Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. You will be hearing God speak out loud, just as certain as Peter heard God speak on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Music: “Silent Night”  arr. Stephen Paulus  The Singers
www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mbWgb7V1cI

Prayer:
Father, long ago you sent your angels through the midnight of the sleeping world to tell the shepherds Christ was born in Bethlehem: come to our dark world, and stir our hearts to hear again their message of your love in Christ. Aided by your Spirit, may we grow in faith and understanding of your purposes and so be moved to wonder and to praise. O God Most High, on this night of joyful and expectant wonder, we tread again the path to Bethlehem and to the child whose birth was heralded by prophets, proclaimed by angels, and welcomed by shepherds. Open our eyes to see in him your loving purposes, and stir up within us the spirit of adoring praise. Almighty God, in the quietness of this hour, touch our understanding with thy Holy Spirit, that we may know again in true reality the wonder of thy love in Jesus Christ; and though there was no room for him in Bethlehem’s inn, help us to make more room for him in our common life, that our lives may show his love, and our hearts receive his peace, for the sake of the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
― Prayers for Sunday Services. P.73 (Scottish)

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved