Devotional: Third Week of Advent

Third Week of Advent

 

John 1:6-8, 19-28

As we enter into the third week of Advent, I am reminded of a colleague’s devotional thoughts as Christians anticipate with excitement the coming of the Messiah both at Christmas and in the age to come. These thoughts challenge us to speak without fear of the gospel.

Let’s listen carefully to what my dear fried shares from his understanding of John the Baptist’s role in preparing the nation of Israel for our Lord’s coming:

John the Baptist was a most extraordinary individual, wasn’t he? Aside from his rather eccentric dress sense (a scratchy camel’s hair robe and leather belt reminiscent of the prophet Elijah) and his penchant for eating locusts and wild honey, he was clearly not an ambitious man. One thing for certain, he had no designs on one of the top jobs back in Jerusalem. – though that wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility, his father was a priest in the Temple after all. In fact, it’s almost as if he went out of his way to annoy the powers that be.

John was the sort of man who had the courage to speak his mind freely without fear or desire for favour. He spoke the words he believed that God wanted the people to hear, and the people flocked out to hear him. But what attracted them? Was it his honesty and integrity, his willingness to speak the truth no matter what the cost to himself? That would have made a refreshing change, especially for those who traveled out of the city into the desert to see him.

Yet he never chose comfortable words, rather he challenged people in a way that they had not been challenged before. He called people back to their core beliefs and reminded them of the days when they lived in the desert. This Advent we too are called back to fundamentals, to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. What will our response be?

Revd Andy Carley

Vicar, St. Paul’s Anglican Church Christchurch

 

Let us think on these words this Advent season.

Weekly Devotional : 2nd Week of Advent

 

Isaiah 40.1-11

Mark 1.1-8

 

The passage in Mark’s gospel is one that has been close to my heart since I was fourteen years of age. I still remember that I was into my first year as a Christian and since becoming a Christian I had developed a keen desire to know more about Christ and as such, I spent quite a bit of my time praying and studying the Scripture.

The passage from Mark has its historical roots in the Old Testament from the book of the prophet Isaiah which is part of our devotional reading this week.

  1. Historical Context

Many biblical scholars believe that this part of Isaiah’s prophecies relates to Israel’s exile under Babylonian captivity. The section of Isaiah’s prophecy relates to the time where the Babylonian Empire was in decline and they were about to be taken over by upcoming Persian Empire under the leadership of Cyrus.

Therefore, the prophetic narrative reflected the sense of a new thing God was about to do – a sense of an imminent salvation and hope as the prophet reflects on Babylon’s demise. The prophet writes of God’s overall sovereignty and that God still rules in spite of Israel’s past failings.

This narrative picture for us the very moment of God’s new act; and with its delivery the new event, i.e. of the exiles’ release and the new exodus that is already under way.

In other words, the prophet was proclaiming that God was ushering a new thing and that that new thing was Israel’s release from captivity and imminent return to the land of God’s promise. In this way God was bringing salvation to Israel.

“The Lord has punished her twice over for all her sins” – Isa. 40:2

Israel’s exile into Babylon was the result of neglecting her covenantal relationship with God. It is here that God now declares that Israel had served the penalty of her failings and God is now extending his grace through her imminent return to the land of God’s promise.

How does this piece of prophecy relate to John’s ministry at the beginning of the New Testament?

In similar fashion God has declared that we are now recipients of God’s promise of salvation and all its benefits. But unlike Israel we have served no sentence for our sins because Jesus Christ bore the penalty of our sin. Christ is both the message and the means of our salvation – this is the good news and we, who are the messengers of the Way, Truth and Life have been called to make others aware of this wonderful age of grace we live in view of Christ’s imminent return again.

John the Baptist’s role was pivotal as he began heralding the new event that was about to begin in human history – Today the Church is the fruit of the way John prepared for Jesus Christ.

Let us look closely at how John the Baptist describes his role in God’s scheme of things. This description gives us an understanding of how we are to continue heralding the good news in view of our Lord’s imminent return.

  1. No pretensions to power

In verse 3 – In no uncertain terms John makes it very clear that he has no pretensions to power.

“I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,

‘Clear the way for the LORD’s coming!’”

He is not the Saviour but simply the messenger. John had come to bear witness about another and not draw attention to himself.

John was not concerned with himself and his own safety. He was trying to prepare people to be ready meet the Saviour. By doing this, John never elevated himself and focussed on the message pointing to Jesus Christ.

  1. No pretensions to position (authority)

In verses 7-8 John makes no pretensions to position or authority. Even when baptising he speaks of a greater baptism to come, pointing to the Saviour who would baptism with the Holy Spirit.

He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

Today we take baptism for granted as part of our Christian heritage but what John was doing in the context of his community was totally out of character and insulting. Why do I say this?

In John’s account, this act was questioned by the Jewish religious leaders of his day. The rite of baptism in Judaism was reserved for those who had converted from other religions or were non-Jews who have decided to follow the Jewish faith. All Jews were prepared to accept the view that non-Jews were defiled and needed cleansing. But to put Jews in the same category by baptising them was horrifying for the Jews as they considered themselves to be God’s chosen people.

John’s admission he was not the Saviour or the great prophet Elijah made matters worse because this gave him no authority to change Jewish practice.

John’s actions and teaching reflect that he had no pretensions to authority. He simply says that what he does, he does in preparation for a greater baptism ushered in by the Christ – its purpose is to point people to Christ.

What lessons can we take away from this text:

  1. Our nation and our community may be marred by the continued presence of wrongful behaviour but God’s word still brings the results of change in the hearts of humanity through the renewing work of the Holy Spirit established by Jesus Christ at Calvary. In other words there is still hope for this world we live in. That has not changed and will not change until our Lord’s return.
  2. We are to continue being faithful messengers of God’s of hope. We do this by making no pretensions to personal power and position or (authority). Our true power and position lies in Christ and only in him do we truly understand the significance of God’s grace and salvation. We act on behalf of God, simply God’s agents of grace, love and hope.

For me, this message is a very timely reminder of how I should respond to the presence of evil in the world.

The message of today’s reflection reminds all of us that we are living in exciting times, simply because we have been entrusted to carry the message of God’s hope and love to a broken world.

We do this not because of any sense of personal gain but that we have been granted the grace and privilege to be simply a “voice in the wilderness”.

 

Weekly Devotional

Isaiah 64.1-9
Mark 13.24-37

Christmas has stolen the Advent mystique. The loud noise and busyness of Christmas has eclipsed the symbolism of darkness awaiting dawn that comes with the message of Advent. Hope in the night, is what we want and need, not glitzy commercialism.

For many Christians who are unfamiliar with the Church calendar where the season of Advent begins, do not realise that when simply removing Christmas from the Bible, you only lose three chapters (that includes the doctrine of the incarnation). But removing Advent, you lose half the Old Testament and most of the New. Jews and Christians have always lived by the story of God’s order appearing within the world’s confusion and God’s fiery light burning away the shadows. The New Testament expresses the Old Testament imagery of God breaking into world history, to speak of what will happen on ‘the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Understanding Advent correctly will give us a complete understanding of Christ the human being to Christ the cosmic being.

But why? And what are we to hope for? Advent has its equivalents of shepherds and wise men, clouds, trumpets, angels, and cosmic catastrophe — a Christian version of Star Wars and Apocalypse Now, easily making us think that all this is science fiction and make-believe.

It isn’t. It speaks of the time when the mist that hangs in the centre of reality, between heaven and earth, will be burnt away. Our present reality, will be confronted with that other Reality, and for some it will bring utter shame and for others it signals the realisation of the hope they have been carrying each year as the season of Advent comes around.

For the born-again Christian, Advent has already happened. What we ought to celebrate at Christmas is the story of heaven opened, glory unveiled, and God’s unfolding redemptive plan fulfilled both past, present and future. Advent, is the end of the church year, as well as the beginning. Those who are awaiting God’s majesty in all His fullness and love are constantly sustained by Him when they reflect on His first appearing.

By waiting in readiness, Jesus’ warnings about His imminent return brings a greater shame on the unbelieving and unprepared. The watchful hope of faithful is called to further vigilance. To have faith in God’s future is to see why it is vital to stay attentive and to continue to be involved in good works in the present. Christmas has become comfortable. Advent calls us to stay awake.