The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
16 And I will lead the blind
in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do,
and I do not forsake them.
– Isaiah 42:16ESV
In 2005, I hated Christmas. Of course, as a pastor I couldn’t really give outlet to my true feelings. What congregation wants to hear that their pastor hates Christmas? But I did. My wife and I had been waiting for two years to be selected as parents to a precious girl or boy through open adoption, the process where birth parents select the couple they want to serve as the baby’s parents. Advent, a season of waiting, seemed as if it would never end. I was jealous of parents who had children with whom to celebrate Christmas. It took a lot for me to endure the Christmas pageant at church that year.
Of course, I am far from alone. While Christmas programs, songs, carolers, parties and the like are in full form, there are many who suffer quietly throughout the Advent/Christmas seasons. They include the couple struggling with infertility, or the parents who were devastated at the miscarriage or stillbirth of a baby.
This may be the year that a couple has buried a son or daughter who died from cancer or succumbed to a deadly addiction. This may be the first year where an empty chair is at the table where grandma used to sit.
It is into such dark moments in our lives that we are reminded that this is not where God intends for us to dwell. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, sent his Son into the world as the light of the world. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 NIV). In sending the Son into the world, God fulfills what is spoken by the prophet. God keeps the promise that He will turn darkness into light, making the rough places a level ground.
This is not in any way to minimize our heartache. The sting of death is real. Jesus himself felt the brunt of death’s power when He laid down His life on the cross. In so doing, Jesus destroyed death’s powerful hold over us. In rising from the dead, Jesus dispelled the darkness that comes with mourning, sorrow and pain.
For those who find these days the least wonderful time of the year, remember the promise of our Lord. He has NOT forsaken you! You are His child, from whom the Christ was born, suffered, died and rose from death.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, Wonderful Counselor, comfort your people who find themselves in darkness with the loving light of your presence. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pro-Life Action: Reach out to an individual who is grieving to simply say that you love them.
Today’s devotion was written by Rev. Mark A. Werner, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Latrobe, PA.
This year’s Advent devotions are written by the members of NALC Life Ministries. The devotional follows the daily Revised Common Lectionary for Advent and includes a Bible reading, commentary, prayer and pro-life action for every day until Christmas Eve.
As we move through the season of Advent, Scripture reveals the anxiety of an unplanned pregnancy, as Mary and Joseph ponder this miracle and seek to understand who this precious child might be. This devotional examines our responsibility to protect all human life in light of Mary and Joseph’s protection of Jesus, the savior of the world.
Our authors include Rev. Dr. David Wendel, Rev. Mark Chavez, Rev. Dr. Dennis Di Mauro, Rev. Dr. Cathi Braasch, Rev. Scott Licht, Rev. Sandra Towberman, Rev. Steve Shipman, Ms. Rebecka Andrae, Rev. Melinda Jones, Rev. David Nelson, Ms. Rosemary Johnson, Rev. Mark Werner and Rev. Steve Bliss.
Judges 5:16–31 (ESV)
16 Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds,
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
and Dan, why did he stay with the ships?
Asher sat still at the coast of the sea,
staying by his landings.
18 Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death;
Naphtali, too, on the heights of the field.
19 “The kings came, they fought;
then fought the kings of Canaan,
at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
they got no spoils of silver.
20 From heaven the stars fought,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21 The torrent Kishon swept them away,
the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon.
March on, my soul, with might!
22 “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs
with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.
23 “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord,
curse its inhabitants thoroughly,
because they did not come to the help of the Lord,
to the help of the Lord against the mighty.
24 “Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
25 He asked for water and she gave him milk;
she brought him curds in a noble’s bowl.
26 She sent her hand to the tent peg
and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera;
she crushed his head;
she shattered and pierced his temple.
27 Between her feet
he sank, he fell, he lay still;
between her feet
he sank, he fell;
where he sank,
there he fell—dead.
28 “Out of the window she peered,
the mother of Sisera wailed through the lattice:
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’
29 Her wisest princesses answer,
indeed, she answers herself,
30 ‘Have they not found and divided the spoil?—
A womb or two for every man;
spoil of dyed materials for Sisera,
spoil of dyed materials embroidered,
two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’
Psalm 142 (ESV)
You Are My Refuge
142 A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.
1 With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
2 I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
3 When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
5 I cry to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
6 Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me!
Acts 12:1–17 (ESV)
James Killed and Peter Imprisoned
12 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Peter Is Rescued
6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
[Luther writes]: “The Holy Spirit is the most simple writer and speaker in heaven and earth; therefore His words have only one sense, the most simple one, which we call the literal sense.” … “In order that these word jugglers may be seen in their true light, I ask them, who told them that the fathers are clearer and not more obscure than the Scripture? How would it be if I said that they understand the Fathers as little as I understand the Scriptures? I could just as well stop my ears to the sayings of the Fathers as they do to the Scriptures. But in that way we shall never arrive at the truth. If the Spirit has spoken in the fathers, so much the more has He spoken in His own Scriptures. And if one does not understand the Spirit in His own Scriptures, who will trust him to understand the Spirit in the writings of another? That is truly a carrying of the sword in the scabbard, when we do not take the naked sword by itself but only as it is encased in the words and glosses of men. This dulls its edge and makes it obscurer than it was before, though Emser calls it smiting with the blade. The bare sword makes him tremble from head to foot. Be it known, then, that Scripture without any gloss is the sun and the sole light from which all teachers receive their light, and not the contrary. This is proved by the fact that, when the fathers teach anything, they do not trust their teaching but, fearing it to be too obscure and uncertain, they go to the Scriptures and take a clear passage out of it to shed light on their teaching, just as we place a light in a lantern, and as we read in Ps. 18: ‘Thou wilt light my lamp, O Lord.’” (77–78)
–Johann Michael Reu, Luther on the Scriptures
This daily Bible reading guide, Reading the Word of God, was conceived and prepared as a result of the ongoing discussions between representatives of three church bodies: Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The following individuals have represented their church bodies and approved this introduction and the reading guide: LCC: President Robert Bugbee; NALC: Bishop John Bradosky, Revs. Mark Chavez, James Nestingen, and David Wendel; LCMS: Revs. Albert Collver, Joel Lehenbauer, John Pless, and Larry Vogel.