Readings: Isaiah 13:1-13; Psalm 25; Hebrews 12:18-29; John 3:22-30
Over this past year, there have been numerous events, experiences and circumstances that have served to raise anxiety levels and cause division within our society. Racial tension, political division and the reality of a worldwide pandemic are among the more obvious reasons for such being the case. Even in places where you might expect there to be a spirit of unity, a spirit of discord and disunity are often found.
Our world is in turmoil. What we had once considered to be “normal” has been turned upside down. The future is uncertain. The present is unpleasant. Even the past has a way of casting an unfavorable shadow on where this all might lead.
John the Baptist was no stranger to anxiety or discord. The religious leaders did not approve of his message. Those in power did not agree with his mannerisms and approach. Even among his followers, there were times when his purpose was not met with the welcome one might have expected. Nonetheless, John understood his role. He knew his calling. He knew the One in whom he had been called. And it was to that One and that One alone that he was faithful.
When confronted by his followers with what Jesus was doing and how his ministry was beginning to be overshadowed by that of the Lord, the Baptist was clear and to the point in how their apparently competing ministries were to play out. For John, there was no competition at all. John’s role was to decrease, while Jesus’ role was to increase. John was to take a supporting role in the saving drama that was taking place, while Jesus was to become the lead actor and find himself center stage.
The argument, in John’s day, causing division and anxiety among his followers had to do with ceremonial washing. To us, 2000 years later, it’s a matter of little, if any, concern. To them, as it was happening, it was of great concern. The anxiety levels were high. The division among John’s followers was becoming great. But John would not get caught in the middle. He refused to play their short-sighted game. Rather, he kept the focus where it needed to be, on Jesus, and, in so doing, offered a much more farsighted and far-reaching response.
How easy it is to get caught in arguments and divisions that mean little when it comes to what finally counts. How often does it happen, even in the Church, that we find ourselves anxious and divided over things that do not ultimately matter?
The answer for us today is no different than it was, back then, for John. Stay focused on Jesus. Keep your eyes on Christ. If there’s an agenda to be moved forward, it is not ours but His. If there is reason for anxiety and division, do not let that reason fall back on us. Our calling in Jesus is what gives us our reason for being. The life we have in Christ is the sole purpose for which we are to live.
It is a litmus test of the Christian faith that we need to always defer to Jesus, and never allow our own personal preferences or prejudices stand in the way of our witness for Him. It is one of the ultimate tests of the Christian life, that we never allow our own personal desire, or need for gain, stand in the way of the One who gained it all for us on the cross.
Jesus was born into this world to become our Savior. Jesus came into this world because of our sin and because of God’s eternal love. As followers of His, our calling is not to stand in the way, but to get out of the way. It is not to call attention to ourselves, but to keep the attention finally, fully and forever on Him.
As we move closer to the celebration of our Lord’s birth, ask yourself if you are willing to decrease in order that He might increase? Are you willing to step back and play that supporting role, so that Jesus, through your life and witness, might be given center stage?
We cannot change the fact that He alone is the One who can save, nor could we do so, even if we wanted. Therefore, let us learn from John when the world around us is anxious and when disunity seems to be winning the day. Point the world to Jesus. Fix your eyes on Christ. He is our unity. He has taken our anxiety and our troubles to the cross. As He increases, so does God’s promise and our hope.
Prayer: Lord God, when we find ourselves surrounded by disunity, help us to find our unity in Jesus. When we are tempted to call attention to ourselves, empower us to keep our attention on Him. In His name we pray. Amen.
Advent Action: Look for ways this week to keep the attention of your Christmas preparations on Jesus. Find opportunities, as you prepare for celebrating our Lord’s birth, to point others to Christ.
Advent is a time of preparation! As John the Forerunner called people to “prepare the way of the Lord,” this Advent many Christians will look for additional opportunities to prepare inwardly while also preparing outwardly. As we prepare our homes and churches for celebrating Christmas, most hope to have additional time to read Scripture, pray, worship and meditate, and we look for quiet time to prepare our hearts and lives for the many ways the Lord comes to us.
These devotions are for home and personal devotion, in addition to communal Advent worship. Our prayer is that they provide the reader with a brief, accessible devotional to deepen the Advent journey. They are written for those who may regularly spend in-depth time in Scripture and prayer but are also prepared in the hope that those who do not have a practice of daily devotions may find them a useful tool in developing a holy habit that may continue on long after Christmas.
This Advent daily devotional booklet, appropriately titled, Prepare the Way of the Lord, is based on the two-year daily lectionary provided in the Lutheran Book of Worship, Year I. This series of daily lessons is intended for Advent prior to odd-numbered years. The daily lectionary appoints three lessons for each day, and a seasonal psalm. For the purposes of this booklet, one reading has been chosen as the basis for each day’s reflection. The entire reading is usually provided, although there has been some verses left out due to space available. When the biblical text is longer, we have provided that entire text with a shorter devotion because the Word of God is more powerful than our humble reflections.
The Rev. Dr. Dan Selbo, bishop of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), has prepared a bit longer devotion for each of the Sundays in Advent, along with a devotion for Christmas Day. The Rev. Dr. David Wendel, NALC assistant to the bishop for ministry and ecumenism, has prepared the brief weekday and Christmas Eve devotions.
The prayer following each devotion may be seen as a “prayer starter,” encouraging your thoughts to go deeper into prayer, or you may find them sufficient as printed. After each prayer is an Advent Action, encouraging an appropriate and thoughtful simple response to the reading and reflection.
For your information, these devotions are available in a variety of formats at thenalc.org/advent.
READING THE WORD OF GOD GUIDE
2:1 (2:5) I looked again, and there was a man with a measuring line in his hand. 2I asked, “Where are you going?” He replied, “To measure Jerusalem in order to determine its width and its length.” 3At this point the angelic messenger who spoke to me went out, and another messenger came to meet him 4and said to him, “Hurry, speak to this young man as follows: ‘Jerusalem will no longer be enclosed by walls because of the multitude of people and animals there. 5But I,’ the Lord says, ‘will be a wall of fire surrounding Jerusalem and the source of glory in her midst.’”
6“You there! Flee from the northland!” says the Lord, “for like the four winds of heaven I have scattered you,” says the Lord. 7“Escape, Zion, you who live among the Babylonians!” 8For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: “For his own glory he has sent me to the nations that plundered you—for anyone who touches you touches the pupil of his eye. 9Yes, look here, I am about to punish them so that they will be looted by their own slaves.” Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me.
10“Sing out and be happy, Zion my daughter! For look, I have come; I will settle in your midst,” says the Lord. 11“Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on the day of salvation, and they will also be my people. Indeed, I will settle in the midst of you all. Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me to you. 12The Lord will take possession of Judah as his portion in the holy land and he will choose Jerusalem once again. 13Be silent in the Lord’s presence, all people everywhere, for he is being moved to action in his holy dwelling place.”(NET Bible)
134:1 A song of ascents.
Attention! Praise the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord
who serve in the Lord’s temple during the night.
2Lift your hands toward the sanctuary
and praise the Lord.
3May the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion.(NET Bible)
10:1 Then I saw another powerful angel descending from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like pillars of fire. 2He held in his hand a little scroll that was open, and he put his right foot on the sea and his left on the land. 3Then he shouted in a loud voice like a lion roaring, and when he shouted, the seven thunders sounded their voices. 4When the seven thunders spoke, I was preparing to write, but just then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders spoke and do not write it down.” 5Then the angel I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven 6and swore by the one who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, and the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, “There will be no more delay! 7But in the days when the seventh angel is about to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God is completed, just as he has proclaimed to his servants the prophets.” 8Then the voice I had heard from heaven began to speak to me again, “Go and take the open scroll in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take the scroll and eat it. It will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” 10So I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it, and it did taste as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. 11Then they told me: “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.”(NET Bible)
–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.