Readings: Isaiah 9:18-10:4; Psalm 126; 2 Peter 2:10b-16; Matthew 3:1-12
For all the talk about repentance during Advent (and Lent), it can be difficult to understand and even more difficult to live a life of repentance. We may say the words, but do we truly repent of our disobedient thoughts, words and deeds, of what we have done and left undone? John the Baptizer called the people to prepare the way of the Lord, to make His paths straight, making way for the incoming kingdom of heaven, primarily by repentance and being baptized. Most readers of this devotion are baptized, but what of the daily return to our Baptism, in true repentance, confession our sins? How are we living that out in this Advent season of preparation?
Dr. Martin Luther explains repentance: “This is the thunderbolt of God with which He strikes into a heap both manifest sinners and false saints and suffers no one to be in the right but drives them all together into terror and despair…This is not activa contritio, a manufactured remorse; it is passiva contritio, true sorrow of heart…To repent means to feel the wrath of God in earnest because of one’s sin, so that the sinner experiences the anguish of heart and is filled with a painful longing for the salvation and the mercy of God. Repentance is not penitence alone but also faith, which apprehends the promise of forgiveness, lest the penitent sinners perish” (What Luther Says, Plass, CPH, 1959, p. 1210).
These are helpful words — repentance is not a manufactured remorse but true sorrow of heart; repentance is penitence but also faith, which apprehends the promise of forgiveness.
Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.
Advent Action: Splash water on your face and make the sign of the cross on your forehead today as a reminder of your Baptism.
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
6:1 Once more I looked, and this time I saw four chariots emerging from between two mountains of bronze. 2Harnessed to the first chariot were red horses, to the second black horses, 3to the third white horses, and to the fourth spotted horses, all of them strong. 4Then I asked the angelic messenger who was speaking with me, “What are these, sir?” 5The messenger replied, “These are the four spirits of heaven going out after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth. 6The chariot with the black horses is going to the north country, and the white ones are going after them, but the spotted ones are going to the south country. 7All these strong ones are scattering; they have sought permission to go and walk about over the earth.” The Lord had said, “Go! Walk about over the earth!” So they are doing so. 8Then he cried out to me, “Look! The ones going to the northland have brought me peace about the northland.”
9The Lord’s message came to me as follows: 10“Choose some people from among the exiles, namely, Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, all who have come from Babylon, and when you have done so go to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. 11Then take some silver and gold to make a crown and set it on the head of Joshua the high priest, the son of Jehozadak. 12Then say to him, ‘The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “Look—here is the man whose name is Branch, who will sprout up from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 13Indeed, he will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed in splendor, sitting as king on his throne. Moreover, there will be a priest with him on his throne and they will see eye to eye on everything. 14The crown will then be turned over to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the Lord. 15Then those who are far away will come and build the temple of the Lord so that you may know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me to you. This will all come to pass if you completely obey the voice of the Lord your God.”’”(NET Bible)
138:1 By David.
I will give you thanks with all my heart;
before the heavenly assembly I will sing praises to you.
2I will bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name,
because of your loyal love and faithfulness,
for you have exalted your promise above the entire sky.
3When I cried out for help, you answered me.
You made me bold and energized me.
4Let all the kings of the earth give thanks to you, O Lord,
when they hear the words you speak.
5Let them sing about the Lord’s deeds,
for the Lord’s splendor is magnificent.
6Though the Lord is exalted, he looks after the lowly,
and from far away humbles the proud.
7Even when I must walk in the midst of danger, you revive me.
You oppose my angry enemies,
and your right hand delivers me.
8The Lord avenges me.
O Lord, your loyal love endures.
Do not abandon those whom you have made.(NET Bible)
13:11 Then I saw another beast coming up from the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but was speaking like a dragon. 12He exercised all the ruling authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and those who inhabit it worship the first beast, the one whose lethal wound had been healed. 13He performed momentous signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people 14and, by the signs he was permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, he deceived those who live on the earth. He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived. 15The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16He also caused everyone (small and great, rich and poor, free and slave) to obtain a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. 17Thus no one was allowed to buy or sell things unless he bore the mark of the beast—that is, his name or his number. 18This calls for wisdom: Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number, for it is man’s number, and his number is 666.(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.