Readings: Isaiah 11:1-9; Psalm 110; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 3:16-21
As we come to the final Sunday before the celebration of our Lord’s birth, we come to one of the most familiar and well-loved passages in all of Scripture. John 3:16 is a summary of what God’s saving plan in Jesus is all about. Centered in God’s love for the world and for all who have ever lived, God was willing to send His only Son, Jesus, to live among us, to die on a cross to pay the price for our sin and to, thereby, open the way, through our faith in what He has done, for us to become right with God and find ourselves eternally in the Kingdom.
Martin Luther called it “the Gospel in miniature.” He said it was as concise a statement of what the Bible is about as you will ever find. If you understand what this verse is saying, he said, if you dig into what it means and why it matters for your life, you will not only understand what’s behind the entire biblical story, but you will also have a good and a solid foundation upon which to build your life.
There are a lot of ways to talk about the Gospel. We call it the “Good News.” We refer to it as the life of Christ, what Jesus accomplished for us while He was here. Do you remember what the Bible says about the Gospel? The Bible says the Gospel is “the righteousness of God.” It says the Good News is that the righteousness that belongs to God is given to us in Jesus Christ.
Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Romans 1:16-17). The apostle writes, “He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Bible says the Gospel is the “the righteousness of God.”
And so, what does it means to be righteous? If the Gospel is the righteousness of God, what does that mean for us? The word righteous means to “be morally justifiable, to be right and without fault.” In the Bible, when that word is used, it means “to be holy, to be found without sin, to be perfect in action, word and thought.”
The Good News is that in Jesus you and I become righteous. We become holy, without sin, we attain perfection in the sight of God because of Christ. The Gospel is that the righteousness that belongs only to God is given to us through our faith in Jesus.
In seminary, they talked about it as the doctrine of imputation. To impute means “to attribute” or to “ascribe to someone else,” something that was not originally theirs. That’s exactly what happens for us in Jesus. In the cross, we become what Christ is, and on the cross, He became what we are. His righteousness is attributed to us, ascribed to us, given to us and our sin is attributed, ascribed, given to Him.
That’s what this summary verse tells us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” Jesus became our sacrifice. Jesus paid our penalty. He took upon Himself our sin. The Gospel is that in Him, in Jesus, we are forgiven. In Him, in Christ, we are made to be right and righteous in the sight of God.
Paul says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).
It is quite the teaching, this thing we call the Gospel. It is quite the truth, this Good News that belongs to us in Christ. We become what Christ is, and He became what we are…so that “in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.”
It is the Gospel in miniature. (“For God so loved the world…”). It is a summary of what the entire biblical story is all about (“…that he gave His only Son”).
And so, why did God give His Son? What was it that caused the Father, out of love, to send Jesus to the cross? It was our sin. It was the fallen nature of our lives. The Bible talks about our transgressions, our trespasses, our iniquities and our rebellion. Most literally, to sin means “to miss the mark.”
To miss the mark — that’s a term taken from archery. When an archer is aiming at a target, the goal is to hit it straight on — in the middle, in the center, in the exact place where you aim. When we sin, the Bible says, we miss the mark. We do not end up hitting the target we are intended to hit.
As we draw closer to Christmas, to the celebration of our Lord’s birth, we need to be asking ourselves that question. You know your life. You know how far and how often you have missed the mark. The Bible says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It says, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
In fact, all religion, in one column, is the word “Do.” All our human effort is what we are, in ourselves, able to accomplish. The Christian faith, in contrast, the Gospel says, “It has all been done.”
Everyone is trying to do it for themselves. They are trying to work their way up to God. Better than my neighbor, grading on a curve, the family plan, my grandma was a Christian…you know how it works. We think we can do it, but we cannot. It is not possible.
The Gospel comes to us in our sin and tells us that God has come to us. And He has come to us in His Son. He comes to us and He is with us in Jesus. And not only has He come to us and He is with us, but He has done everything needed to pay the price. The Bible says, “Jesus paid it all for us upon the tree.” It says, He forgave all of our trespasses, nailing them to the cross (Colossians 2:14).
We are only a few short days away from Christmas. Let us not forget why Jesus had to be born and how eternally grateful we must be. Amen.
Prayer: Lord God, thank You for sending Your Son to our world, to be born among us, to die on a cross, and to make us right with You. Help us to trust our lives to the Gospel-work You have accomplished for us in Jesus. Amen.
Advent Action: Read the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel account and, while reading, give thanks to God for the saving plan He worked out for us in Jesus.
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
9:1 This is an oracle, the Lord’s message concerning the land of Hadrach, with its focus on Damascus:
The eyes of all humanity, especially of the tribes of Israel, are toward the Lord, 2as are those of Hamath also, which adjoins Damascus, Tyre, and Sidon, though they consider themselves to be very wise. 3Tyre built herself a fortification and piled up silver like dust and gold like the mud of the streets. 4Nevertheless the Lord will evict her and shove her fortifications into the sea—she will be consumed by fire. 5Ashkelon will see and be afraid; Gaza will be in great anguish, as will Ekron, for her hope will have been dried up. Gaza will lose her king, and Ashkelon will no longer be inhabited. 6A mongrel people will live in Ashdod, for I will greatly humiliate the Philistines. 7I will take away their abominable religious practices; then those who survive will become a community of believers in our God, like a clan in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites. 8Then I will surround my temple to protect it like a guard from anyone crossing back and forth; so no one will cross over against them anymore as an oppressor, for now I myself have seen it.
9Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
Look! Your king is coming to you:
He is legitimate and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey—
on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey.
10I will remove the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be removed.
Then he will announce peace to the nations.
His dominion will be from sea to sea
and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.
11Moreover, as for you, because of our covenant relationship secured with blood, I will release your prisoners from the waterless pit. 12Return to the stronghold, you prisoners, with hope; today I declare that I will return double what was taken from you. 13I will bend Judah as my bow; I will load the bow with Ephraim, my arrow. I will stir up your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and I will make you, Zion, like a warrior’s sword.
14Then the Lord will appear above them, and his arrow will shoot forth like lightning; the Sovereign Lord will blow the trumpet and will proceed in the southern storm winds. 15The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will guard them, and they will prevail and overcome with sling stones. Then they will drink and will become noisy like drunkards, full like the sacrificial basin or like the corners of the altar. 16On that day the Lord their God will deliver them as the flock of his people, for they are the precious stones of a crown sparkling over his land. 17How precious and fair! Grain will make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.(NET Bible)
141:1 A psalm of David.
O Lord, I cry out to you. Come quickly to me.
Pay attention to me when I cry out to you.
2May you accept my prayer like incense,
my uplifted hands like the evening offering.
3O Lord, place a guard on my mouth.
Protect the opening of my lips.
4Do not let me have evil desires
or participate in sinful activities
with men who behave wickedly.
I will not eat their delicacies.
5May the godly strike me in love and correct me.
May my head not refuse choice oil.
Indeed, my prayer is a witness against their evil deeds.
6They will be thrown over the side of a cliff by their judges.
They will listen to my words, for they are pleasant.
7As when one plows and breaks up the soil,
so our bones are scattered at the mouth of Sheol.
8Surely I am looking to you, O Sovereign Lord.
In you I take shelter.
Do not expose me to danger.
9Protect me from the snare they have laid for me
and the traps the evildoers have set.
10Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I escape.(NET Bible)
16:1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple declaring to the seven angels: “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls containing God’s wrath.” 2So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth. Then ugly and painful sores appeared on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.
3Next, the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood, like that of a corpse, and every living creature that was in the sea died.
4Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and the springs of water, and they turned into blood. 5Now I heard the angel of the waters saying:
“You are just—the one who is and who was,
the Holy One—because you have passed these judgments,
6because they poured out the blood of your saints and prophets,
so you have given them blood to drink. They got what they deserved!”
7Then I heard the altar reply, “Yes, Lord God, the All-Powerful, your judgments are true and just!”
8Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was permitted to scorch people with fire. 9Thus people were scorched by the terrible heat, yet they blasphemed the name of God, who has ruling authority over these plagues, and they would not repent and give him glory.
10Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast so that darkness covered his kingdom, and people began to bite their tongues because of their pain. 11They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their sufferings and because of their sores, but nevertheless they still refused to repent of their deeds.
12Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates and dried up its water to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13Then I saw three unclean spirits that looked like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14For they are the spirits of the demons performing signs who go out to the kings of the earth to bring them together for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful.
15(Look ! I will come like a thief!
Blessed is the one who stays alert and does not lose his clothes so that he will not have to walk around naked and his shameful condition be seen.)
16Now the spirits gathered the kings and their armies to the place that is called Armageddon in Hebrew.
17Finally the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying: “It is done!” 18Then there were flashes of lightning, roaring, and crashes of thunder, and there was a tremendous earthquake—an earthquake unequaled since humanity has been on the earth, so tremendous was that earthquake. 19The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. So Babylon the great was remembered before God and was given the cup filled with the wine made of God’s furious wrath. 20Every island fled away, and no mountains could be found. 21And gigantic hailstones, weighing about a 100 pounds each, fell from heaven on people, but they blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, since it was so horrendous.(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.