Readings: Zechariah 2:10-13; Psalm 2, 98; 1 John 4:7-16; John 3:31-36
Christmas is, without question, the single-most important event in history. When Jesus came into this world, it changed the course of history forever. In fact, much of what is happening throughout the world today is a direct result of what happened on that first Christmas. Families will be gathering in their homes. People will be traveling to different places. Almost everybody is doing something to celebrate. But what is it, finally, that makes this day so different? A lot of things have happened since the world began. Why is this day so unique? And why is it, out of all the things that have happened since the time the world began, that this one event continues to stand out above the rest? There are countless ways in which that question could be answered. Today, I would like us to consider just one. Jesus came into this world for you. He came into this world for you.
Let’s start with a question. How many people went out this year and found a Christmas tree? The answer is, a lot. A lot of people did, including me. I went out with my wife and we found the perfect tree. We cut it down in the Home Depot parking lot, threw it on our car, drove it home and we were all set! Let me ask another question. Do you know where the first Christmas tree was found? Not the first one this year, the first one planted, but the first one ever. Do you know where it was found? It was not at Home Depot. It was not cut down and put into someone’s living room and decorated with lights. It was found in the Bible, and it is still there. Matthew, chapter one, right before the story of the angel appearing to Joseph in a dream and telling him that Mary, his betrothed, was carrying a child that was the Son of God, there is a genealogy. It is a family tree that links Jesus Christ with King David, and David with Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel.
Most people, when they come to those places in the Bible, the genealogies, they skip over them and move onto whatever it is that follows. But when reading this particular chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter one, do not do it, because it is important. It is the first Christmas tree. It is the first family tree that points to Christ. And what’s so fascinating about this first Christmas tree is that it not only tells us where Jesus came from, His family line, but also, and more importantly, who He came for. We do not have time to go through the whole list. But if you go through the list, it does not take long to figure out that there were quite a few broken ornaments on that first Christmas tree.
Look at some of the names. Manasseh — do you know who Manasseh was? He was an evil man. Read his story, you will find out he threw his firstborn son in a fire as a sacrifice to a pagan god. And then there is Judah. There are a lot of good things about Judah; a lot of bad things as well. He was one of the worst kind of adulterers that ever lived (read Genesis 38) and he was a hypocrite. And then there is Rahab. She was a foreigner and she made her living as a prostitute. And then you come to King David. It says, “David was the father of Solomon, by the wife of Uriah.” If you know his story, he was an adulterer and a murder, and all for self-gain. You do not have to read too far between the lines to figure out what Matthew is telling us. What he is telling us is not only where Jesus came from, his family line, but who He came for. He came for sinners. He came for those who were left out. He came for anyone in this world who has ever tried to keep things together in their life but could not.
I don’t know if you know the name of Bill Veeck. Bill Veeck was one of the most colorful personalities in major league baseball. At various times, he owned franchises in Cleveland, St. Louis and Chicago. More than anything, he was best known for his publicity stunts: like hiring Eddie Gaedel, a little person, to serve as a pinch hitter. Like when he installed an exploding scoreboard with sound effects and fireworks. Like the time, to his credit, when he signed Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League. When all but three of the team members shook Doby’s hand, Bill Veeck got rid of those three. Veeck tells the story of one Christmas when he bought a rocking horse for his granddaughter. It came in a box that contained 189 parts, with instructions that guaranteed it could be put together in an hour. Veeck said, “Sure it could, if you just graduated from MIT and had a machine shop in your basement.” He said it took him almost all night to put it together. He was so frustrated, so tired on Christmas Day, that when he wrote the check to pay for the rocking horse, he tore it into 189 pieces. He then sent the check with a note that said, “If you like putting things together so much, then work on this!” He concluded, by saying, “There’s one sad note to my story. They did.”
Now, you tell me, and be honest. Have you ever had trouble putting your life together? Have you ever had times in your life when you could not get all of the pieces to fit? There is an answer, and His name is Jesus. There is an answer, and His name is Christ. I cannot recall anywhere in the Bible where Jesus told His followers, “Believe the following things and your life is going to be OK. Do the following things and everything in your life will fall into place.” People believe that, but it’s not true. Jesus never said that. What He said was, “Follow Me.” What He said was, “Learn in your life what it means to trust.” Jesus said, “I did not come into this world to call the righteous, but sinners.” He said, “It is not the well who need a physician, but those who are sick.” Maybe you are thinking, “You don’t know my life. You have no idea what I have done.” You’re right. I don’t. (You don’t know what I’ve done, either.) But Jesus does. He knows my life and yours.
Do you want to know the truth about Christmas? Most people don’t want to know the truth. The truth about Christmas is that Jesus is the only person who has ever lived who was born into this world to die. And He was born to die, because you need a Savior, and so do I. And so, He did. He died, on a tree. And not one you will find at Home Depot, and not even in that first Christmas “family tree” from Matthew chapter one. But on a cross, on a hill called Calvary, for your sins and for mine. And so, what is it that makes this day so different? Why is this day so unique? And why are people, throughout the world, celebrating an event that happened so long ago? They are celebrating for many reasons, but one reason stands out above the rest. Jesus was God. He came into this world to save you. And He died, on a tree, so that you and I might live forever with Him. Believe it. Trust in it. Build your life upon it. God loves you more than you will ever know. Merry Christmas! Amen.
Prayer: Father, we thank You for this day and for the saving work You accomplished for us in Jesus. Help us to trust in Him, not only on this day when we celebrate His birth, but each day until You call us home eternally to live with You. In His name we pray. Amen.
Christmas Day Action: Be sure to include a pray of thanks to God as you celebrate this day. Include that prayer with your family or friends, or simply as one between you and God. On that first Christmas, He came into this world for you. And now, on this Christmas, He is inviting you to trust in Him.
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
52:7 How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains
the feet of a messenger who announces peace,
a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
8Listen, your watchmen shout;
in unison they shout for joy,
for they see with their very own eyes
the Lord’s return to Zion.
9In unison give a joyful shout,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the Lord consoles his people;
he protects Jerusalem.
10The Lord reveals his royal power
in the sight of all the nations;
the entire earth sees
our God deliver.(NET Bible)
2:1 Why do the nations rebel?
Why are the countries devising plots that will fail?
2The kings of the earth form a united front;
the rulers collaborate
against the Lord and his anointed king.
3They say, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us.
Let’s free ourselves from their ropes.”
4The one enthroned in heaven laughs in disgust;
the Lord taunts them.
5Then he angrily speaks to them
and terrifies them in his rage, saying,
6“I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy hill.”
7The king says, “I will announce the Lord’s decree. He said to me:
‘You are my son. This very day I have become your father.
and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
the ends of the earth as your personal property.
9You will break them with an iron scepter;
you will smash them like a potter’s jar.’”
10So now, you kings, do what is wise;
you rulers of the earth, submit to correction.
11Serve the Lord in fear.
Repent in terror.
12Give sincere homage.
Otherwise he will be angry,
and you will die because of your behavior,
when his anger quickly ignites.
How blessed are all who take shelter in him!(NET Bible)
1:1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.
5For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my son! Today I have fathered you”? And in another place he says, “I will be his father and he will be my son.” 6But when he again brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all the angels of God worship him!” (NET Bible)
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 2The Word was with God in the beginning. 3All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.
6A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. 9The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children— 13children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.
14Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. (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.