Readings: Isaiah 3:1-4:1; Psalm 102; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12; Luke 20:41-21:4
We’ll spend one more day in Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica before returning to the Gospel of Luke. Today’s reading is helpful because the apostle is speaking directly and clearly about “how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing.”
Because Lutherans (and other Christians) cling to the Good News that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, apart from good works, we sometimes are accused (and are guilty) of neglecting to consider how we ought to live and to please God. Martin Luther’s opponents challenged him, asking, “If you assure people that they are saved by grace apart from works, how will you convince them to love God and neighbor?” And indeed, twice Luther became so frustrated with the lack of response from his parishioners in Wittenberg that he went on preaching “strikes,” refusing to preach to the people because of their weak response and lack of love.
Paul writes that the Thessalonians had no need of being told to love one another, for they seemed to have learned that lesson well, from God. Yet, he reminds them of how to live lives pleasing to God: abstain from unchastity, live in holiness and honor, live quietly, mind your own affairs, “work with your hands…and be dependent on nobody.”
The call of Advent is to “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3) to speed His coming. We prepare His way when we live lives that are pleasing to God, “worthy of the calling to which (we) have been called, with all lowliness and meekness…forbearing one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2 rsv). Paul writes, “love all the brethren…But we exhort (strongly encourage/urge) you…to do so more and more.”
Prayer: Lord God, because we are saved by your grace through faith in Jesus, help us to live lives that are pleasing to You, holy and chaste, kind and loving. Amen.
Advent Action: Reach out with a loving word or gesture to someone who is hard to love.
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 On the twenty-fourth day of this same month the Israelites assembled; they were fasting and wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust. 2Those truly of Israelite descent separated from all the foreigners, standing and confessing their sins and the iniquities of their ancestors. 3For one-fourth of the day they stood in their place and read from the book of the law of the Lord their God, and for another fourth they were confessing their sins and worshiping the Lord their God. 4Then the Levites—Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Kenani—stood on the steps and called out loudly to the Lord their God. 5The Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah—said, “Stand up and bless the Lord your God!”
“May you be blessed, O Lord our God, from age to age. May your glorious name be blessed; may it be lifted up above all blessing and praise. 6You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, along with all their multitude of stars, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You impart life to them all, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
7“You are the Lord God who chose Abram and brought him forth from Ur of the Chaldeans. You changed his name to Abraham. 8When you perceived that his heart was faithful toward you, you established a covenant with him to give his descendants the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, and the Girgashites. You have fulfilled your promise, for you are righteous.
9“You saw the affliction of our ancestors in Egypt, and you heard their cry at the Red Sea. 10You performed awesome signs against Pharaoh, against his servants, and against all the people of his land, for you knew that the Egyptians had acted presumptuously against them. You made for yourself a name that is celebrated to this day. 11You split the sea before them, and they crossed through the sea on dry ground. But you threw their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into surging waters. 12You guided them with a pillar of cloud by day and with a pillar of fire by night to illumine for them the path they were to travel.
13“You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven. You provided them with just judgments, true laws, and good statutes and commandments. 14You made known to them your holy Sabbath; you issued commandments, statutes, and laws to them through Moses your servant. 15You provided bread from heaven for them in their time of hunger, and you brought forth water from the rock for them in their time of thirst. You told them to enter in order to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.(NET Bible)
125:1 A song of ascents.
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved and will endure forever.
2As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
now and forevermore.
3Indeed, the scepter of a wicked king will not settle
upon the allotted land of the godly.
Otherwise the godly
might do what is wrong.
4Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
to the morally upright.
5As for those who are bent on traveling a sinful path,
may the Lord remove them, along with those who behave wickedly.
May Israel experience peace.(NET Bible)
3:7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write the following:
“This is the solemn pronouncement of the Holy One, the True One, who holds the key of David, who opens doors no one can shut, and shuts doors no one can open: 8‘I know your deeds. (Look! I have put in front of you an open door that no one can shut.) I know that you have little strength, but you have obeyed my word and have not denied my name. 9Listen! I am going to make those people from the synagogue of Satan—who say they are Jews yet are not, but are lying—look, I will make them come and bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth. 11I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. 12The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God), and my new name as well. 13The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’(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.