Readings: Isaiah 6:1-13; Psalm 147:1-12; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12; John 7:53-8:11
Lutherans, in particular, believe that it is critical to rightly discern the Law and the Gospel of God. St. Paul writes to Timothy, his beloved child, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). In a sermon for New Year’s Day 1532, preaching on Galatians 3:23-34, Martin Luther said, “This difference between the Law and the Gospel is the height of knowledge in Christendom. Every person and all persons who assume or glory in the name of Christian should know and be able to state this difference.”
This difference or distinction is something every pastor tries to convey to Sunday school students, confirmands and lay members. It is especially challenging when reading a passage like the Gospel appointed for today, which is both Law and Gospel at the same time! How is this so?
Rightly handling the word of truth means rightly understanding how it may be both Law and Gospel, depending upon who is hearing this word. In our passage, those who are all too ready to condemn the woman caught in adultery believed they were righteous in their judgment, standing with stones in hand. However, Jesus calls them out, saying, “Fine, whoever is without sin, let him cast the first stone!” And here the Lord convicts every one of the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees, for as every sinner, in the eyes of God, deserves death, who would presume to throw the first stone? Because the wages of sin is death and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, all are convicted by the Law. At the same time, the bad news that we are all sinners deserving death, is also good news, in that we have, with the woman in adultery, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. He is gracious and merciful, saving us, yet calling us to respond, saying, “Go and sin no more!”
Prayer: Lord our God, we thank You for the Law which convicts and the Gospel of Jesus Christ which saves. Empower us by Your grace to “go and sin no more!” Amen.
Advent Action: Do you know someone in need of a word of grace and mercy? Give it!
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
12:44 On that day men were appointed over the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits, and tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions prescribed by the law for the priests and the Levites, for the people of Judah took delight in the priests and Levites who were ministering. 45They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, along with the singers and gatekeepers, according to the commandment of David and his son Solomon. 46For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the singers and for the songs of praise and thanks to God. 47So in the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah, all Israel was contributing the portions for the singers and gatekeepers, according to the daily need. They also set aside the portion for the Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.
13:1 On that day the book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people. They found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite may ever enter the assembly of God, 2for they had not met the Israelites with food and water, but instead had hired Balaam to curse them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into blessing.) 3When they heard the law, they removed from Israel all who were of mixed ancestry.
4But before this time, Eliashib the priest, a relative of Tobiah, had been appointed over the storerooms of the temple of our God. 5He made for him a large storeroom where previously they had been keeping the grain offering, the incense, and the vessels, along with the tithes of the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil as commanded for the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the offering for the priests.
6During all this time I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes of Babylon, I had gone back to the king. After some time I had requested leave of the king, 7and I returned to Jerusalem. Then I discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah by supplying him with a storeroom in the courts of the temple of God. 8I was very upset, and I threw all of Tobiah’s household possessions out of the storeroom. 9Then I gave instructions that the storerooms should be purified, and I brought back the equipment of the temple of God, along with the grain offering and the incense.
10I also discovered that the portions for the Levites had not been provided, and that as a result the Levites and the singers who performed this work had all gone off to their fields. 11So I registered a complaint with the leaders, asking, “Why is the temple of God neglected?” Then I gathered them and reassigned them to their positions.
12Then all of Judah brought the tithe of the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil to the storerooms. 13I gave instructions that Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and a certain Levite named Pedaiah be put in charge of the storerooms, and that Hanan son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah, be their assistant, for they were regarded as trustworthy. It was then their responsibility to oversee the distribution to their colleagues.
14Please remember me for this, O my God, and do not wipe out the kindness that I have done for the temple of my God and for its services!
15In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath, bringing in heaps of grain and loading them onto donkeys, along with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, and bringing them to Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. So I warned them on the day that they sold these provisions. 16The people from Tyre who lived there were bringing fish and all kinds of merchandise and were selling it on the Sabbath to the people of Judah—and in Jerusalem, of all places! 17So I registered a complaint with the nobles of Judah, saying to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 18Isn’t this the way your ancestors acted, causing our God to bring on them and on this city all this misfortune? And now you are causing even more wrath on Israel, profaning the Sabbath like this!”
19When the evening shadows began to fall on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be closed. I further directed that they were not to be opened until after the Sabbath. I positioned some of my young men at the gates so that no load could enter on the Sabbath day. 20The traders and sellers of all kinds of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you repeat this, I will forcibly remove you!” From that time on they did not show up on the Sabbath. 22Then I directed the Levites to purify themselves and come and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy.
For this please remember me, O my God, and have pity on me in keeping with your great love.
23Also in those days I saw the men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24Half their children spoke the language of Ashdod (or the language of one of the other peoples mentioned) and were unable to speak the language of Judah. 25So I entered a complaint with them. I called down a curse on them, and I struck some of the men and pulled out their hair. I had them swear by God saying, “You will not marry off your daughters to their sons, and you will not take any of their daughters as wives for your sons or for yourselves. 26Was it not because of things like these that King Solomon of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. But the foreign wives made even him sin! 27Should we then in your case hear that you do all this great evil, thereby being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign wives?”
28Now one of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. So I banished him from my sight.
29Please remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, the covenant of the priesthood, and the Levites.
30So I purified them of everything foreign, and I assigned specific duties to the priests and the Levites. (NET Bible)
130:1 A song of ascents.
From the deep water I cry out to you, O Lord.
2O Lord, listen to me.
Pay attention to my plea for mercy.
3If you, O Lord, were to keep track of sins,
O Lord, who could stand before you?
4But you are willing to forgive
so that you might be honored.
5I rely on the Lord.
I rely on him with my whole being;
I wait for his assuring word.
6I yearn for the Lord,
more than watchmen do for the morning,
yes, more than watchmen do for the morning.
7O Israel, hope in the Lord,
for the Lord exhibits loyal love
and is more than willing to deliver.
8He will deliver Israel
from all their sins.(NET Bible)
7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so no wind could blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. 2Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He shouted out with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given permission to damage the earth and the sea: 3“Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees until we have put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” 4Now I heard the number of those who were marked with the seal, 144,000, sealed from all the tribes of the people of Israel:
5From the tribe of Judah, 12,000 were sealed,
from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000,
from the tribe of Gad, 12,000,
6from the tribe of Asher, 12,000,
from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000,
from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000,
7from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000,
from the tribe of Levi, 12,000,
from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000,
8from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000,
from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000,
from the tribe of Benjamin, 12,000 were sealed.(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.