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Tuesday of the First Week in Advent

Tension. Perhaps an understatement, but that’s what’s going on with Jesus in this little test — and Jesus perceives it right away! When I think about tension, I think about something like a rope, or wire, that connects two things, pulled tight — maybe to the point of breaking. Yes, Jesus’ ministry and teachings have strained relationships, especially relationships with the religious authorities. Israel itself is in tension with an occupier that promotes a pantheon of gods. In fact, that’s probably what’s going on here when the scribes and chief priest pose a question about the emperor. The emperors, dead and alive, weren’t just seen as modest governors, but gods. Every person in Jesus’ day would have been familiar with the “emperor cult”, and they were reminded of it every time they touched a Denarius with an emperor’s image on it. Jewish coins, especially during Jesus’ time, had no images on them in order to obey the commandment against graven image.
So, the question is a loaded one: “Who do you bow to? Who do you serve?” Likely even, “Who do you worship?” Jesus does not take the bait, but puts the tension back on the questioners; a little wise jujitsu.
Although we tend to see Jesus’ answer as being “wise as a serpent”, we should remember that the disciples are right there listening too. Some of His Zealot disciples may have been leaning forward to hear the answer, since they were against supporting Rome with tax money. Others were getting a foretaste of the tension they would face as they publicly proclaimed in gentile Roman cities that there is no other Son of God than Jesus. According to Church tradition, the fates of Peter, Paul, and many others, for several centuries, were connected to simply not acknowledging Caesar as a god or a son of a god.
So, this is just ancient stuff, right? After all, we don’t face choices between bowing, serving, worshiping God, or something else, right? We would never make cults of political leaders, right?
I hope you are hearing the rhetorical tone in my voice.
Of course, we face this same tension today, especially as people trying to be faithful followers of Jesus. The season of Advent calls us back to readiness as we strive on in a world that puts us in tension with God’s ways. It is so easy, especially during holiday seasons, to shift our bowing, our serving, even our worship to something other than God (politicians, food, drink, possessions, etc.). During this early part of Advent, some of us might even be thinking about year-end taxes, and what we must render.
But, just like the tension of taxes, the tenson of turning our focus to something other than God will never leave us. And so, you’ll notice that Jesus gives neither the scribes, His disciples, nor us, an answer — but leaves us with the tension to make our choice. Maybe that’s the most faithful spiritual posture for Advent, to have a little tension with the world. Sounds like “readiness”, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is exactly our tension with the world that frees us to give to God the things that belong to God. I hope and pray this is true for you this week!

Prayer: Dear God, it is not hard for us to feel or notice tension in our lives; in our relationships and because of our obsession with this and that. What is hard is to see them as signs. So, use the tensions in our lives this week to guide us, so that in all our relationships and obsessions, we may be bowing to You, serving You, worshiping You; and no other. Amen.

Devotion written by The Rev. Dr. Jesse J. Abbott

This daily prayer and Bible reading guide, Devoted to Prayer (based on Acts 2:42), was conceived and prepared by the Rev. Andrew S. Ames Fuller, director of communications for the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). After several challenging years in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been provided with a unique opportunity to revitalize the ancient practice of daily prayer and Scripture reading in our homes. While the Reading the Word of God three-year lectionary provided a much-needed and refreshing calendar for our congregations to engage in Scripture reading, this calendar includes a missing component of daily devotion: prayer. This guide is to provide the average layperson and pastor with the simple tools for sorting through the busyness of their lives and reclaiming an act of daily discipleship with their Lord. The daily readings follow the Lutheran Book of Worship two-year daily lectionary, which reflect the church calendar closely. The commemorations are adapted from Philip H. Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals and Commemorations, a proposed common calendar of the saints that builds from the Lutheran Book of Worship, but includes saints from many of those churches in ecumenical conversation with the NALC. The introductory portion is adapted from Christ Church (Plano)’s Pray Daily. Our hope is that this calendar and guide will provide new life for congregations learning and re-learning to pray in the midst of a difficult and changing world.

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