WEDNESDAY AFTER THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT
"I will make you as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
A person is never finished with God's Word after reading it once. There is much more to it than anyone can see at just a glance. When God spoke to Israel, 25 or 30 centuries ago, He also had the coming millennium in mind. He wove a picture of Christ not only into the prophecies, but also into the stories about Israel's kings and high priests. He wove a picture of the new Israel, Christ's Church, into the stories of Israel's people. He spoke to them and to us and to everyone in times to come. Therefore, there is often a double meaning in these words. What is said about Israel—God's chosen people who would convey His message of salvation to the whole world—tells us something about Jesus Christ too. It's also a message about and for His Church (the passage about salvation that we just read, for example).
God's salvation is something that has happened here on earth. It's not just an eternal truth or a spiritual power that has always existed and will always be true. Sin, misfortune, and the fall were real occurrences, things that happened and that still happen. They have their place in history. And they can be rectified only by another equally essential occurrence that also has its place in history. This is why God has intervened and worked among us. The history of salvation is a part of world history. It's this history that Scripture imparts to us. It's a history about real occurrences, real people who followed God's command, acts that were done in His name, words spoken on His behalf. That's the reason we can hear how He miraculously saved Joseph and kept his brothers alive, how God called Abraham from his country to be the father of a new nation, how Moses led God's persecuted people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. We follow the long and often bloody history of Israel's struggle for its existence and for its faith. It's not a story about morality or ethics, and we seldom meet any role models. But it's a story about how God's forgiveness could come into a world that didn't deserve it and didn't really want it. It's a story about God's light that shines in great darkness.
We often take for granted that God has to save the world by giving us righteous moral instructions and seeing to it that we live by them. But God says: "I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake" (Isaiah 43:25). This is the reason He sent Christ to us, not just as a great teacher and example, but as our Redeemer and Savior.
Lord, I cannot comprehend how You put up with all of us. You see the immense course the world is taking and its multitudes of people. And yet, You care so much for each and every one of us, as if You had no one else to think about. You know me better than I know myself. And all the great things You have done in the past, all Your wonderful deeds the Scriptures witness about, You've also done for my sake. Help me to see and know deep within my heart that all this is for me. Help me see Abraham as my father, a father for all believers, who walked in Your path so You could create a nation on earth that knows You. You have included me with these people. Your salvation stretches to the ends of the earth, and I have been able to hear about it for as long as I can remember. I pray to You for the grace to be a good child for Your people and a righteous servant of Your holy will. For Jesus' sake. Amen.
TUESDAY AFTER THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT
“To Me every knee shall bow."
When Israel received that promise long ago, even the most devout had a hard time believing it would be fulfilled. This promise was given at a time when Israel was as powerless and their entire existence was as threatened as any nation could be. Yet this remnant of a nation continued to embrace faith in the Lord of hosts. The idea that this faith would someday become a world religion must have appeared to all realistic men as preposterous fantasy.
Well over half a millennium later, Paul quoted this same passage when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. He wrote that God had exalted Jesus, whom men crucified, in order that at the very mention of His name, every knee would bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord (see Philippians 2:9-10). That kind of faith might have appeared to be equally preposterous, but when God gave His promise, He said, "From My mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return" (Isaiah 45:23). It turned out He is the only Savior, that everything is in His hands, and that it is folly to try to live as if He didn't exist. This doesn't mean that we admit that God was right through a majority vote. As long as people have the right to make free choices, not every one will rally around Him. On the contrary, the longer the world remains, the fewer the confessors will be. As humanity approaches the end of time, the Church will be a persecuted minority. Christ has made this clear to us. And yet God is still right. When He is finished with this world, when there is nothing left to gain from further delay or a lengthened period of mercy, then God's kingdom will come in all its clarity, overwhelmingly, "in His power."
Christ invited mankind to this kingdom. Every new Advent means that the invitation goes out to us once again. The kingdom of God is near. A greeting comes directly to us from our God, He who said to Israel: "I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, 'Seek Me in vain' " (Isaiah 45:19). God really doesn't want us to live in darkness. It was never His intention for us to get by with the small crumbs of religion we could scrape together from our own thoughts, from glimpses of His glory in creation, by feeling a breath of His holiness in our heart, or by worshiping in nature and staying with our conscience. It was never God's intention that these rays of hope would be enough for us. They tell us that God exists. They encourage us to seek Him. And He promises us that the search will not be in vain.
Lord, You alone awakened my longing for You. I never would have sought You out if You had not sought me. I never would have thought about You if I had not first been in Your thoughts. I know You are an unfathomable God, but You are also our Lord Jesus Christ's God and Father. It is Your glory that radiates from the face of Jesus. I know that my eyes cannot endure the sight of Your light, and yet You have let it come down here to earth, so mild and soft that I can see it. I know You are like a consuming fire, and yet the glow of Your zeal becomes like the warmth of a father's embrace when You come to me in the Savior. Teach me to know You better and better and to love You more and more. You have given me my life, and it's in Your power at this moment. Help me always say, truthfully and sincerely, that You are my life. Amen.
MONDAY AFTER THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT
"I am the LORD'S . . . the LORD'S."
That's how life really is, the prophet says. When God has poured out His Spirit, when everything is as it should be, this will be our greatest joy: that God exists, and that we belong to Him, live in His presence, and take part in His joy.
But it's not like that now. In this fallen and irreparable world, people tend to take one of two equally erroneous positions in their behavior toward God.
The first one is to make our own god. The prophet gives us a drastic and mocking description of this. A man forges and carves, chops down the trees, and cuts up the wood. He uses part of it as fuel, and he makes the rest of it into a god. Part of the wood ends up in the fire. And before the rest of it, he falls down on his knees and says, "Deliver me." We must remember that during the prophet's lifetime, this was accepted behavior for the cultured and powerful in the world. It was what everyone did—everyone except for one reluctant race of people on the edge of ruin who persisted in believing that their invisible God was Lord of the whole world.
The other attitude is probably the most common one in our day. It is portrayed by the prophet Isaiah when he describes the proud of Babylon. There was a particular mentality in this presumptuous city: the coddled and extravagant. They appeared so confident and secure. It can be expressed in the words: "I am, and there is no one besides me" (Isaiah 47:8). It can also be expressed as "No one sees me" (Isaiah 47:10). This is one of the signs of unbelief throughout time: the certainty of being alone, of being in possession of your own life, a life that received its breath by accident only to be snuffed out for all eternity in a world without meaning, with no binding standards or goals.
Sometimes we find ourselves between these two viewpoints. We might not believe in God, but we still have a foggy suspicion that there is a power that steers the world. The prophet Isaiah describes how the Babylonians measured the heavens and looked at the stars and at every new moon would attempt to predict their fate (47:13). In our day, we read our horoscope half-jokingly and yet with a dark fear of unknown powers—a last, crude, distorted reminder of the correct perception that we are not alone.
The truth is that we don't exist by chance. At the essence of our lives and also of the whole universe, there is a good will. We need not grope around in the darkness and attempt to create for ourselves a picture of this strange power that upholds everything. God has revealed Himself. He comes to us. We hear His voice. There's a very good reason for God creating us.
My God and Father, I thank You because I can call You Father. I thank You because I can talk with You. I thank You because I know You are not just a power that rules over everything or hides Your purposes and intentions from us. You share Your life and Your joy, the joy of existence, and the infinite wealth in Your kingdom. And since I belong to You and am a part of Your work, I pray that You let these words remain written on my mind and on my hands: "The Lord's own." I pray to You for thoughts like this, for desires like this, and for deeds like this so my whole life and character witness to how good it is to belong to You. Praise be to Your name that I have the opportunity to do it. Amen.
SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
This is the exact opposite of what people usually think. The everlastingness of matter has been one of this century's favorite dogmas (although it is now a little antiquated). People normally think that heaven and earth will exist no matter what happens. However, they, too, shall pass away, Christ says. Just as God Himself once said, "Let there be!" and everything came to be by His command and according to His will, there also will come a day when God will say there's no more time. People don't regard it as remarkable that God, in the beginning, created heaven and earth. As a matter of fact, the creation isn't any more remarkable—while a tremendous miracle—than God's revelation that He will create a new heaven and a new earth at the end of time.
Nothing in this world is eternal, with one exception: "My words will not pass away." There is one thing we encounter in this life we can deal with and attain that is eternal and will always exist: It's Christ's Word.
Christ calls Himself "the Word." He is the Word that was already there at the very beginning when the world was created. He is "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). He had something from God in Himself that can never be destroyed: "The eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us" (1 John 1:2). We acquire this life from Him through His Word. "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Therefore the Word extends itself into this life and allows us here, where everything is gradually decaying, to encounter something that will remain throughout time. To come in contact with the Word and receive what it has to give means that here in this world, we receive a piece of the world to come. It's this world to come that Jesus calls the kingdom of God. He speaks to us about this when He says the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe in the Gospel.
Dear Father in heaven, You are the origin of everything I see around me. You hold it in Your hand, and it exists only as long as You want. However, You have planted eternity in my heart. I have received something that only You possess. You have embraced me and enveloped me with something that can never pass away. I thank You because I have Your Word, because You allowed it to take hold of me, and because I can hold on to it. Never allow me to let go of it. May it hold me firmly, even if I should want to break free. I know that Your Word lasts forever, and I thank You for that. Amen.