This series of Advent devotionals is based on the themes of Advent, continuing with the theme of Love. For this fourth week, all of the Bible quotations are taken from the “writings” of the Hebrew Bible.
Since Advent always begins with a Sunday, this set of devotions can be used any year! Note that this week assumes that Christmas begins on Tuesday, as it was written for 2018 – if you use this with your church, you may need to change this to fit the week more accurately.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Our fourth week of Advent focuses on love. It’s awfully close to Christmas and so many of us are spending these few remaining days traveling, last minute gift shopping, and making all the preparations for feast with family and friends. This, by itself is overwhelming enough, but when there are people who cannot join us at the table – people who may never return – our hearts can be heavy as we try to celebrate these holy days. But Proverbs speaks to us – “a cheerful heart has a continuous feast.” “Cheerful” might not be the best translation – the word is simply “good.” A good heart, one that lives in love despite the pain of life – that heart can be part of a continual feast! Proverbs goes on to remind us that even if we only have little, if we hold to the Lord, it is better than a great treasure! And even if our food isn’t the fanciest, trendiest, most beautiful looking dish on the internet – making it with love, sharing it with love is our great blessing. Let go of perfection and embrace the good grace of these precious moments! Join the feast of love!
Tonight and tomorrow, our Christmas celebrations will be in full swing! But so often our hard work and earnest expectations unravel into arguments and strife. Here, scripture reminds us that we can learn from our coming savior and let our words be life-giving, patient, and understanding. We can breathe and let go of anger and frustration. In this season of love, we have no room for hate. After all, we’re busy making room for the coming Christ child in our hearts! We have had enough strife, we need love that covers all offenses, forgives all wrongs, heals all wounds. We need love that is broad enough and soft enough to enfold us all in unity and harmony.
Merry Christmas! You might be wondering why we’re looking at a scripture passage from such a different time and place on Christmas Day. This passage comes from a celebration after the Second Temple was built. These people had been in war and exile, suffering, starving, dying. Finally, not only are they home, but they can fully worship God in their own land! Look at all the words of praise and excitement and joy in this passage! The glory of the Lord fills up that holy place so much that the priests couldn’t keep doing their duties! When God comes into your house, everything else stops. Some can dance, make music, or sing – others just marvel. This word “glory” comes from a root that means “heavy,” “weighty” or “numerous.” We praise God’s ceaseless, unfailing love that catches us up in unimaginable grace. Then the “muchness” of God fills the air, the gravity of the Christ child, the abundance of the Spirit. Amidst all the goings on of the day, look for that weight and that love.
Now that we are in Christmastide, our shift focuses to this new, precious life, lying in a manger. We look backwards and forwards in time and see God reviving the holy people, offering life and new life time and again. Because Jesus came into the world, because Jesus comes into the world, because Jesus will come into the world again – our eyes have been brightened by God’s steadfast love. The One who gave us life knows how to give our lives depth, meaning, purpose, and strength. Our lives may be accounted little in this world, but because we are children of God, joined in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our savior, we shine on boldly. May God guide us into the work that gives our life life!
We would probably all agree that each life has many different seasons. But if you asked us what those seasons are, you might get as many answers as there are people! Some seasons are full of hope, peace, joy, and love, while others seem to bring only loss, failure, and broken-heartedness. This passage from Ecclesiastes doesn’t promise us good or ill. It comes alongside our season of life (whatever it is) and says there is a set time for it. There is no judgment or expectation that you should feel this way or that; that your failings have caused this; that God is punishing you. It just says – these things happen, but they are not permanent. Life is changing and changeable so find what you can in your own season. Make the meaning that you can; learn the lessons that offer themselves. Love where you can, heal where you can, embrace while you can. The seasons will change, but the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. Thank God!
Every Sunday we pray a prayer of confession, trusting in God’s steadfast love and mercy to forgive us. But how often do we confess on our own? Does it feel natural or forced? Do we attack ourselves too grievously or do we too easily let ourselves off the hook? Daniel’s prayer of confession is humble, self-aware, and direct. He names what he and his people have done wrong and rests all his hope on God’s mercy rather than his own righteousness. Daniel confesses, “we have not listened to your servants the prophets,” yet, he asks God to hear, to forgive, to listen and act. As we remember so many miracles this Christmastide, let us not forget the power of listening. God listening to and loving humanity has impacted every life that has ever been. Think what a difference we could make if we took more care in listening to those around us!
“Strong” is probably not the first word that comes to mind when we think of love Many would tell us that loving makes us weak. But this word for “strong” means powerful, fierce, mighty, even brazen! For love God made the world. For love Christ was born into it to conquer sin and death. For love the Spirit stirs us on to bold acts of righteousness and compassion. The body of Christ is a body of love – seemingly conquered by the anger and hatred of the world, yet unconquerable in grace and glory. The love that we partake in as followers of Christ is unquenchable, unassailable, undeniable. This is our strength and this is our heart.