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  • Writer's pictureNijay K. Gupta

Great Expectation: An Advent Devotional 2023 | LOVE

Advent Devotional Week 4: Love


This stunning illustration is by Kate Lab. You can find it and purchase it for yourself here. 



The focus of the fourth week of Advent is love. I am always reminded of one of my favorite Christmas songs, O Holy Night, and the lines: “Truly He taught us to love one another/His law is love and His gospel is peace.”


This week I encourage you to meditate on God’s love, especially shown through the sending of God’s Son in the Incarnation to save us from our sins.


Scripture Reading 1: 2 Samuel 7:1-16


2 Sam. 7:1 When King David was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all the surrounding enemies, 2 the king summoned Nathan the prophet. “Look,” David said, “I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of God is out there in a tent!”

3 Nathan replied to the king, “Go ahead and do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.”

4 But that same night the LORD said to Nathan,

5  “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD has declared: Are you the one to build a house for me to live in? 6  I have never lived in a house, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until this very day. I have always moved from one place to another with a tent and a Tabernacle as my dwelling. 7  Yet no matter where I have gone with the Israelites, I have never once complained to Israel’s tribal leaders, the shepherds of my people Israel. I have never asked them, “Why haven’t you built me a beautiful cedar house?”’

8 “Now go and say to my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader of my people Israel. 9  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have destroyed all your enemies before your eyes. Now I will make your name as famous as anyone who has ever lived on the earth! 10  And I will provide a homeland for my people Israel, planting them in a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won’t oppress them as they’ve done in the past, 11  starting from the time I appointed judges to rule my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. 

  “‘Furthermore, the LORD declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! 12  For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. 13  He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. 14  I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. 15  But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight. 16  Your house and your kingdom will continue before mea for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’”



God is On the Move


My family recently watched an excellent National Geographic TV series called A Small Light, about Anne Frank’s family in hiding and the friends who fed and protected them, and saved Anne’s diary from Nazi confiscation. One of the main characters of the series is Otto Frank, Anne’s father. What struck me about the way they told his story is the lengths to which he was determined to protect his family, especially his two daughters. He put at risk and sacrificed many things for the sake of their welfare, until the Nazis stormed their hiding place. Otto cared nothing of his own comfort and position, and only about his family. This passage from 2 Samuel (7:1-16) is also about a parental figure (God the Father) who was not preoccupied with his own comforts and welfare, but wanted to pour out blessings on his beloved children, Israel.

King David finds himself in a comfortable position, a luxurious mansion to enjoy (cedar, nonetheless!). And his thoughts turn to God’s dwelling place, a dilapidated old tent (the tabernacle), which pales in comparison to his own regal palace. David’s heart was in the right place, he wanted his God to enjoy a beautiful resting place worthy of His glory, but David was shortsighted. Israel’s story was far from over, and God wasn’t ready to rest yet. Having a mobile home (the tabernacle) was a sign that God was “on the move,” still enacting his great plan to redeem the whole world. 

But as God brings a special word to David at this moment, he tells him of a descendant of David who would establish a great kingdom and build a great temple for God. Now, when you read the Old Testament, it is obvious that God was talking about King Solomon. But when you read the Gospels, another light bulb goes off—God was pointing forward to King Jesus! 2 Samuel 7, sometimes called the “Davidic covenant,” has a double-fulfillment. It plays out in Solomon in a smaller way, and then in Jesus in a much bigger; Jesus heralds and embodies the great Kingdom of God, and Jesus buildings an indestructible temple through his resurrection body and the Spirit-filled church.

David wanted God to have a settled and permanent resting place, but God wasn’t ready yet and David had to wait. Advent is the perfect time to reflect on God’s words to David. I am not ready to rest, David; there’s work to do. The kingdom is being prepared. The greater King will elevate worship and life together to a whole new level. Just you wait. 

And though we now know the name of this special descendant—Jesus Christ—we still wait for the final form of the kingdom that was prophesied to David. It’s hard to wait, but it is waiting with anticipation, excitement, and hope. Christians who celebrate Advent recognize four themes in order: hope, peace, joy, and love. This text from 2 Samuel points to God’s love for Israel, like Otto Frank’s love for his daughters. God won’t rest until his people are safe and sound. 


Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. What is the fanciest house or hotel you have ever stayed in? Explain what features made it special or luxurious.

  2. What are some occasions in your life where you have felt uprooted, adrift, or lacking security? What helped you navigate those seasons?

  3. In the “church age,” the church is meant to be a “home away from home,” somewhere Christians find belonging and fellowship as we long and wait for Christ’s return. What are some ways churches can and do make believers “at home”? What can churches do to help people find belonging, security, love, and friendship with God and with others?

 

Scripture Reading 2: Luke 1:46-55


Luke 1:46    Mary responded,

   “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

47  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

48  For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

49  For the Mighty One is holy,

and he has done great things for me.

50  He shows mercy from generation to generation

to all who fear him.

51  His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

52  He has brought down princes from their thrones

and exalted the humble.

53  He has filled the hungry with good things

and sent the rich away with empty hands.

54  He has helped his servant Israel

and remembered to be merciful.

55  For he made this promise to our ancestors,

to Abraham and his children forever.”



It Was A Done Deal


God doesn’t act alone. That’s one of the biggest takeaways from this famous passage, traditionally called “The Magnificat” (from the Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible, where Mary says “my soul praises [or magnifies] the Lord”). God could have chosen to bring the Messiah into the world through another miraculous route. But God determined that Jesus would be born of a young, commoner girl named Mary. And here she sings a beautiful song, both about her own experience as the mother of the Messiah, but also about what God has done throughout history, showing mercy and grace to Israel, making good on his promises and commitments to rescue and redeem his people.

This is often called “Mary’s Song of Praise,” but we could also label it “Mary’s Song of Love,” specifically a song about God’s love. Think back to the first week of Advent, several of the readings were in lament form, wondering about the presence and blessing of God. God we are suffering, where are you? Mary’s voice is heard on the far side—The good news has come! In fact, Mary talks about using the past tense: He has scattered the proud, brought down princes, filled the hungry! In some sense, Mary is probably saying God has a strong track record of doing world-upending mighty things. But given the special baby kicking around in her belly, she was also imagining the transformative work of Jesus, so confident he was going to change the world that it was a done deal. It’s like a beleaguered army celebrating victory when they see reinforcements coming from far away—the war is not won yet, but the victory is sure and all there is left to do is hold on until the end. 

And, again, Mary was excited to be part of it all. She did much more than sing a song of praise—she bore the Messiah, raised him, taught him about God, nurtured him, she appears at various times throughout his ministry, and eventually had to witness his suffering and death on a cross. But her very first instincts were reverence (she told the angel Gabriel “Let it be to me as you have said”) and worship (“my soul praises the Lord”). We are also called to these things, as we journey closer to Christmastide. Reverence and worship, surrender and thanksgiving, trust and obedience. 


Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. When something good happens to you, what is your favorite way to celebrate? 

  2. Do you have a favorite song about God? What about your favorite Christmas hymn, song, or carol?

  3. Exercise: There is a fascinating biblical tradition of women praying or singing about God’s victories. Read and take note of the similarities between Exodus 15:20-21 (Miriam’s Song), 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Hannah’s Prayer), and Judges 5:1-31 (Deborah’s Song). Why are these women singing? Who are they talking to? What are they talking about? As “teaching songs,” what are they teaching?

 

Scripture Reading 3: Romans 16:25-27


Rom. 16:25  Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. 26 But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him. 27 All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.



God’s Master Plan


Most people have big plans for Christmas, but did you know God also has a plan for Christmas? I think when I was young, I assumed God just sits around in heaven waiting for people to worship him. But in this Scripture reading from the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he lays out how spiritual time works and the unfolding of God’s master plan. Let me break it down for you, keeping in mind we have to reverse how Paul presents it.


  1. After sin came into the world, humans were in dire need of rescuing (this is assumed here, but read Romans chapters 1-8), so God created a redemption plan

  2. Ancient Jews and Christians called this plan a “secret” or “mystery” because it was from being unknown to humans (before Christ) to becoming known.

  3. The plan was finally revealed in the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and living reign of Jesus Christ

  4. The plan was confirmed by the prophets and preached to the nations (Gentiles).

  5. The goal of God’s plan is not only to “save” sinners, but to strengthen believers who will experience challenges in this life

  6. The endgame of God’s plan is the “obedience of faith,” that Christian belief would form into Christian lives that look like Jesus Christ, God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven.


Now that we know what God wants, it should be clear that just going to church on Christmas (and Easter) and singing a few Christmas carols is not really the fulfillment of God’s glorious plan. Christmas comes in the middle of this plan where ultimately Christians live a life of worship and obedience to “reverse the curse,” as it were. Paul reminds the Roman Christians of this plan because their church was facing some challenges and needed a reminder of the big picture. Christmas is great, but Christmas is not a “one-off” holiday, it is the beginning of God’s plan of salvation now revealed. The Church has a tradition of celebrating twelve days of Christmastide after Advent. Then, I encourage you to consider learning more about “Epiphany(tide),” which focuses on the events around Jesus’ life after his birth.


Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. Are you good or bad at keeping secrets?

  2. Do you like surprises?

  3. Exercise: This may take some time, but sit down and think about the “timeline” of your own life. Can you break it down into “eras”? How would you do that? How have you grown as a person in each era? How has your relationship with God changed throughout each era?

 

Scripture Reading 4: Luke 1:26-38


Luke 1:26  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!b

Luke 1:29    Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Luke 1:34    Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

Luke 1:35    The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”

Luke 1:38    Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.


“I am the Lord’s Servant”


My very first “paycheck” job as an adult was in retail, I worked as a sales associate (over the phone) where I took 20-30 calls a day. I got paid just slightly more than minimum wage (and I had two master’s degrees at the time). It was so boring. So the company tried to do things to break up the monotony. I remember that at Christmas time, they did a lot of free giveaways where an employee was randomly selected and announced over a PA system. And one day, my name was called out loud—I had won a digital camera (this was before smartphones btw). I was in shock because I had never won anything before in my twenty five years of life. I felt like a million bucks as I left my cubicle and walked over to collect my prize. These kinds of random giveaways are fun precisely because there is nothing as joyful as feeling special.

Now, Mary’s gift was far greater than a Sony Cyber-Shot 10 megapixel digital camera. She was visited by the archangel Gabriel, kind of like the “chief of staff” of the heavenly President. Mary was a nobody from nowhere, but Gabriel says she is favored and that God was with her. She was specially selected to bear and look after the descendant of David who would rule God’s people forever and make everything right in the world. Mary was rightly in shock! More than that, she would not become pregnant through a traditional means, but miraculously through the power of the Holy Spirit. I can’t even try to imagine how Mary felt, but certainly there was some wonder and excitement, but also fear and anxiety—what would people say about my pregnancy? Would they believe that an angel visited me? Would I be shunned? 

The Catholic Church has sometimes called Mary the first disciple, or the spirit of the disciple, because of what Luke records as her response to Gabriel:  “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” This is her statement of acceptance. Gabriel had laid it all out, and she had thought about it and responded, “I’m in, what do we do next?” This moment would be over thirty years before it would be clear exactly who Jesus is. But Mary had the faith and courage to accept her role in God’s plan, even if the road ahead would surely be bumpy. As we transition from Advent to Christmas, this is a good time to think about how each of us would respond if Gabriel visited us and told us that God has a special but difficult role for us in His plan. Would we give in to fear or lean into faith? I think Luke took time to record this interaction between Gabriel and Mary, not only to testify to the story of the Incarnation, but also to serve as a model for Christian faith. God continues to call us to participate in his great plan and wants us to imitate Mary’s commitment and resolve. I am the Lord’s servant.


Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. Have you ever won anything? What is the most exciting thing you have won?

  2. If Gabriel appeared to you and told you that you had a special role in God’s plan, but there would be a great cost - how would you respond?

  3. Exercise: This gospel episode with Gabriel and Mary is traditionally called The Annunciation (“The Announcement”). Do a search in Google Images for “The Annunciation art.” There is a rich tradition of paintings and other visual art depicting this scene. Find a handful of images that interest you and then compare and contrast them. How do they depict Mary’s reaction? What is her posture? Her facial expressions? What else do you notice?


Thank you for reading through this Advent devotional series. If you want to continue to study and meditate with the liturgical calendar I highly recommend the short books in the “Fullness of Time” series from InterVarsity Press, especially Christmas (Emily Hunter McGowin) and Epiphany (Fleming Rutledge).



*Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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