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  • Writer's pictureNijay K. Gupta

Great Expectation: An Advent Devotional 2023 | PEACE


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

Advent Devotional Week 2: Peace


Scripture Reading: Isaiah 49:1-11


Is. 40:1 “Comfort, comfort my people,”

says your God.

2 “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

Tell her that her sad days are gone

and her sins are pardoned.

Yes, the LORD has punished her twice over

for all her sins.”

3 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,

“Clear the way through the wilderness

for the LORD!

Make a straight highway through the wasteland

for our God!

4 Fill in the valleys,

and level the mountains and hills.

Straighten the curves,

and smooth out the rough places.

5 Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,

and all people will see it together.

The LORD has spoken!”a

6 A voice said, “Shout!”

I asked, “What should I shout?”

“Shout that people are like the grass.

Their beauty fades as quickly

as the flowers in a field.

7 The grass withers and the flowers fade

beneath the breath of the LORD.

And so it is with people.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fade,

but the word of our God stands forever.”

9 O Zion, messenger of good news,

shout from the mountaintops!

Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.a

Shout, and do not be afraid.

Tell the towns of Judah,

“Your God is coming!”

10 Yes, the Sovereign LORD is coming in power.

He will rule with a powerful arm.

See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.

11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd.

He will carry the lambs in his arms,

holding them close to his heart.

He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.



The Beginning of the Good News (Isaiah’s Edition)


The average American has about $40,000 in college student debt. Imagine you have a dream one night that the US government completely forgave your debt. How would that feel? Imagine the weight lifted off your shoulders. Imagine the financial stress melting away. Isaiah 49:1-11 was like a dream for exiled Israel. “Comfort, comfort my people,” YHWH says to Isaiah. But this isn’t a dream, it’s a prophecy and a promise.

Sometimes, Israel is called the 5th Gospel, because Isaiah has so much prophetic material that vividly points ahead to Jesus. But there is another reason that Isaiah is given this title, or another title, the “Old Testament Gospel”: because Jesus and the apostles took the language of “gospel” right out of Isaiah, especially passages like this. The word “gospel” comes from the old English term “Godspell” (“good” + “spell”), which means “good news.” And Isaiah 40:9 makes reference to a messenger or herald running up to the mountain to announce to Israel “good news,” i.e., the gospel.

So, what is the gospel, what is the good news? This Israelite herald isn’t talking about the afterlife, or personal spiritual fulfillment. The great “gospel” promise is exactly what he preaches in 40:10: “Your God is coming.” If the story of sin in the Old Testament is a story of God’s creatures rejecting the Creator, Isaiah announces the solution: God is coming back to be with us again.

Having a debt paid off is a great feeling, and hearing about it is definitely good news. But Isaiah’s “good news” is even better. God would come back and reconcile with Israel, restore them, live with them, and lead them. In lonely exile, they were a flock without a shepherd. But they could rest assured that God would return to scoop these beloved lambs in His arms and hold them close to his heart.


Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. Aside from the good news of the gospel, what is another occasion in your life where “good news” made a big impact on you?

  2. Forgiveness is powerful. What makes it hard to forgive someone? What would make it easier?

  3. As you read through Isaiah 40:1-11, think through or talk through ways that Jesus fulfills some of the things the prophet Isaiah talked about. (For example, Jesus revealed the glory of God [Isaiah 40:5] in his Transfiguration.)

 

Scripture Reading: Ps 85:1-13


Psa. 85:1 LORD, you poured out blessings on your land!

You restored the fortunes of Israel.

2 You forgave the guilt of your people—

yes, you covered all their sins. Interlude

3 You held back your fury.

You kept back your blazing anger.

4 Now restore us again, O God of our salvation.

Put aside your anger against us once more.

5 Will you be angry with us always?

Will you prolong your wrath to all generations?

6 Won’t you revive us again,

so your people can rejoice in you?

7 Show us your unfailing love, O LORD,

and grant us your salvation.

8 I listen carefully to what God the LORD is saying,

for he speaks peace to his faithful people.

But let them not return to their foolish ways.

9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,

so our land will be filled with his glory.

10 Unfailing love and truth have met together.

Righteousness and peace have kissed!

11 Truth springs up from the earth,

and righteousness smiles down from heaven.

12 Yes, the LORD pours down his blessings.

Our land will yield its bountiful harvest.

13 Righteousness goes as a herald before him,

preparing the way for his steps.


Revive Us Again


I love those TikTok videos of the sheep stuck in thorny bushes or some crevice and the caretaker works hard to wrestle her free, and then she leaps out of the crevice with joy…only to immediately get stuck again. These are at the same time hilarious and gut-wrenching, because we can all relate to self-inflicted pain or problems. And what a pain to go from freedom to misery in an instant.

Psalm 85 reflects just this sort of situation for Israel. The first three verses are a word of thanksgiving for divine blessing and restoration. This could be the song Israel sings when it first returned home from exile. But by verse 4, Israel is back to grief and lament, wondering why the restoration didn’t last that long. Verse 6 is a plea for another revival; it turns out, coming home from Babylonian exile didn’t offer the full and complete restoration Israel desired. They came home to their own land, which was by the grace of God, but all was not well. There was still sinfulness in human hearts, a temple to rebuild, enemies to fight off, and rivalries and competition within Israel’s leadership. They experienced the beginning of the good news, but they were still awaiting the full and complete restoration.

Psalm 85 speaks to a lesson that all of God’s people need to hear, whether two thousand years ago, or today. God’s saving work is definitive; He steps in at key moments to move His plan forward, but on our end of things, what is necessary is daily faith, trust, and obedience. Look at how the psalmist puts his finger on the problem of this cycle of divine punishment and divine restoration: “let [Israel] not return to their foolish ways” (85:8).

As we celebrate the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, it is a great comfort to know that God sent His Son to deal with the problem of sin and to save His people once and for all. But Psalm 85 still rings true, the Messiah comes to teach and train his people to live wisely and not foolishly. And His salvation is not “one and done,” but an ongoing guidance and redemption if we follow Him one step at a time.


Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. What is an event or experience in your life where you were keenly aware of God’s blessings and presence?

  2. What are moments or occasions where you have felt distant from God?

  3. What are the most life-giving spiritual practices you turn to?

 

Scripture Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-15


2Pet. 3:8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. 9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.


11 Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, 12 looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. 13 But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.


14 And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.


15 And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved.


The Grace of Waiting


Waiting is hard. Just ask my kids, who long for Christmas as early as January 1. This year, right after Halloween, my kids wanted to start decorating for Christmas. There are other reasons why waiting is hard sometimes. In October, I got a bad case of the flu, and I knew it was not going to be a 24-hour recovery. It happened just as I imagined, it took weeks to get well fully. No matter how many remedies I tried, it seemed like getting better was going to be a matter of time, making slow progress day by day.

In this advent lectionary passage, Peter is comforting and encouraging his readers who are experiencing hardships in life and wonder—Why isn’t God doing anything about this? Jesus and the apostles had prophesied about a final day of judgment and transformation where the whole world would go through a re-making process, everything would be reset to “factory settings,” as it were. The world be as it ought to be. No wars, no cancer, no poverty, no abuse. But fifty plus years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, churches like those Peter was writing to were wondering, “Why hasn’t God brought about the promised new world order?” Peter offers this answer: God is not slow, He is patient, and He wants to give as many humans as possible the chance to be saved. And that leaves us (even two thousand years later) in a position of waiting, waiting patiently, because God has a plan and He is full of compassion. So—what do we do in the meantime? Peter tells us, dream about a world full of God’s justice and righteousness (3:13) and start to make that a reality here and now by living godly lives (3:11).

Advent is a season of waiting and longing, but this message from Peter reminds us that we still must live life in the waiting, and we are called to live good and just lives, living into the New Heavens and New Earth, just like Jesus himself taught, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. What is something you had to wait a long time for? It could be a package, or an experience or event.

  2. When you think about how God will remake a New Heavens and New Earth someday, what are you most excited about? How do you imagine it?

  3. What is going on in the world, in the news, or in your community that bothers you the most? Spend some time right now and pray for God’s justice and grace to bring change and healing to that matter.

 

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:1-8


Mark 1:1 This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began 2 just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

and he will prepare your way.

3 He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming!

Clear the road for him!’a”

4 This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 5 All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.


7 John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”


People, Get Ready!


What do you do when you plan a party and you are getting ready for people to come to your house? I’ll tell you what you do—you clean! You want everything to be neat and tidy and welcoming for your guests. As you think about the festivities, you get excited, you look forward to the food, conversation, and joy. But before the event is when the hard work takes place of scrubbing surfaces, sweeping, and rearranging furniture. Preparing for guests is a mixture of hard work and joyful anticipation.

Mark’s Gospel begins in a similar way. The very first verse is a trumpet-blast announcement that finally the prophesied “good news” is going to begin, the Messiah, the Son of God is coming. The party is going to happen, but there is work to be done first. John the Baptist is kind of the pre-party organizer, and his job is to clean house. Repent! Confess your sins! Get baptized! The Messiah will bring healing and salvation to the people, but the people still need to get ready. Their hearts and lives need to be cleansed to create a hospitable environment for the coming King. The baptism that John performed on penitent Judeans is different from Christian baptism. John’s baptism was a ritual of humility and repentance, a ritual of preparation for the Messiah.

While we no longer need John’s baptism in a formal way after the coming of Jesus, Advent is a good time to “clean house.” I’m not just talking about shampooing the carpet in preparation for holiday guests. Advent is also a good time to look at your inner and outer life and hear John’s call to confess your sins and turn to God. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he made the point that his sacrifice for their sin has purified their lives, but they still might need a bit of a rinse every now and then (John 13:10). What he meant was that Jesus’ forgiveness brings salvation, but we still accumulate spiritual “dirt” in our day to day lives, and confessing our sins and regular repentance should be regular parts of our spiritual habits. As you make your home “ready” for Christmas, think also about how you can prepare your heart.


Questions and Exercises for Personal Reflection and Group Conversation

  1. What are your favorite decorating traditions for Christmas? Do you enjoy getting the house ready for guests and holiday festivities?

  2. Exercise: Take some time today and confess your sins to God. This is a chance for you to get off your chest ways you have not done right by God and others, and perhaps also failed to act when you should have. But also know that you can acknowledge God’s gracious forgiveness for these sins because of Christ (1 John 1:9).




*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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