Worth the Wait: Advent Scriptures and Devotion for December 8

            Day eight of our Advent preparation is upon us. We will be ready in just over two weeks? If so, there is work to do. The carol says, ‚ÄúLet every heart prepare him room.‚Äù As we prepare our hearts, what needs to be done? Our readings today give us some insight.

            If the Lord were coming to visit your home, what would you clean or prepare first? Many folks would cook their favorite recipes, change the sheets, dust and vacuum, clean the mirrors and windows, take out the trash, and the list goes on. What do you notice about this list? These are externals. If the Lord were to visit your house, I don‚Äôt think he would be overly concerned with your stuff. He would be much more interested in your heart and soul! Jesus would want you, first and foremost, to have a pure heart. How embarrassing if you were not aware of Jesus‚Äô expectations. What a gift it would be if someone would tell you what you really need to do to get ready. That is exactly what Malachi prophecies in our first reading.

 
Malachi 3:1-4

 
            ‚ÄúBehold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
          Malachi offers us an amazing insight into what was to take place before the Messiah would appear. A forerunner would be sent by the Lord to prepare the way for His appearing. This ‚Äúmessenger‚Äù would proclaim the word of the covenant when he arrived. His proclamation to Judah and Jerusalem was to be one of purification, and this appeal was to be for everyone. Who will stand when he appears? Let‚Äôs face it. There is no one who stands on their own righteousness (See Romans 3:10). Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)! A clarion call will precede the Messiah ‚Äì summoning the people of God to a state of purity before He comes. As impure metal like gold and silver is refined, so God‚Äôs people would require cleansing from their iniquity.  Only when the people offer their gifts in righteousness will these gifts be acceptable to God. The externals are meaningless to God, unless your internal disposition is right.

 
Psalm 126:1-6
            When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. 2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‚ÄúThe Lord has done great things for them.‚Äù 3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. 4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. 5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. 6 Those who go out weeping,     carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

            Psalm 126 speaks of the return of God‚Äôs people from the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC. Restoration of God‚Äôs people meant more than reclaiming their land. It also meant a return of God‚Äôs Presence and a reinstitution of the covenant that defined their relationship with God. When God restores the fortunes of His people, He will bless His people like a river overflowing its banks. Joy will replace sadness, the people will sing songs to the Lord and proclaim His deeds to the nations. And, finally, the people of God will begin to produce a harvest again! Simply put, God‚Äôs people were supposed to be the big brother to the brotherhood of nations. All nations were to come to Jerusalem to worship God. This was the harvest to be reaped by God‚Äôs chosen ones. This outreach or evangelism effort did not really occur. Instead, the people of God became exclusionary and held contempt for other nations. The Gentiles were referred to as ‚ÄúDogs‚Äù.

 
            Oh, but a day would come when God would reestablish His people in a much more complete way than occurred in the mid-500s BC. According to John 1, Jesus was coming to ‚Äútabernacle‚Äù with God‚Äôs people (John 1:14). His Presence would be known by the people, because He would dwell with them. Indeed, the covenant would not only be renewed, it would be transformed into the New Covenant. Like the Negev springing forth, God‚Äôs blessings would flow from the wounded side of Jesus, and from the heavenly throne of God to those who love the Lord (Rev. 21:1-2). This idea also involves the ‚Äúliving water,‚Äù which is symbolic for the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39). Those who followed Jesus knew true joy and abundant life. But there is more. Jesus disciples took very seriously the task of spreading the Gospel around the world ‚Äì to Jews and Gentiles. The Psalmist‚Äôs words would come to pass in the restoration of Jerusalem in the 6thcentury. But there would be a complete fulfillment when the Messiah appeared and the New Covenant Church emerged!

 
Philippians 1:1-6, 8-11
            Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all God‚Äôs holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ‚Äîto the glory and praise of God.
 
            The Philippians passage teaches us that the Lord is still at work. He who began the work is not giving up on it. To the contrary, He will be faithful to complete it, until the ‚ÄúDay of Jesus Christ.‚Äù So, as we wait for the glorious appearing of Jesus in His second coming, we should love each other well, grow in knowledge and discernment, so that we realize what is really important. As the Apostle Paul wrote, we do this, ‚ÄúSo that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.‚Äù This is the standard preached by the messenger prophesied way back in Malachi. Be pure and righteous for the ‚ÄúDay of Christ‚Äù is approaching! This is also the message for us today! We should ‚Äúcome clean‚Äù before the Lord often. Repentance and confession are gifts of grace to us from our Holy God. They are the tools or avenues God has given to us for the purification of our hearts. They help us stay prepared. As the old spiritual says, ‚ÄúKeep your lamps trimmed and burning, the time is drawing nigh!‚Äù

 
Luke 3:1-6

 
            In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar‚Äîwhen Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene‚Äî during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‚ÄúA voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‚ÄòPrepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God‚Äôs salvation.‚Äô‚Äù
            Luke 3:1-6 reveals the fulfillment of Malachi‚Äôs prophecy. The forerunner sent to prepare the way was none other than John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. It was held by the Hebrews that before the Messiah came, Elijah would return. Malachi 4:5 states, ‚ÄúSee, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.‚Äù Though John denied being Elijah (John 1:21), Jesus recognized John as the fulfillment of this expectation concerning Elijah. In Matthew 17:10-13, The disciples asked him, ‚ÄúWhy then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?‚Äù  Jesus replied, ‚ÄúTo be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.‚Äù Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. It is also interesting that the very place where John appears and was baptizing (John 1:28) is traditionally held to be the exact spot from which Elijah was taken up in the chariot (2 Kings 2:6, 11-12). So, John, being likened to Elijah by Jesus, gives evidence that Jesus is none other than the Messiah! All of the prophecies are fulfilled in Christ.

            What was the message that John was preaching? John was preaching a message of preparation and purity. He was calling the people to repent and be baptized for the Messiah would soon arrive. Both concepts, repentance and baptism, are replete with connections to purity. Malachi‚Äôs prophecies and Isaiah‚Äôs prophecies (Isaiah 40:4-5) rang true in this man John. He was making a way through the wilderness for our God. The rough places would be smooth. The crooked would be made straight. The valleys would be raised, and the mountains brought low!

          Most of us are pretty obsessed with the externals. How do I look? How does my house look? But, the Lord is most interested in your ‚Äúinternals‚Äù. That is, your heart, mind and soul. This Advent, can you hear the voice of one crying in the wilderness? Do you need to repent ‚Äì to turn from sin, sorrow and sadness, and be brought back with joy and singing into a renewed covenant with the Lord? I know I do. ‚ÄúLord, purify our hearts, so that our gifts might be acceptable unto you. Amen.‚Äù

Blessings for a wonderful eighth day of Advent!

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