Worth the Wait: Advent Scriptures and Devotion for December 10

          Today is the tenth day of our Advent preparations. As we look deeply into the Scriptures, we will begin to see the lights of Bethlehem just over the hill. The star has appeared, and the choir of angels is beginning to warm up. We will arrive soon, but there are still much work to do and lessons to learn.

          Today‚Äôs readings remind us just how HUGE the Incarnation is ‚Äì for God‚Äôs peopleas a whole, and for us as individuals. God had every reason to write humanity off! Frankly, each of us has given the Father good reason to give up on us. But, instead, He sends us His Son to, ‚Äúseek and to save those who are lost‚Äù (Luke 19:10)! The Incarnation of Jesus is the centerpiece of Salvation History ‚Äì for humanity, and for each of us!

            Surely, God must grow weary of the unfaithfulness of His children. From the very beginning, God has blessed us with everything we could need or want to live in communion with Him. And how do we respond?  Let‚Äôs take Adam and Eve. God blessed our primal parents with every kind of blessing (Genesis 1:28-30). He gave them dominion over the entire created order, and a covenant whereby they might be fruitful and multiply. Adam and Eve‚Äôs response was to turn their back on the ‚Äúgiver of every good and perfect gift‚Äù (James 1:17) at their very first opportunity to do so. Their sinful rebellion has reverberated through every subsequent generation (Romans 5:12)!

            How about the Children of Israel, God‚Äôs chosen people? They were also richly blessed! In Genesis 22:17-18, God says to Abraham, ‚ÄúI will surely bless you ‚Ķand through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.‚Äù This covenant with Abraham extended to the nation of Israel, God‚Äôs chosen people. They were blessed to have a relationship with God, and He gave them the ‚ÄúPromised Land‚Äù as their dwelling. Over and over again, the response of the Children of Israel was to rebel against God ‚Äì to turn to their own way ‚Äì and to worship the Gods of other nations. This resulted in God‚Äôs judgment falling on His people. They watched Jerusalem burn, witnessed many perish at the hands of foreign armies, and the remnant spent years in exile.

            What about us? We are also blessed greatly! Romans 1:3 states, ‚ÄúPraise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.‚Äù In Christ, we have every blessing that Adam, Eve, and the Israelites have‚Ķand more. But, also like Adam and Eve, and the Nation of Israel, we too have rebelled against God. Why does God put up with us? It really is no more complicated than this: ‚ÄúGod so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son‚Ķ‚Äù

            Isaiah 40 marks a turning point in the book of Isaiah. Chapters 1 through 39 deal with God‚Äôs righteous judgment falling on His unfaithful people. God had used King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and carry God‚Äôs people into captivity where they served as slaves. This is reminiscent of Israel‚Äôs time in Egypt as slaves of Pharaoh. And much like Moses was sent to reclaim God‚Äôs people, Chapter 40 reveals that God‚Äôs judgment is complete and a day of reclamation and reconciliation has come. Imagine, knowing that your homeland had been destroyed, that many of your loved ones were displaced or dead, and that your favor with God had been damaged. Now, the clouds were beginning to lift and the sun was starting to break through. The time for sorrow and sadness had passed. God was about to change everything! What relief and joy would flood your soul!!

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

            Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord‚Äôs hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: ‚ÄúIn the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.‚Äù A voice says, ‚ÄúCry out.‚Äù And I said, ‚ÄúWhat shall I cry?‚Äù ‚ÄúAll people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.‚Äù You who bring good news to Zion,  go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‚ÄúHere is your God!‚Äù 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.  

            Chapter 40:1-2 begins with wondrous words of encouragement and consolation. God speaks ‚Äúcomfort‚Äù to His people. These words are to be delivered tenderly to them. Israel and Judah have suffered enough. A new day is dawning. What has changed? God has declared that the long days of servitude and judgment have passed. And, that the people have received double judgment for their sin. God is now satisfied that His people have paid the price for their unfaithfulness. Why would God punish His chosen ones? Proverbs 3:11-12 states, ‚ÄúMy son, do not despise the Lord‚Äôs discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves.‚Äù Hebrews 12:10 says, ‚ÄúGod disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.‚Äù God‚Äôs judgment, based on love and His desire to purify His people, is now complete.

            Verses 3-5 reveal that there is still work left to be done. A voice is heard crying in the wilderness. This ‚Äúvoice‚Äù may represent other prophets, like Isaiah, but is most fully realized in John the Baptist (Matthew 3:3). The voice cries out that preparations must be made for the coming of the Lord. All obstacles must be removed. Where is this voice crying? He is in the wilderness, or the desert. We noted yesterday that the desert is a place of anguish, alienation, death and decay.  Humans were not meant to stay there! A very important highway will be built in the wilderness. This road has two purposes. We have previously described this highway as the, ‚Äúway of holiness. (Isaiah 35:8).‚Äù For us to access this path that leads out of desolation, it required repentance. John preached this message of repentance in Luke 3:3-9 as the ‚Äúvoice crying in the wilderness.‚Äù In speaking to the Pharisees, he said, ‚ÄúProduce fruit in keeping with repentance.‚Äù But, this highway has a second purpose. It will also be used by the Lord to come to us. Could it be that we need a guide on the journey out of the wasteland and back to the Promised Land? Thomas said to Jesus, ‚ÄúLord, we don‚Äôt know where you are going, so how can we know the way‚Äù (John 14:5)? Jesus said, ‚ÄúI am the Way.‚Äù Jesus came to show us the ‚ÄúWay‚Äù that leads to life. This highway is a two way street!

            When the Lord comes, the path will be made straight and narrow (Matthew 7:14). The mountains will be brought low. The valleys will be filled in. The crooked places will be made straight. And the rugged places made plain. Let‚Äôs face it, this road work is impossible for us, but all things are possible for God. In effect, by preparing our hearts for Him, He is making a Way for us ‚Äì and He will take care of the infrastructure work.

            Finally in verse 5 we see that a glorious occurrence transpires when these preparations are made, when God‚Äôs people repent and turn from sin. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people will see His salvation! Could it be that our sinfulness detracts from God‚Äôs glory being revealed to the world? How sad that the church loses much of its prophetic influence because we have not repented and walked the ‚Äúway of holiness.‚Äù What if we did truly repent and turn away from sin and back to the Lord? Would the glory of the Lord be revealed and all people see His salvation? To conclude, yes, would be consistent with the teaching of this passage.

            All of this is cause for shouting, and that is exactly what verse 9 tells us to do. Shout it from the mountaintops! Our ‚ÄúSovereign Lord‚Äù has come to rule with a ‚Äúmighty arm‚Äù. This is the language of kings who have prevailed in conflict. As one who has triumphed in battle, this King has gathered up the spoils of the victor, and what he has gathered to Himself? It is‚ĶUS!

            Unlike other kings who might parade us around to display their winnings, this victorious King holds us close as a loving Shepherd. He takes care of us as a Shepherd would tend His flock, and He is especially tender with those caring for their young ‚Äì the most vulnerable ones. Can you think of any Kings who were also Shepherds? David comes to mind. But the ultimate answer is Jesus ‚Äì the King of kings who is also the Good Shepherd.

            What an amazing announcement Isaiah 40 is. God was reconciling with His estranged people. After years of separation, He called the people to repentance, and preparation, and announced that He was coming as King and Shepherd. Now he holds His precious ones close to his heart. As the old hymn says, ‚ÄúThere is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God.‚Äù Like John, the beloved disciple, reclined on Jesus breast (John 13:13), so too, we are given this invitation. ‚ÄúCome unto me, all of you who are weary and heavy laden, I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28)‚Äù

Psalm 96:1-3, 10-13

            Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. Say among the nations, ‚ÄúThe Lord reigns.‚Äù The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. 11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. 12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. 13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

            Psalm 96 reflects the tone and timbre of Isaiah 40:9. The psalmist calls for the singing of a new song to the Lord. Like Isaiah 40:1, a new era is beginning, and it requires a new song! He calls for the ensemble of all creation to proclaim the glory of the Lord and to proclaim His greatness to the nations. The heavens, sea, plain and trees (an interesting choir), are to rejoice and resound with the good news. For the Lord is coming! And He will rule with equity, justice and faithfulness. God‚Äôs faithfulness stands in such stark contrast to our unfaithfulness. Indeed, because of God‚Äôs gracious gift has made such a transforming difference in our lives, we should announce His salvation to everyone, everyday!

Matthew 18:12-14

            ‚ÄúWhat do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

            Matthew 18:12-14 contains a very straightforward question posed by Jesus to His disciples. As we have studied Isaiah 40, the picture is of redemption for God‚Äôs people. In Matthew 18, Jesus shows us the personal nature of His salvation. Jesus, like a good Rabbi, asks for the opinion of His students. If a shepherd has 100 sheep and one of them goes astray, should he leave the 99 in the hills and go after the one who is lost? He continues the lesson by saying that the shepherd will rejoice more over finding the one, than the 99 who are safely in the fold. Jesus concludes by saying that God‚Äôs will is that not even one of ‚Äúthese little ones‚Äù be lost. The Lord‚Äôs divine embrace of His little lambs is more than just hyperbole. Isaiah 40:11 tells that he, ‚Äúgathers the lambs in His arms.‚Äù

          Adam and Eve went astray. Israel and Judah went their own way. What about us? Have we gone astray? Have we been lost? Isaiah 53:6 says, ‚ÄúWe all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way‚Ķ‚Äù Jesus came looking for each one of us. Indeed, He has, ‚Äúcome to seek and save those who were lost.‚Äù Jesus said, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me"(John 12:32). Jesus sought us by becoming flesh and dwelling among us - the Incarnation. He came to seek and save us by taking up the cross. He stretched out His arms on the old rugged tree, losing His own life, so that we might be found. And now, He holds us in His hands and no one can take us out of His hands (John 10:28)! What comfort that should give us. As the old hymn says, ‚ÄúMany things about tomorrow I don't seem to understand but I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.‚Äù Now that‚Äôs a blessing worth singing about!

          On this tenth day of Advent, may you truly know the comfort of the Lord as He draws you unto Himself.

 

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