Worth the Wait: Advent Scriptures and Devotion for December 14

          We continue this season of waiting and preparing by opening the Scriptures. Today our readings are filled with a message of joy at the coming of the Lord, and His salvation. But there is more involved that just joining a crowd, singing some joyous songs and then going home. In order for us truly to enter into the ‚Äújoy‚Äù presented, we will have to answer the question, ‚ÄúWhat then shall we do?‚Äù It is posed three times in the gospel reading. As we will discover, what is required is turning from the old way, and turning toward a new Way! Look for these themes as you read.

Zephaniah 3:14-18

            Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‚ÄúDo not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.‚Äù 18 ‚ÄúI will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.
            Zepheniah was a prophet who ministered in the second half of the seventh century BC when Josiah was king. This period of history for God‚Äôs chosen people was one of widespread idolatry and spiritual unfaithfulness. Zepheniah prophesied that God‚Äôs judgment would fall upon Jerusalem. But, he also prophesied that a faithful remnant would be spared this time of judgment.

            In our reading for today, Zephaniah has moved from judgment to joy. Verse 14 admonishes the ‚ÄúDaughter Zion‚Äù, ‚ÄúIsrael‚Äùand ‚ÄúDaughter Jerusalem‚Äù to, shout aloud, be glad and rejoice with all of their hearts. God‚Äôs people should turn their sorrow to shouting! Why? It is because God has taken away their punishment. The days of discipline have passed. And what‚Äôs more, the Lord, the King of Israel, was with them. Because the Lord was present, they should not fear! Their arms should be strengthened since the Mighty Warrioris with them and will save them. Further, they should take great encouragement that the Lord their God is actually ‚Äúrejoicing‚Äù over them in song.  Verse eighteen says, ‚ÄúI will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly, who are among you, to whom its reproach is a burden. God is vowing to deal with those who are out of step with the worship of God! Those who find the assembly to be oppressive or its message to be convicting! God desires to restore His people, but it will be on His terms!

            Zephaniah‚Äôs message is clear. The coming of the Lord will be a time of great joy! Why? It is because the Lord brings with Him forgiveness and restoration. And, astonishingly, Almighty God ‚Äúrejoices‚Äùor exults over them in song! Luke 15:7 says, ‚ÄúI tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.‚Äù So, why is God rejoicing over His people? All of heaven rejoices when God‚Äôs people repent. Repentance has two components or steps. The first step is to turn away from the old sinful ways (See Ezekiel 3:19; 18:30). The second step is to turn back to God (see Hosea 6:1). ‚ÄúRepentance‚Äù is from the Greek word, metanoia, which means a, ‚Äúchange of mind‚Äù. True rejoicingfollows restoration which follows repentance!

Philippians 4:4-7

            Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

            In Philippians 4:4-7, the Apostle Paul instructs the church to rejoice always! And just in case we do not grasp the concept of ‚Äúalways,‚ÄùPaul adds, ‚ÄúI will say again, rejoice!‚Äù How can we possibly rejoice at all times? It‚Äôs simple. Our joyfulness is not contingent on circumstances, but rather, we rejoice ‚Äúin the Lord.‚Äù We rejoice because God is faithful. God will never leave us or forsake us. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. His character and power, and the fact that we are the children of God give us cause to rejoice, regardless of our circumstances. 

            He goes on to say that our deportment should be marked by gentleness or reasonableness. Paul wrote about this kind of behavior back in Philippians 2:2-4. He says, ‚Äú‚Ķthen make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.‚Äù Paul also speaks of Jesus exhibiting this quality. 1 Corinthians 10:1 says, ‚ÄúBy the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you‚Ķ‚Äù How can we possibly do this! It goes against human nature to be this selfless! Well, the only way we can do it is in the Lord‚Äôs power. Perhaps that‚Äôs why Paul writes, ‚ÄúLet your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.‚Äù We are not alone in this! The Lord is with us. He has come to us. He dwells within us. What the prophets looked forward to for centuries has come to pass in our lives. The Lord has made His dwelling among us! The Lord is near - nearer than we might think.

            If we truly understand that the Lord is with us, many things should be different. We do not need to spend so much time worrying. In fact, we should be anxious about absolutely nothing, according to Paul. Instead, we should take our prayers, petitions and thanksgivings to the Lord. Then, we will know true peace. The peace that only the Lord can provide will be ours. This peace transcends normal experience. More than a cessation of conflict, this is a consistent inclination of the heart and mind to God. The resulting peace will accompany us into eternity!

            Philippians 4:4-7 teaches us that true rejoicing is a way of life. And, it changes our lives. Rejoicingis followed by reasonableness. We love everyone as Jesus loved. This means turning from self-love and putting the needs of others before our own. Don‚Äôt worry; the Lord is near to help us! Rejoicing is followed by reasonableness, which is followed by repose. This is the kind of peace that only the Lord‚Äôs Presence can give. After all, He is the Prince of peace!

Luke 3:10-18

            ‚ÄúWhat should we do then?‚Äù the crowd asked. 11 John answered, ‚ÄúAnyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.‚Äù 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. ‚ÄúTeacher,‚Äù they asked, ‚Äúwhat should we do?‚Äù 13 ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt collect any more than you are required to,‚Äù he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, ‚ÄúAnd what should we do?‚Äù He replied, ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt extort money and don‚Äôt accuse people falsely‚Äîbe content with your pay.‚Äù 15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, ‚ÄúI baptize you withwater. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.‚Äù 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

            Luke 3:10-18 shows us the same patterns that we have already encountered. John the Baptist is standing at the Jordan River preaching about ‚Äúrepentance.‚Äù Three times the crowd asks John, ‚ÄúWhat should we do then?‚Äù His first answer dealt with sharing with those in need. Those who have extra clothes and food should share with those who are without. John is asked a second time, this time by tax collectors. ‚ÄúWhat should we do then?‚Äù John instructed them to collect only what they were entitled to and no more. Third, some soldiers asked John, ‚ÄúWhat should we do then?‚Äù Because soldiers also tried to use their positions to enrich themselves, John tells them not to extort money, and to be happy with their pay.

            What‚Äôs happening here? John is teaching the meaning of repentance. The first step is to turn away from sin. John addresses with each group a specific sin associated with them. Some are selfish and need to share with the poor. Some are cheaters at business. Some are extortionists and malcontents. If those coming to be baptized truly wanted to be ‚Äúpurified,‚Äù they must repent, and the first step is to turn away from the old way. The Second step is to turn toward the New Way.

            There is a pregnant pause here. The people are waiting in expectancy thinking that John might be the Messiah. John, perhaps sensing the question on their hearts answers that he is not the Messiah, but a greater One is coming. John baptizes with water, but this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. And He will use His tools to gather the wheat to be stored in His barn. But the chaff will be burned up in a never ending flame. The tool of the Messiah is a cross! 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, ‚ÄúFor the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.‚Äù John continued to preach the message of repentance, and encouraged them with the good news.

            These people have walked many miles to hear the message of John. What were they seeking? The Romans ruled over them. The Provisional King was not even authentic. They came to the Jordan to hear this eccentric preacher because they wanted to be restored. As we have seen, restoration must be preceded by repentance. These people also came to hear John‚Äôs message because they wanted to rejoice again. They had lost so much: their pride, their prestige, their power. Even the Temple was barren, no longer containing the Ark of the Covenant ‚Äì which was the focus of the Presence of the Lord. Maybe‚Ķjust maybe, this man was the Messiah! If Emmanuel would come, then the people could rejoice again! As we have read, true rejoicing comes through the Abiding Presence of the Lord. John offered a baptism in water. But, the One coming would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. The Baptism Jesus would offer meant coming into Christ, and the Spirit coming in to you. Indeed, you could ‚Äúrejoice in the Lord‚Äù! But, first things first. Rejoicing is preceded by restoration, which is preceded by repentance.

            The Messiah was coming to them. John was preparing the way. Sadly, most would miss Him when He came. ‚ÄúWhat should we do then?‚Äù That is a great question!

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