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Reading: Zephaniah 3: 9-13

At that time I will change the speech of the peoples
to a pure speech,
that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
and serve him shoulder to shoulder.
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia
my suppliants, my scattered ones,
shall bring my offering.

On that day you shall not be put to shame
because of all the deeds by which you have rebelled against me;
for then I will remove from your midst
your proudly exultant ones,
and you shall no longer be haughty
in my holy mountain.
For I will leave in the midst of you
a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord—
the remnant of Israel;
they shall do no wrong
and utter no lies,
nor shall a deceitful tongue
be found in their mouths.
Then they will pasture and lie down,
and no one shall make them afraid.

The Tower of Babel story seems to lie behind this prophecy of The Coming. There are three elements that the prophet seems to draw out of that ancient story to remind us to prepare for The Coming!

First, he says that God is going to clean up our speech. Growing up, in my house there was a lot of emphasis on how we talked. I grew up in a home where even gosh and dang were really bad words. I remember thinking as a very young child that my dad wasn’t a deacon at church, probably because sometimes when he got really upset he said dadgummit!

Although purity of speech is important to God,no t to purity but unity is the goal of pure speech. At the Tower of Babel, the people could no longer work together because their languages were mixed.  The Coming will restore not only corrupted language, but broken relationships.

We don’t speak the same language is a fairly common expression of broken relationship and disunity. I think there are bad church words that people use to break relationships too. I started to make a list, but it is too long. Just take any label that you hear to categorize another group of people and that makes them at best second-class Christians and at worst heretics or reprobates.  What if we figured out how to talk about people without using any of these bad words? Would that lead to more shoulder to shoulder relationships?

If The Coming brings  shoulder to shoulder, then learning to talk to each other and work with each other now gets us closer to The Day!

The third Tower of Babel element is haughtiness and pride. You remember that those ancient people just wanted to build a tower up to heaven in order to make a name for themselves. That sounds pretty modern to me also. Much is said, even in church circles, about leaving legacies.

It’s probably not the legacy, rather who gets the glory that is the real problem here. Ultimately, whenever our goals are about us instead of God, we are in danger of haughtiness! Whenever unity is about our strength or reputation and not about the kingdom, we are in danger of pride.

The remnant that is left are all the humble and lowly, those that are not ashamed to gather at a manger rather than the Hilton, those that speak a common language, those that work shoulder to shoulder with fellow sheep.

The reward at The Coming is a place—probably way out in the back forty, but somewhere in the pastures by a stream—a place to lie down and revel in the One Who Comes—a place where we don’t ever have to be afraid!

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

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Reading:  Psalm 25:3-8

Show me your ways, O LORD,
and teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.

Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

Gracious and upright is the LORD;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly

In some mildly unfathomable way, we are always a part of The ComingTeach me your path, lead me, guide me, don’t all of these pleas on our part suggest to you that the Way or the Path is one that we too have the opportunity to walk?

But apparently we are not forcibly restricted to the same path as The Coming. We apparently can choose our own path. We don’t have to follow the Leader; we can be the leader. We can guide ourselves—if that is what we want.

I did not have a debauched youth! Quite the contrary, my parents and many others taught me the Way of the Lord early in life. But I did struggle with thinking that I was in control and should even try to choose my own path and be my own guide.

I think about all of those hard decisions of youth: purity, college, career, relationships, marriage, children, church.  all of these momentous choices come at a time in life when we think we are invincible, finally independent, when we are fully educated, when we are wise beyond our years—or so we think.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions!

I know there are special temptations that come with advanced years as well, but in our youth, perhaps our biggest sin is believing the lie that I am the one who is Coming! Coming of age—as if that gives me all I need to choose my own path and be my own guide.

Fortunately, He teaches sinners, He guides the humble, He shows compassion and love—and He doesn’t remember the sins of my youth!

You are the Way! You are the Truth! You are the Life!

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

 

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Reading:  James 5:7-11

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

One of the Christmas traditions in our family is that on Christmas morning, the children must wait at the top of the stairs until they hear Grandma Johnson’s bell ring. When the bell rings, then they are free to fly down the stairs and see what is in their stockings and under the tree.

Grandma Johnson’s bell is a very plain and simple handheld bell that Sherrylee’s grandmother used when she taught rural school back in the early 1900s, so it is well over one hundred years old. Whereas it once brought order into the lives of schoolchildren, in its retirement it only serves one day a year to bring a little order to Christmas morning at the Woodwards.

Demanding immediate gratification is a mark of our culture; patience is not. Even with The Coming, some of the most religious of Christians are so impatient as to interpret every earthquake or political change in Israel as a herald of the imminence of The Coming!

James, the brother of the Lord, holds Grandma Johnson’s bell and says,“Be patient!” But more than just a reminder, James then gives us two very practical ways to prepare for The Coming while we wait.

First, he says don’t complain about each other. Our grandchildren ages 4-6 delight in telling their parents what the other grandkids have done wrong. The older grandchildren have learned already that this tactic doesn’t really work because first, their idea of what should get their cousin into trouble is not what the parents always think is so bad, and secondly, they almost always implicate themselves somehow in their tattling.  We can learn something about judging others here, can’t we?

Second, James says to perservere. We use newer phrases: keep at it, keep trying, stick with it. Then there are other related words like resolve, determination, and firmness that help us understand the word perservere.

Our American military friends in Germany used to describe themselves as short if they had six months or less in their tour and were going to be returning to the States then.  Being short often meant they began to withdraw from friends, disengage from church—just starting the separation process well before they left.

Some early Christians were apparently doing the same thing. The Coming was near, so they began pulling back. James says, no, no!  Be patient and stay connected!

Wait for the bell.  Wait for the trumpet!  Wait for the chorus!

Don’t grumble; don’t give up and go back to sleep. Wait!

But wait with the excitement and the involvement of the grandkids at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning!

Wait until He comes!

 

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Reading:  Psalm 85

I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,
and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness shall go before him,
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet

With some couples, I’ve asked myself, how did they ever get together? They are so different! But other couples, even though they are distinct individuals, they seem to be perfectly matched. Even their distinctiveness is complementary.

So it is with the couples of this psalm.  First Mercy and Truth meet together—a strange couple. Are they not enemies—one demanding and the other permissive, one written in ink and the other a soft green eraser!

Both originate in heaven; both are a gift of love. But on the day of The Coming, they are a couple—a beautifully matched pair.  Truth is black and white, yes and no, absolute. You think this is the opposite of Mercy, but, in fact, the LORD has bound them together—for “his salvation is very near to those who fear him.” Mercy and Truth are meant for each other; The Coming is full of grace and truth!

The second couple is clearly a heavenly match, a beautiful couple: Righteousness and Peace. There is no shame in their intimacy; their kissing results in fruitfulness. They multiply and replenish the earth.

It is Righteousness and Peace who go before The Coming. It is Righteousness and Peace who are the Way.

Righteousness and Peace are the same as Truth and Mercy.

May it be so on earth as it is in Heaven!

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Reading:  Psalm 145:1-4, 8-13

I will exalt you, O God my King,
and bless your Name for ever and ever.

Every day will I bless you
and praise your Name for ever and ever.

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
there is no end to his greatness.

One generation shall praise your works to another
and shall declare your power.

The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness.

The LORD is loving to everyone
and his compassion is over all his works.

All your works praise you, O LORD,
and your faithful servants bless you.

They make known the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your power;

That the peoples may know of your power
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;
your dominion endures throughout all ages.

The uncertainties of every day are a challenge to most of us. From small, surprising interruptions to an  unexpected birth or death, our best-laid plans are at best just hopes and wishes.

The Coming is that kind of day. The Coming is expected, but no one knows when. There is Preparation for The Coming, but even The Preparation is not what is expected.  The big difference, however, is that although it arrives unexpectedly, The Coming is an absolute Certainty!

This certainty of The Coming defines then our daily response, as this psalm so beautifully describes: “Every day will I bless you and praise your Name for ever and ever!”

The psalmist draws all Time into the certain frame of The Coming with words like:  no end, one generation to another, everlasting, enduring throughout all ages.

Sure, the Day is uncertain, but our task for that day and every day is the same, to “bless you and praise your Name.

The Coming will surprise us, but we know of it because the generations before us have told us and because we are busy telling the next generation—so that they too will bless and praise Him every day—and tell the next generation.

Of course, The Coming could be today . . . .!

 

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Advent Day Twelve

Reading:  Matthew 11:7-15
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen!

Have you seen the documentaries on how easily we fail to see what is in front of our eyes because we either don’t expect to see what is there or expect to see something else entirely? I’m still astonished at the classic demonstration video: you are told to count the times several people dribble and pass a ball to each other—which you do. Afterwards, they show you that man in a black gorilla costume walked across the room, waved at the camera, then exited—but you never saw it—because you were counting the times the ball bounced. The Coming is not an illusion, but will we see it?

Much of who God is and what He does is invisible, that’s true! But The Coming is not meant to be invisible.  There is no intent of cloaking The Coming—with heavens opening, with angels singing, and seas thundering—all of Nature and all of Heaven manifest, announce, and celebrate The Coming.

That people almost missed The Preparation (John the Baptist) because he wasn’t dressed appropriately is pretty amazing. Here is the #2 VIP to have ever been born up to that time, and his contemporaries just thought him an oddity.

We took some of the grandkids to a 3-D movie the other day. I have monovision, which means I read with one eye primarily and see at a distance with the other dominating. That means that I get a little motion sick using 3-D glasses at the theater. But whether it makes me comfortable or not, I have to wear the glasses because you can’t really watch the movie without them.

Perhaps whether we truly see The Coming is a matter of whether we have accepted the right lenses and put them on! Those lenses then bring the whole picture together and make sense out of it.

The Coming is not invisible. The Coming is not disguised.  But The Coming can be overlooked if we are not prepared to see what God is sending!

 

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Advent Day Eleven: The Grand Chorale

Reading:  Psalm 96

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.

Sing to the LORD and bless his Name;
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations
and his wonders among all peoples.

For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
he is more to be feared than all gods.

As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols;
but it is the LORD who made the heavens.

Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence!
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples;
ascribe to the LORD honor and power.

Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name;
bring offerings and come into his courts.

Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness;
let the whole earth tremble before him.

Tell it out among the nations: “The LORD is King!
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it;
let the field be joyful and all that is therein.

Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy
before the LORD when he comes,
when he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness
and the peoples with his truth.


I sometimes forget that the psalms are song lyrics, written to be sung, not read as poetry? The psalms are beautiful poetry, but a song is so much more than just a beautiful poem.  I’ve often thought that if God had wanted us to just experience the words, then He would have had us read poetry at church, but instead He told us to sing to one another with music and words!

Our experience of  the great psalms of David is surely diminished for lack of the music; however, with many of the psalms, the musicality of the words themselves seem to overcome the absence of tone. Psalm 96 is one of those psalms that make our hearts sing even if our lips don’t move!

A new song bursts from our lips—not a cry of distress this time, not a lament of our own unworthiness, rather a song of “great tidings!”

And this song cannot be held back! It is a song for all nations, so we must sing loudly!  Gloria, Gloria – those are the words—simple words that the most primitive and the most civilized  understand and can sing together in unison or in harmony as directed!

Here are the choir members: the heavens hit the high notes, the earth the low ones, the sea thunders, the fields cover all the empty spaces so that no moment is without music! And don’t forget the trees because if you forget the trees, then you’ll miss out on the shouting for joy!

What a Great Concert!   What a Grand Chorale when all of creation sings!  What a Moment—when He Comes!

 

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Advent Day Ten: A Holy Highway

Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion
shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall
obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away

If you are looking for spiritual compliments, then you are in the wrong text today. If you find comfort in encouragement, if you need to be told that you are doing good, if you need a trophy to mark your participation, read a different chapter.

However, if you feel scorched like a desert or completely empty and barren like a wilderness, if you feel like you once were something—but now you are nothing, keep reading. If you thought you were strong, but have discovered you are feeble; if you once were brave, but too many battles have made you afraid, then keep reading.

This word is for the blind, the lame, the mute, not for the spiritual superstars—or those who think they are.

And hear is the word of the Lord:  HE IS COMING!

When He comes, the blind will see, the lame will leap, the deaf will hear, the mute will shout!  Water will gush in the desert, streams will flow in the wilderness! LIFE will appear where death seemed to reign.

And remember the road construction we were talking about a few days ago (http://wp.me/pO3kT-cc), well, today we find out more about that road. It is a highway—the Holy Way! And only God’s People can travel on it! Everyone is going in the same direction; everyone has the same destination; and everyone knows that they will get there, so there is no competition or jealousy or power struggles, or road rage!

And not even fools can get lost! I love that line because I can get lost anywhere. Navigation systems in rental cars have saved my marriage! I drive by feeling my way along—a very manly way to drive, and Sherrylee follows maps—so terribly rational.  I have been lost in many great cities of the world and have been too proud to even know it!  I’m so glad that not even fools can get lost!

The Coming means that I’m going to make it—not eventually through my own maudlin meanderings, but I will arrive with the whole crowd of the ransomed, led by Him Who Comes, singing the song of everlasting joy!

Come, Lord Jesus!

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Reading: Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” ’
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

John did almost everything wrong to be The Voice for The Coming! He dressed like a crazy man, totally disregarding appropriateness, much less dress for success! He had such weird dietary requirements that he couldn’t go out to eat with anyone–bad for being influential in good society.  And he was VERY confrontational—called people names, confronted their hypocrisy, and did not let them hide behind their religious heritage.  He told them to repent or they would go to Hell!  Who would choose this guy to represent them?

Sure, people came out to him because…well, it wasn’t because of his commercial appeal. It wasn’t his warm, conversational tone.  What was it that caused people to go out to John?

His message was simple:   Repent because it is almost time to give account! Confess your sins now because you can’t carry them with you into the kingdom of heaven. Repent and flee from the wrath that is coming with the kingdom of God.

The bad news is that Wrath is coming!  The Good News is The ONE is coming—the One you have hoped for, the One you have waited for, the One is Coming!  And The Coming is a time of Gathering together all of His!  And you are His if you will repent.  You will never see The Wrath if you repent.

Repentance is The Preparation for The Coming. We repent, we confess that we are not The One, and we give up any claim to The Oneness by being filled with the One Spirit.  Then when The Coming happens, we are easily recognized.  We are prepared, not by our own deeds, but by the One who comes baptizing, winnowing, clearing—and burning!

John was The Voice of the Preparation for The Coming.  Repent!

 

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READING: Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep

For about six months now, huge road-building machines have been pushing and pulling dirt, moving it from one place to another, compacting it, flattening it, and finally pouring concrete over it—thick concrete interlaced with steel rods to bear tons of weight, all of this in order to have a good road for people to drive on.  There was already a road there—actually a road has existed there for probably fifty years or longer—but it was crooked and bumpy and too small for the traffic expected to come this way in the future.

During the first Advent week, we talked about The Coming, especially the awesome—perhaps frightening—majesty of The Coming.  But now we find out The Coming doesn’t just happen! Isaiah reveals here that first God’s Great Preparation must happen before  The Coming!

First, is The Announcement, meant to comfort us! The LORD is coming, so raise the valleys, level the mountains, straighten the curves—there is work to do in God’s Great Preparation!  The earth must be prepared for The Coming—and that appears to be our job!

But we don’t know what to do or say because we are pretty puny creatures! Our little plastic scoops and sand buckets are not adequate to road building!  With our own tools, the task is too big and will take forever!

Don’t worry, yes, people are as short-lived as grass, but God’s Word—the Message—is a BIG MACHINE, able to accomplish all the raising and leveling and straightening that we are to do in God’s Great Preparation!

So here are your instructions for God’s Great Preparation: Stand on the highest mountain! Lift your voice with strength because YOU are the herald of good tidings!  And do not be afraid!

And your words are these:    The Lord comes with might. He comes prepared to take complete control so that everything will be as it should be!  He will feed you, protect you, and lead you along the NEW ROAD into your future—all the way past death—into eternity–together!

The Coming does not happen without The Preparation. It’s time we start finding our mountain and lifting our voices with strength.  Don’t be afraid. YOU are the herald of good tidings!

 

 

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