Advent 2022: Day 13

Psalm 31

Isaiah 31

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
as for me, I trust in the Lord.
I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
10 My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction, 
and my bones grow weak.
11 Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me.
12 I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
13 For I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!”
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.

14 But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
17 Let me not be put to shame, Lord,
for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame
and be silent in the realm of the dead.
18 Let their lying lips be silenced,
for with pride and contempt
they speak arrogantly against the righteous.

19 How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
on those who take refuge in you.
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
from accusing tongues.

21 Praise be to the Lord,
for he showed me the wonders of his love
when I was in a city under siege.
22 In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.

23 Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
24 Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.


Advent Prayer

Most merciful God, who so loved the world as to give thine only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life: Grant unto us, we humbly pray thee, the precious gift of faith, that we may know that the Son of God is come, and may have power to overcome the world and gain a blessed immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

from The Methodist Book of Worship for Church and Home, 1965

Advent 2022: Day 11

Isaiah 6:1-11

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
He said, “Go and tell this people:
“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes. 
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:

“Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”


Eusebius of Caesarea The prophetic word gives the reason for the desolation by showing the cause of their fall, making the understanding of it clear. When they heard our Savior teaching among them but would not listen with the ear of the mind and did not understand who he was, seeing him with their eyes and not with the eyes of their spirit, “they hardened their heart, closed the eyes of their mind, and made their ears heavy.” As the prophecy says, their cities would become desolate such that no one would live in them because of this. In addition, their land would become desolate, and only a few would remain, being kept like fruitful seed who would proceed to all people and multiply on the earth.


Devotional Reflections based on today’s readings

God used the first seven verses of today’s Scripture to revolutionize my faith almost thirty years ago. I was teaching a study by R.C. Sproul called, The Holiness of God. It was a needed balance to my view of God which, in the tradition of many “mainliners” of my generation, understood God exclusively in terms of his attribute of love. When I say, “his attribute of love,” what I really mean is what we usually think God’s love ought to be like, in our humble opinions. For many of us who grew up in church, the unconditional love of God is almost synonymous with the unconditional niceness of God.

God used Sproul’s book and study on the holiness of God to awaken me. I discovered God is much larger than I imagined. Sure, I had read A.W. Tozer’s, Knowledge of the Holy, but goodness, I was still in my 20s and barely understood most of what I read there. Sproul’s book put the cookie jar on the bottom shelf so I could get to it. To think of God as “holy, holy, holy” was something I didn’t comprehend. If asked, I may have used the word “holy” to describe God, but I would have been guessing at words out of my ignorance.

I came to understand that God’s holiness, like all of God’s attributes, is essential to who God is, and not some second tier, take it or leave it, attribute. His holiness signifies both his otherness and his moral purity. To stand before such a holy God, one can’t help but react the way Isaiah did. Who could look upon our holy God and not cry out that they are ruined, undone, disintegrated? Every sinful thought, word, deed, and desire that our lives have been built upon would overwhelm our hearts and minds, were we to stand before such a God. The guilt would be more than we could possibly endure. Isaiah’s cry was recognition of his guilt and his repentance of it. Thus, in our Scripture, the angels took the searing tongs and applied them to the lips of Isaiah to symbolize his purification and atonement. His guilt was taken away and he was forgiven. Is there better news than that?

God used this scene from redemptive history to do several things in my life. First, he taught me about his holiness. For when a person comes to understand the true holiness of God’s nature, it shouldn’t be a big jump to understand how unholy we fallen and sinful sons of Adam and daughters of Eve really are. Yet, Peter reminds us of God’s command from the Old Covenant to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Holiness is not optional. In fact, the Book of Hebrews reminds us that without this holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

The second, and even more unexpected surprise of being introduced to God’s holiness in this very startling way, was how God used it to show me what his love for me truly looks like. I believe I was at a place in my life where I really believed God’s love was my due. It was God’s job to love me. It was entitlement thinking on my part, to be sure. But as God’s providence would have it, at the same time I was teaching a class on his holiness, I was also teaching a class on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. And there I started digging into what grace really means. I began to understand what every confirmand we celebrated just a few weeks ago was taught… that God’s grace is the unearned, unmerited, undeserved favor, blessing, and power of God. God first loved me because it is God’s character to love, but not because God is required to love me. God’s holiness, from which his justice flows, calls for my sin to be punished.

My sin… our sin… is antithetical to the holiness of God and, as those created in his image, is displeasing to him. To put it bluntly, our sin tells lies about who God really is. Everything an image bearer does reflects on its Creator. It says something about the one who created it. When we sin, we’re saying something untrue about the One who made us. This is the human condition. This is why Isaiah cried out,

“Woe to me!”… “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

It was not only that Isaiah was a fallen, sinful man, but so were his fellow Israelites. So are we all. That is part of the reason we cannot look upon the unveiled presence of God and live. He is too pure and holy. But Isaiah’s vision of the King was just that, a vision. And because Isaiah was a humble man, he therefore recognized this qualitative disparity. And so, he cried out. I too cried out when I recognized how good and gracious God’s love to me really was. How God had loved me my whole life. I couldn’t help but think of how undeserving I was. This was not a “worm theology” where I saw myself as worthless. But this was similar to Isaiah’s revelation in which he understood himself to be unworthy to stand before the King. That is how I felt. Yet, that is exactly what made God’s love for me all the sweeter. That is what made it precious to me. That is what humbled me and melted my pride in a way that remains a vivid memory in my heart and mind to this day.

After his holy experience of God, Isaiah couldn’t help but answer God’s call to serve him. That should be what each of us does in response to God’s holy love. When we have truly understood God’s holy love for each of us, we should tremble, rejoice, fall before him, and give our lives to him. That appears to be what Isaiah did. God asked for a servant to bring a hard word to Israel, and Isaiah stepped up. He answered the call. His calling would be to deliver a message of judgment.

There is no generation in which judgment is a welcomed guest. There is a reason we have the saying, “don’t shoot the messenger.” Isaiah wasn’t called to bring Israel his own assessment of how things were going and what was going to happen to them. Instead, he was bringing them God’s divine evaluation. And it wasn’t good. There would be judgment for Israel. This would not be a time of “superficial deliverance.” This would be what we sometimes refer to as “tough love.” All would be laid waste. Yet, “destruction is never God’s last word.” Hope would remain. A holy seed, a faithful remnant of God’s people would remain, from which the Messiah, and ultimately, deliverance and redemption, would come.

I think I often forget there was a time when God’s people awaited the first Advent of the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God. His coming was prophesied as early as Genesis and would be the hope of God’s people in every generation after. God would continue to provide foreshadowing and prophecies of the coming Messiah throughout the Old Covenant. We would learn where and when he would be born, to whom, the royal line he would belong to, and why he was coming. Recently, a religious leader in our denomination said, “It is not important that we agree on who Christ is. …God became flesh, but not particular flesh. There’s no particularity around that. God became incarnate in a culture, but not one culture.”

But Israel’s Messiah, was just that… the Messiah of Israel. This anointed One, this Messiah, was the seed of Eve, the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of the line of King David, and remained the hope of Israel, a hope that existed only because God preserved a faithful remnant who did not bow to false gods and live in rebellion to him. This Messiah’s Old Covenant lineage is highlighted in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And during this time of year especially, we learn that this Messiah would be born to a Jewish mother. The father who raised him and gave him his name was Jewish. And he would be named Jesus, because, the angel told his parents, he would save his people from their sin. The scandal of particularity matters… it matters a lot.

Yet, by God’s grace, the deliverance, redemption, and reconciliation he brought with his coming did not remain for Israel alone but became a sacrificial and loving offering for the whole world. That’s why we can sing… “Joy to the World.” Thanks be to God. God’s love is holy… and his holiness is loving. They are inseparable; they are intricately connected because they are who God is, along with all his other attributes. They aren’t merely what God does, but who God is. And we are created in his image. We too are called to be holy as God is holy. We are commanded to love God and neighbor because God first loved us. Our lives of holy love should reflect God’s character and goodness in our lives. It’s my prayer for our church family that during this season of Advent, God’s light would shine through us so brightly, that when others see it, they can’t help but give our Father in heaven all the praise and glory. Amen.

Advent 2022: Day 10

Luke 21:29-38

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

37 Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38 and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.


Anonymous: “Watch” over your life. Do not let “your lamps” go out, and do not keep “your loins ungirded,” but “be ready,” for “you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming.” Meet together frequently in your search for what is good for your souls, since “a lifetime of faith will be of no advantage”2 to you unless you prove perfect at the very end. In the final days, multitudes of false prophets and seducers will appear. Sheep will turn into wolves, and love into hatred. With the increase of iniquity, people will hate, persecute and betray each other. Then the world deceiver will appear in the disguise of God’s Son. He will work “signs and wonders,” and the earth will fall into his hands. He will commit outrages such as have never occurred before. Then humankind will come to the fiery trial, “and many will fall away” and perish. “Those who persevere in their faith will be saved”5 by the Curse himself. Then “there will appear the signs”7 of the Truth: first the sign of stretched-out hands in heaven, then the sign of “a trumpet’s blast,” and third, the resurrection of the dead, but not all the dead. As it has been said, “The Lord will come and all his saints with him. Then the world will see the Lord coming on the clouds of the sky.” Didache 16.1–7.


Devotional Reflections based on today’s readings

In many ways this is Part 2 of yesterday’s Scripture and devotional thought. Many texts through the Advent season encourage us… urge us… to be prepared. We hear those parabolic warnings throughout the Gospels of thieves coming in the night, virgins being unprepared with their oil when the bridegroom returns, and more.

Jesus assures in our Scripture today that though the whole universe will pass away, his words will never do so. It has been said that the only things that will last eternally are people and the word of God. So, we have confidence that what Jesus shares with us in these hard words are not only true, but lasting. Furthermore, they are shaped in the form of promises, so they will come to pass as surely as the sun will rise and set each day.

In verse 34, Jesus says, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” Have you found yourself so caught up in the troubles and worries of each day that you forget to keep your eyes on Jesus? Or, perhaps, during the tough times of life, or even those periods in which life seems a little more mundane than usual, we turn to distractions… distractions that will numb us to life’s cold realities. Of course, the answer to our problems is Jesus, which sounds like a proper Sunday School answer, but it’s still a true answer. Jesus warns us against being “weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life.” It might accurately be said that Satan and company know us better than we know ourselves. That demonic company knows our weaknesses and the best ways to tempt us. Jesus tells us to beware such things, for they are traps being set for the unprepared and unsuspecting.

That’s why so much time is spent in Scripture, and throughout the Advent season, to urge us to be ready for when the Day of the Lord will arrive. We won’t get an email or text at the beginning of the year to let us know. And, as I pointed out yesterday, whether we return to him before his second Advent, we will still stand before him to give an account. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather my Advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ, to stand in my place and plead my case by declaring the precious truth that he took upon himself my sin and brokenness, rather than me sharing my personal spiritual resume with God Almighty. Nothing good can come from that.

Thus, Jesus says in verse 36, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Always! Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, month by month, and so on. We must always be on watch, for the devil is like a lion waiting to pounce upon us in those unguarded moments. Let us also remember we cannot do what is being asked of us, at least not in our own strength. We need the Spirit of the Living God coursing through our hearts, minds, and souls. We need to pray without ceasing and constantly be people of the Word of God. We need the fellowship of the saints to rally around us with love, care, and encouragement, just as we offer the same to them.

When Jesus returns it will not be in secret. The whole world will know. And that will not be day to “get right with the Lord.” That will be the day when you discover whose side you have been on all along. To repeat myself yet again, today is the day of salvation. Turn to Christ today and live.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Advent 2022: Day 9

Luke 21:20-28

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


The conclusion to the eschatological discourse focuses on the need to prepare for the coming of the Son of man on clouds after people see the signs in the sky (Didache). Christ comes in a cloud to cover the mystery of his heavenly descent, like the presence of God in the Old and New Testaments (Ambrose). “Son of man” is the title most associated with Jesus in his passion. Now the crucified and glorified Christ comes from heaven (Augustine). When believers see him coming, they know that that the dead are about to be raised and they will receive the glorious body promised in the resurrection of all flesh (Cyril of Alexandria). The coming of the Son of man only intensifies the fear of unbelievers, for people will wither from suffering, and fear is a sign that the end is near (Augustine).


Devotional Thoughts based on today’s readings

Many today associate Advent readings almost exclusively with the coming of baby Jesus and discourses on his incarnation. Our Lord’s first Advent, of course, has much to do with both. And make no mistake about it, that is reason to rejoice! But, in the early church, Advent was understood to also be a time of penitence. Reflections during the season of Advent included both the first and second coming of Christ.

Today’s Scripture highlights his second coming. It’s an unsettling portrait painted by our Lord, one we often forget is in the New Testament, or at least in the Gospels. Yet here it is. When Jesus spoke these words, the fall of Jerusalem was about four decades away. When Jesus would return in clouds of glory, only the Father knew. That remains true today as well.

Yet Jesus makes the point to his first-century hearers, and us as well, that signs will attend his return and we ignore them at our peril. In fact, many of the readings throughout Advent remind us that the surest way to be ready for Christ’s return is never to not be ready, pardon the poor grammar. As the Boy Scout motto declares, we must always “be prepared.” And when Christians see the signs of eternity intermingled with signs of the times, we should recognize that the time of our redemption draws near. And whether Christ comes in the middle of this paragraph, five years from now, or whenever our last day will be, we must live each day as though it is our last, knowing we will live in God’s unveiled presence forever. We shall see him as he is, and it will be glorious. It will be beautiful.

I’m paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, but he said the return of Christ and the end of all things as we know them will bring intense joy or intense terror. Those of us who know Christ will experience no condemnation, for our sins have already been condemned when Christ took upon himself our judgement. Those who depend upon themselves and their own righteousness, or who reject the idea of needing to be righteous in the first place, will find themselves judged by the King of kings and Lord of lords, without the slightest hint of concern for what their preference will be on that Day.

One of my mentors has said often that every Christian should have two days marked on their calendar: today and that Day. Christ will return in glory. He will carry the sword of justice. Grace is for today. Today is the day of salvation. Therefore, entreat your loved ones, coworkers, neighbors, and others not to put off turning to Christ in trusting faith. He calls to them even now. They too can enjoy the assurance and delight of knowing their judgement has also been atoned for by the cross of Christ. They can rest each night knowing they’re guilt has been forgiven and their consciences cleansed. They can simultaneously be thrilled and humbled in knowing they will experience no condemnation, but only eternal fellowship, rest, and joy with the One who loves them with a perfect love.

Advent 2022: Day 8

Luke 7:28-35

28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)

31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“ ‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”


Ambrose: If someone plucks this reed from the nursery garden of the earth, divests it of what is unnecessary, strips off the old man with his deeds, and fits it to the hand of a swiftly writing scribe,19 it begins to be not a reed but a pen. This pen imprints the precepts of Holy Writ in the inner mind and inscribes them on the tables of the heart. … Imitate this pen in the moderation of your flesh. Do not dip your pen, your flesh, in ink but in the Spirit of the living God so that what you write may be eternal. Paul wrote the epistle with such a pen, of which he says, “You are the epistle of Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.” Dip your flesh in the blood of Christ, as it is written, “that your foot may be dipped in blood.”22 Moisten the footprint of your spirit and the steps of your mind with the sure confession of the Lord’s cross. You dip your flesh in Christ’s blood as you wash away vices, purge sins and bear the death of Christ in your flesh, as the apostle taught us, saying, “bearing about in our body the dying of Jesus Christ.”


Devotional Prayer based on today’s readings

God of grace, on this second Sunday of Advent, we thank you for reminding us that our Lord came to heal the sick, not the “healthy.” He came to dine and enjoy fellowship with sinners, not “the righteous.” Help us to follow his example and precepts by seeking and caring for the least, last, and lost. Cause our hearts to be burdened for such as these. And give us an understanding that we too were in such condition before you sought and saved us in our need.

We pray also for the “righteous” among us. Give them eyes to see their need. Help them understand the folly of depending upon themselves and, instead, turn their trust to you. Enable them to finally comprehend that, in reality, they too are the least, last, and lost as understood by your Kingdom economy, if not our earthy one. Make us all pens in your hands, writing the good news of Jesus Christ and his coming to all who will read us. We thank you for your kindness and mercy in Christ’s name and for his sake. Amen.

Advent 2022: Day 7

Psalm 20

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!


Augustine: Sometimes people run off to a mountain to pray, as though God will be able to hear them better from there. Do you want to make contact with God in your prayer? Humble yourself. But again, just because I have said, “Do you want to make contact with God? Humble yourself,” do not take it literally and materialistically and go off down to underground vaults and there start beseeching God. Do not go seeking either caverns or mountains. Have lowliness in your heart, and God will give you all the high altitude you want. He will come to you and be with you in your bedroom.


Devotional Prayer based on today’s readings

Loving Father, above all the requests I could ever bring you, I ask you to give me a humble heart that seeks you above all else and desires only what you desire. For you have told me through our Lord Jesus Christ that when we seek you and your kingdom first, you will provide what we need. So, Lord, I know that will also require me to trust you above all else. I don’t want to trust in material things and technology, man-made plans and schemes, or even my own intuition, but in you. I know you have provided wisdom and that godly counsel from others is a good thing. Yet, empower me trust in you and the guidance of your Spirit and word. Lead me not into the temptation of trusting in “chariots and horses” but to stand firm in you… your character, your word, your promises, and your grace. Lead me, O Lord, into paths of righteousness and remind me of your presence as I wander through the valley of the shadow of death. Above all else, Father, let my life glorify you, reflect you, and point others to you. In Christ I pray. Amen.

Advent 2022: Day 6

Luke 20:41 – 21:4

41 Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:

“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
43 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” ’
44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

21:1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”


Leo the Great: Although the spite of some people does not grow gentle with any kindness, nevertheless the works of mercy are not fruitless, and kindness never loses what is offered to the ungrateful. May no one, dearly beloved, make themselves strangers to good works. Let no one claim that his poverty scarcely sufficed for himself and could not help another. What is offered from a little is great, and in the scale of divine justice, the quantity of gifts is not measured but the steadfastness of souls. The “widow” in the Gospel put two coins into the “treasury,” and this surpassed the gifts of all the rich. No mercy is worthless before God. No compassion is fruitless. He has given different resources to human beings, but he does not ask different affections.


Devotional Thought based on today’s readings

Today I offer a very brief thought rather than a prayer. I am tempted to let Leo the Great’s words suffice for they are beautifully and poignantly expressed. This morning I was reading A Christmas Carol by Dickens. The two men collecting money for the poor introduced themselves and their errand to Scrooge, at which time they were immediately and ungraciously rebuffed with his contempt and disdain for others. Here was a man who could have financially helped everyone within his sphere yet closed his heart to them. (Of course, we know the rest of the story and what can happen to a person whose heart is reborn and reopened by grace.)

Yet the people Jesus describes in today’s Scripture are those who can give much and do so. It’s not that they were wrong to give. But they were giving out of their abundance and thus their offering was not sacrificial. The poor widow, who probably should have been the recipient of the temple treasury’s provision for the poor, gave out of her impoverished condition. Hers, according to Jesus, was the sacrificial gift that is dear to our Father’s heart.

Whether we are giving money or our time and talent, God calls us to be living sacrifices, which is our acceptable service to the Lord (Romans 12:1). It shows our commitment to God to be sure. But it also reveals a deep dependence upon him as well. For if we give what we will not miss, or do that which costs us nothing, we are not living sacrificial lives.

Let me hasten to add that we don’t live this sort of life in order to be saved. If we are Christians, then we have already been saved by God’s grace alone, received by faith in Christ alone. This is no meritorious system. This is fruit. What else would a life redeemed and reconciled by a gracious God do?

The other word for us here is not to compare how much we give to any other person. As the old saying goes, comparison is death to contentment. The widow gave numerically less than the others yet gave more because it was all she had. That’s how God’s Kingdom economy works. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, the person who increased the two talents he was given to four, received the same praise as the one who doubled his five talents to ten. Each was given a particular number of talents. Each was faithful with what he was given. Each received the same praise from his master.

Whether you are rich or poor, gifted with many talents or few, you are called to give out of what the Lord has provided you. If you have more, give more. If you have little, give what you can from that. Leo was surely correct when he said, “What is offered from a little is great, and in the scale of divine justice, the quantity of gifts is not measured but the steadfastness of souls.” Let the steadfastness of your soul be enlarged, like the widow’s in our Scripture, or like the soul of Ebeneezer Scrooge himself. Not because you have to, as our senior pastor likes to put it, but because you get to. Yet let this paraphrased divine caveat be inserted here: “to the person who has been given much, much is expected (Luke 12:48). Let the recipients of such gifts rejoice at the opportunities that await.

Thanks be to God.