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 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.

Get Wisdom

Facts, Information, and Knowledge

Are you able to answer these five questions, without doing an Internet search?

  1. What is the distance from the earth to the moon?
  2. How many people live in India?
  3. How many books did Herman Melville write?
  4. What is the fifth commandment?
  5. Are knowledge and information the same thing as wisdom?

It has often been said that we live in the “information age.” Our culture puts a high premium on knowledge and information, as well as easy access to both.

From “trivia” nights at restaurants to the game, Trivial Pursuit, to one of my family’s favorite gameshows, Jeopardy, our culture seems to love knowing facts about almost everything. And yet, all of the information we have access to at our fingertips does not necessarily make us wiser people.

Knowledge and Wisdom

Question number 5 above asked if information and knowledge are the same thing as wisdom. Scripture assures us they are not. To be sure, knowledge is a good thing. In fact, wisdom assumes knowledge. Yet, what God declares for us to do throughout Scripture is to, “get wisdom.”

  • Proverbs 4:5 – Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them.
  • Proverbs 4:7 – Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.
  • Proverbs 16:16 – How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!
  • Proverbs 23:23 – Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding.

James makes that same case in the book that bears his name.

Wisdom According to James

James wrote his letter to Jewish Christians who, like many Christians of that day, were undergoing intense persecution. He said in James 1:2 that they were “facing trials of many kinds.” And it is in that context that he said something that sounds almost absurd to anyone who operates only with worldly wisdom. In verse 2 he told them, that, as they are facing these “trials of many kinds,” to “consider it pure joy” or, as the King James puts it, “count it all joy.”

How can a person who is going through the pain and suffering of a trial consider it a joyful experience? That would be difficult indeed. However, that is not what James was saying. To explain what James was saying, let me remind you of something the Apostle Paul wrote. In Romans 8:28, Paul wrote these words,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Notice that Paul did not say all things are good. He was saying God can work all things (even bad things) for good. Good can come even from bad situations. James was saying something similar.

Here’s how Gandalf put it…

More on this later…