SEASON OF COMFORT
Meditations for Advent
A devotional guide prepared by the Jubilee Mennonite Church as a gift to the churches of the Gulf States Mennonite Fellowship. Handed out at Jubilee’s 10th birthday: Sunday, December 3, 1989.
Contributors: Edea Baldwin (EAB), Elaine Maust (ELM), Cindy Byler (CAB), Daryl Byler (JDB), Lisa Shelly (LZS), and Paul Shelly (PKS). Cover Art: Tim Scruggs.
When Daryl Byler asked me to coordinate the writing of an Advent devotional for the use of the conference, I was thrilled to have a good excuse for spending extra time on my favorite portion of the liturgical cycle of worship. Advent is a season of expectation, of hopeful anticipation of the promised One, the Messiah. Is not the daily walk of all Christians marked by emotions like hope and expectancy? We are, indeed, new creatures in Christ Jesus, but are we not still incomplete, always looking ahead to what we shall become by the power of his grace?
Many church groups ignore liturgical seasons, preferring to focus on the historically finished work of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. I understand this desire for realism, for emphasis on “It is finished.” However, I believe the Christ-event is re-enacted in a mystical sense in the life of each believer. Christ is born into our lives, becomes at some point our Suffering Servant, and assumes risen Lordship for each of us as we enter into and are nurtured along our personal walk with Him. As several writers have so aptly put it, we must make his story our story, entering personally into the biblical narrative.
It is the fervent prayer of all who have worked on these devotions that they might help you to enter into this season of Advent, that they may convey hope, joy, longing, and love for the One who is coming. Together, let us prepare a smooth path for the coming of our God.
Sunday, December 3
Comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished. -Isaiah 40:1-2a
When we look to heaven for answers to our predicaments, we are not met with cold silence but with the Lord’s comfort. Our God is a God of consolation. Like a mother gently comforting her hurting child, he seeks to assure his people that all will soon be well. He sends a message of hope, a promise that all of our problems have a solution.
God is entering the battle on our side of the field. Soon, we will all behold his great victory! This news is certainly very comfortable to hear! Our hearts should flood with peace and joy at these good tidings of the coming King. Let us watch expectantly, with calm spirits and confident hearts, as the mighty strategy unfolds. -EAB
Monday, December 4
Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. -Isaiah 60:1
The children and I noticed the sunlight streaming through the trees as we walked down the lane to meet the school bus. We marked the progress of the sunrise as first this tree, then that hillside glittered in the early morning spotlight. Soon the blinking, honking bus whisked the children away and I turned to see the fully risen sun choosing our home for its last benefaction. Somehow the ordinary farmhouse seemed dazzled by the light, becoming more beautiful than it really was.
God calls Zion, and us as well, to rise and shine under the spotlight of his loving presence. We ordinary folk have the chance to absorb his glory, to become more beautiful than we really are.
Read on to verse 5 in Isaiah 60, and discover the response to his brilliance: Your heart will swell and throb with joy! -ELM
Tuesday, December 5
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. -Isaiah 9:2
The image of light and darkness has always been an appropriate one for me when describing what Jesus’ coming meant to the world. My own salvation experience can be best illustrated by saying a light from within was suddenly turned on.
For myself, however, the image of light does not stop there. The light within me becomes brighter and more intense as I grow in my understanding of the truth which Jesus brought us. And the way that I grow most in that understanding is through experiencing and sharing the light within others.
During this Advent season, let us watch (and listen) closely for the light within others so that our own lights may shine brighter than ever before. -PKS
Wednesday, December 6
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. -Isaiah 11:1
So often, growth is used to speak of Christ’s work and significance in our lives. We don’t spring up as full-grown, mature Christians overnight. Just as God’s plan slowly unfolds before our amazed eyes, so does he expect us to pass through a slow, natural process of discipleship.
Christ, the rod out of Jesse’s stem, the branch growing up out of strong roots, grew in stature and in wisdom before his Father and before men. So, too, do we move up out of our spiritual infancy into the maturity of Christ. As we learn to wait upon the Lord in faith and obedience, our stems and buds are certain to flower, for we are part of a fruitful Vine, firmly planted and rooted in God’s own Son. -EAB
Thursday, December 7
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek… to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning. -Isaiah 61:1a, 3a
The One we are looking for brings joyful news for the humble in spirit and the meek of heart. God’s Anointed will bring beauty out of ugliness, hope out of despair, life out of death. The sound of mourning for the lost glory of Zion shall no longer be heard in the land, for the Spirit will be poured out like fresh wine. The King who is to come will replace tears with joy when he establishes his Kingdom.
Let us not seek to build our own little kingdoms. All power in heaven and on earth has been given to the Anointed One. His Kingdom is forever, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Rather, let us be still and look eagerly for Him. -EAB
Friday, December 8
I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. – Hosea 14:5
Israel had done it again. Behaving as though they were not God’s people, they sinned. Now on the upside of their sin and repentance cycle, God called them to confess and begin following Him again.
God promises to be like the dew, refreshing and nourishing. Especially in an arid country like Israel, dew is the source of fruitfulness, the daily symbol of a fresh start. In response, Israel would grow as rapidly and beautifully as a lily. Unlike a flower, however, his roots would be like the famous cedar forests of Lebanon.
I am thankful that when I sin, God promises to bless me with the possibility of new fruitfulness. I am thankful that because of his love, I will be surprisingly filled with beauty and grace. But below the fragile surface, there will be roots that are unshakeable. -ELM
Saturday, December 9
For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden. -Isaiah 51:3a
The Lord does not say here that he will change Zion into Eden. There is no promise here to turn her waste places into a paradise. Rather, the Lord says he will make Zion’s desert like Eden. In other words, when he is present, even a dead, dry spot will seem as alive and rich as a paradise.
Often when we ask God for help with a problem, we look for Him to step in and change everything… the people around us, the circumstances. The last thing we might expect is a radical change in us, and that’s when God’s work is most miraculous! he will often leave the circumstance that is troubling us in place and create a new attitude within us that enables us suddenly to deal with the problem in a new, productive way. All our waste places can be like paradise if we open our hearts to his shaping, our minds to his renewing power. -EAB
Sunday, December 10
He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. -Psalm 72:6
How refreshing a soft shower can feel! In the middle of a hot, dry day, the coming of a gentle rain washes away all the dust, leaving every surface clean and shiny. Even the air will smell much purer and fresher. The scent is especially wonderful when the rain falls upon newly mown grass.
The rain brings nourishing moisture to every living thing it touches. Our skin drinks the rain in just as the plants and animals do. The fresh water provides relief and nourishment.
The Messiah will come as a soft, gentle shower to refresh and nourish his people. His sweet justice will cleanse us of greed and self-interest. His love will wash away all anger and bitter resentments. We will thrive and grow as we experience his shalom, his gift to both the mighty and the lowly, to both weak and strong. -EAB
Monday, December 11
The Lord will roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake. -Joel 3:16
Here we confront the paradox of a God who is as gentle as rain but also as powerful as an earthquake. How forceful and resounding must his creative fiat have been at the dawn of the universe… “Let there be light!” His words reverberated into an unimaginably lovely and complex world. And this mighty God, who shouted everything into being, will roar out of Zion to shake all powers and rulers forever.
But let us, his new creation in Christ, not tremble in fear. We who know the sweetness behind his strength, the calm behind his energy, can look for the fulfillment of all things in him. Our hearts can — and should — anticipate our Beloved. Our ears must listen for the thunderous cry from heaven: “This is my beloved son!” -EAB
Tuesday, December 12
Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low. -Isaiah 40:4
What would it take, Lord? What would it take to prepare the way for your work in my heart? What are the mountains that block your entrance? What are the valleys that stagnate my life?
I wonder what kind of experience might be the Holy Spirit’s construction project in me? May it come in the shape of new challenges, disappointments, or even a strawberry crop failure. I wish I had the faith to see these as opportunities.
Go ahead, Lord. Smooth them out. Push the mountains into valleys. Make room. Make way. Level the ground so that your Spirit can trickle, flow, and gush into all the hidden valleys of my heart.
What are the mountains or valleys that block the free flow of the Spirit in your life? Identify one. Imagine the mountain-moving power of God shaping the obstacle into a riverbed of his blessing. -ELM
Wednesday, December 13
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one will be ruler over Israel. -Micah 5:2a
What a powerful reminder that God chooses the small, the weak, the seemingly insignificant things of this world, as vehicles for his purposes.
Bethlehem, home-away-from-home for Ruth, that loyal foreigner who trusted God fully. Bethlehem, home of the shepherd lad who felled a giant with a pebble stone. Simple folk, trusting in God’s power.
Bethlehem, tiny village, chosen as birthplace for the Christ. Bethlehem, “house of bred,” cradle to the humble one who would feed the world with the bread of life. -JDB
Thursday, December 14
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. -Isaiah 7:14b
What a lovely name: Immanuel, “God with us!” That should be enough to jolt us to a stop in the middle of what may be our busiest time of the year. What awesome good news, given to a young virgin, that she would bear her firstborn son, God’s son. This miracle of conception by a virgin, spurned by many as an impossible myth… is that any more fantastic than the clothing in flesh of the living God?
We await the Holy One of Sinai, longing to see the incarnate one in our midst. Our God wants to leave the heavenly places and come to dwell with us — with us — in our weakness, our sorrows, our joys. How are we to respond?
Will we recognize him? Do we see him now, in the faces of those next to us at work, on the streets, at home, at play?
Come soon, Immanuel! -EAB
Friday, December 15
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. -Joel 2:28
An account of a severe locust plague that hit Palestine is given by Joel. The people were experiencing severe hardship and frustration. Although a locust plague may not be invading our community, I wonder what other “plagues” we would find? Homelessness? Poverty? Child abuse or neglect? Racism? Depression? Sometimes situations can look pretty bleak.
The Lord proclaimed in Joel’s day he would pour out his spirit. We now have been given the gift of God’s son. It is through the spirit of Jesus within us that hope is gained for the plagues many endure today.
What are we doing to help that hope become reality for our hurting neighbors? How can we help them (especially this Christmas season) reach the point where they can “dream dreams and see visions”?
Saturday, December 16
Sing, O Heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. -Isaiah 49:13
When the children of Israel cried to the Lord in their bondage, he heard them and provided deliverance from Egypt. He taught them what it means to practice justice, to live righteously, to be holy. He gave them the Jubilee, a picture of restoration and new beginnings, a perfect image of his coming kingdom.
Now the time fast approaches; the advent of eternal Jubilee is very near! Surely it is time for unrestrained, joyful singing before the Lord God. The covenant will be completed and all his promises kept! The earth, heavens, and citizens of both realms must break forth into songs of praise. The meaning of time itself will be made manifest to all nations, when the mercy and comfort of the Lord shine forth in the Son. -EAB
Sunday, December 17
All kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him. For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth. -Psalm 72:11-12a
I am fascinated with the action in these verses. Kings are falling down. Nations are serving him. And what is the Lord doing? Is he sitting on a throne absorbing the adoration? No, he’s busy delivering the crying poor!
The contrasts intrigue me. The splendor of our God is so overcoming that kings forget to exert their royal presence, disregard their lavish robes, neglect the command of their subjects; they just fall down! Entire nations are so taken by God’s power that they turn all service to him. And what has captured the attention of these powers? It is our God who hears and acts in behalf of the needy when they cry.
Throughout history, God has taken the part of the needy, the poor, widows, orphans, strangers, and sinners. Do we? -ELM
Monday, December 18
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder. And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6
As a child, the importance of Christmas Day was never lost on me. It meant presents, presents, and more presents. Some presents, like the Evil Knieval motorcycle set I got when I was eight, were fun at first but quickly lost their lustre. Other gifts, such as books, seemed trivial at first but grew in meaning as I discovered the wonderful stories within them.
God sending Jesus to the world seems to take on the quality of the second gift which I described. Jesus came to the world as a small child, one of thousands (millions?) born that year. But as his life unravelled, he became everything to all people. “Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Let us be especially thankful for the gift which God has sent us that gets better with every passing day. -PKS
Tuesday, December 19
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, thy King cometh unto thee. -Zechariah 9:9a
Pause for a moment with me and catch the spirit of this passage from Zechariah. I sense a feeling of anticipation. Not a passive, patient waiting, but an active, joyous proclamation of the coming of the King. Zechariah writes “rejoice greatly” and “shout”!
Let’s bring this same spirit into the Christmas season. Once again we anticipate the birth of our Lord. Once again we rejoice in the coming of the King. Going beyond the commercialization of the season, it is a celebration of an overflowing heart. Let’s rejoice, shout, and anticipate the advent of our Lord together! -CAB
Wednesday, December 20
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. -Isaiah 35:5
The One we are looking for is coming it free us from more than our sin… we who are blind
to the fear of little children who
are beaten and mentally abused;
to the hopelessness of men and women
who have no place to sleep;
to the injustice of trapped prisoners
who have no advocate;
to the poverty of spirit expressed in
the daily output of Madison Avenue;
we who are blind will have our eyes opened!
The One we are looking for is coming to free us from more than sin-guilt… we who are deaf
to the cries of our brothers and
sisters in South Africa;
to the mourning of widows and orphans
in Central America;
to the hidden cries of the unborn
subjected to needless death;
to the tears of young women in trouble
with no clear alternatives;
to the confused voices of young people
with nothing to believe in;
we who are deaf will have our ears unstopped! -EAB
Thursday, December 21
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. -Isaiah 40:11
It is 9:50 PM. I am sitting at the kitchen table with the essentials: my Bible, my notebook, my calendar, and the grocery list. I am tense and exhausted. I wait for the renewing rush of his presence. It does not come. “Are you still beating in there?” I demand of my frigid heart.
Closing my eyes, I imagine myself running, arms spread. Ahead I see you, Shepherd, smiling as I rush into your arms. You lift me, smooth my hair, wash my face, hug me. Both of us are laughing.
My eyes blink open. Tears pour down my face as I experience your tender care for me. I hear footsteps coming across the carpet. An interruption is afoot. Unexpectedly I feel the rush of joy I waited for… the brand of my shepherd.
Feel the shepherd lift and care for you. What will he say? What will you tell him? How do you feel? -ELM
Friday, December 22
Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them. -Isaiah 42:9
The Jews were shocked and puzzled, maybe even angered, by Jesus when he appeared among them. Somewhere along the line they had picked up pretty definite notions of what Messiah would be, and Jesus did not fit some of their ideas. They looked for an earthly, mighty king who would force the Gentile nations to their knees. Jesus spent time with the poor and dispossessed, forgiving sins and comforting the afflicted. His agenda did not coincide with theirs; they did not recognize the kingdom in their midst.
They should have known the Anointed One would be a suffering servant. God had given plenty of advance news concerning his game plan. Perhaps many in Israel simply refused to read the signals plainly marked out in scripture.
Will we recognize you, Lord? What do we expect you to be? Help us to know you when you come to us. Teach us to look for you in unexpected places. Most of all, let others see you in us. -EAB
Saturday, December 23
O Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! -Isaiah 40:9b
Are we yet fearful of his coming? Do we hesitate, knowing his work will surely shake not only heaven and earth but the very foundations of our lives as well? Are our hearts reluctant to be changed, to be prepared for his advent among us? Are we ready to die: to self, to bondage, to hatred, to unbelief? Have we the courage to anticipate the Lord’s Jubilee?
Yes, Lord, we are afraid. But yes, Lord, we want you to come and move us, to bring the kingdom into our midst. Resoundingly, we lift our voices in a glad “Yes!”
Jerusalem, watch and see; hear his voice, cities of Judah! Our God is coming in power and majesty, to rescue the lost and lift up the oppressed. Behold, he comes! Prepare ye his way! -EAB
Sunday, December 24
My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit is
glad in God my Savior, for he took notice
of the lowliness of his bondslave.
Consider, from now on all generations will
call me blessed, for the Almighty has done
great things for me.
His name is holy and his mercy is to those
who reverence him through all generations.
He exercised strength with his arm;
He scattered the proud in their heart’s imaginations;
He dethroned princes and lifted up the lowly;
the needy he supplied to the full with good
things and the rich he sent away empty-handed.
He sustained Israel, his servant, in remembrance
of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to
Abraham and his descendents forever.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God.
This is the one who was in the beginning with God.
Through him everything came into being and
without him nothing that exists came into being.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Monday, December 25
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked with favor upon his
people and has accomplished redemption
He has raised up a powerful Savior for us in
the house of David, his servant, as he spoke
by the mouth of his holy prophets from
ancient times – salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
To show the mercy that was promised our
ancestors, and to remember his holy
covenant, he swore an oath to our father
To grant us, being saved from our
enemies, fearlessly to worship him in
holiness and righteousness in his presence
all our days.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who, though existing in the form of God, did not consider his equality with God something to cling to, but emptied himself as he took on the form of a slave and became like human beings. So, recognized in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself and became obedient to death; yes, death on a cross.
God, therefore, has lifted him on high and has given him the name that surpasses every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.