The Perfect King: Advent Devotional, Week 4

Read Psalm 72

During winter, one of our sons began cultivating seeds in the basement to plant in our gardens during spring. It was a lot of work to keep them watered and sufficiently warm during the cold months. When the weather finally turned, we planted the seedlings throughout our gardens. A new sort of work began, cultivating the seedlings outdoors with newly planted seeds so that tomatoes, radishes, peppers, and green beans could grow and later be gathered to our table to share with others.

In the winter of our world, Jesus comes to sow and cultivate the seeds of the kingdom of God in human lives, like Simon Peter and Mary Magdalene, like you and me. He comes as the chosen one, the beloved of God, the suffering messiah, and the eternal priest. And He comes as the perfect king, just as the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
(Luke 1:31-33)

Waiting for Messiah Jesus to be born, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, speaks about God’s plans, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:68-69). Here is this infant Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, born in the line of King David, in David’s town of Bethlehem. He is heralded by angelic hosts and worshiped by a ragtag group of shepherds. Exotic magi from other lands visit in His early years. His mother and earthly father watch in wonder.

Once grown, He calls out, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). But what is this kingdom and what throne will this king sit upon? All His earthly life seemed less than regal. He had nowhere to lay His head, yet always had more than He needed. He was rejected by elites, yet people from various nations searched for Him. Raised high upon the Cross, He became a sign to all of how far God will go to bring the good news of His kingdom into our lives.

But Jesus’ story does not end with the cross, resurrection, and ascension. The testimony of Scripture is that a new heaven and a new earth will arrive in God’s timing connected with the majestic return of King Jesus to rule over all the earth. “The Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14). Advent is a time of remembering Jesus’ incarnation, but also anticipating His future return as the enduring perfect King, even as Psalm 72 describes. May we be found ready!

 

REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT:

  1. Why does it matter for this life and eternity that Jesus is the perfect King of God’s eternal Kingdom?
  2. What does the anticipation of His identity as King do to your celebration of Advent this year?

 


FAMILY TALK WEEK 4

INTENDED FOR FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN

When a king comes to town, his arrival is announced by a trumpet fanfare, tum-ta-dum! He is greeted by a parade of people waving and shouting! A herald cries out, “Hear ye, hear ye, His royal highness has arrived!” When the king goes home to his castle, a special flag called a “royal standard” is flown from the rooftop, letting everyone know that he is there. It’s a colorful, noisy, joyful day!

But . . . when King Jesus was born in Bethlehem, his arrival wasn’t anything like that! Jesus was born in the quiet of night, in a stable, greeted only by some animals and shepherds.

Remember back to the first Savior Song in Week 1 of Advent? We learned that God set apart his own Son, Jesus, to be a king over all other kings. So, what happened?

Well, Jesus’ kingdom is a little upside down:

  • Instead of ordering people around, Jesus served them.
  • Instead of hanging around with the rich, important people, Jesus made friends with lepers, outcasts, and, sinners.
  • Instead of holding on to His own life, Jesus gave Himself up on the cross.

Jesus has been in charge all along, but His kingdom is unlike any other earthly kingdom! The Bible tells us that one day He will return with trumpet, heralds, even riding a white horse! (Revelation 19:11-16). People everywhere will have to admit that He is the one true king, and they will bow to Him. As God’s people, we are so excited for that day! We wait—just like God’s people did for Jesus’ first coming—and we say, “Maranatha!, Come Lord Jesus!”

[This is part of the Eastbrook Church 2019 Advent devotional, “Songs of the Savior.”]

The Real, Eyes-Open Love of God

Fra Angelico - Annunciation

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

“Love is blind.” At least, that’s how the saying goes. The phrase means that when love is at work, a person is prone to overlook, or just plain fail to see, the problems within the person being loved.  There is some truth to that. We see it in good friends, family members, and even ourselves. “Hindsight is 20/20,” and we often ask ourselves after something has gone wrong in a relationship, “Why didn’t I see that?”

But the kind of love we all deeply desire is not a blind love, but a love that truthfully sees everything about us and still loves us. Love that is blind – that turns away from reality – is false love, while love that sees – that leans into reality – is real love. John 3:16 is such a revered passage of Scripture because it describes God’s love not as blind but as real love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

In the midst of a world stuck in the cycle of death, of blindness even to itself, Jesus the Son of God comes to bring liberating life and love. Even though the world could be condemned because of evil, sin, and injustice, God chooses a different route by sending Jesus to save the world. This is not because God is blind to the realities of the world, but because God desires a different way with the world. Jesus Himself echoes this later when He says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We see in Jesus the Messiah that God’s love is an eyes-open love, leaning into the reality of our world and our lives. Jesus shows us just how far God will go to hold us in His loving embrace.

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing God’s plan to bring the Messiah to birth through her, Mary was astounded. Her question, “How will this be?”, was both a question about the manner of the Messianic birth since she was a virgin and simultaneously a question about the possibility that something like this could occur in human history. When Gabriel emphasized God’s decisive plan to intervene through Jesus as Messiah, such knowledge eventually leads Mary to erupt with praise:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. (Luke 1:46-47, 50)

That little word ‘mercy’ (Greek: ἔλεος) is an echo of the Hebrew word hesed, which refers to God’s uniquely steady and faithful love. Mary grasps, and shares with us today, that God sees what is really there in the world and still chooses to love humanity from generation to generation throughout the earth. Mary becomes a picture not only of humble obedience to God’s call, but also boisterous praise of God’s real, eyes-open love for humanity and all creation.

As we draw close to Christmas Day, let us join Mary’s wondrous call to praise our God whose love is not blind, but rather eyes-open about us and our world. Let us draw near with anticipation to experience once again   the tenderly tenacious love of God found in Jesus the Messiah.

An Angel at the Altar

Blake - Zecharias and the Angel.jpeg
William Blake, The Angel Appearing to Zacharias, pen and black ink, tempera, and glue size on canvas; 1799-1800.

an angel at the altar
heaven’s glory shatters earth’s sanctity
a voice indescribable yet understandable
a promise of hope unimaginable
confusion for old Zechariah
“our age – my wife – a baby – God – now?”
his call and God’s response
no utterance or voice now
his silence itself a testimony
that speaks of the ineffable
what has happened
what is happening
the first flutter of life within Elizabeth
gestates a voice of hope for humanity

 


 

I wrote these words after reading and reflecting on Luke 1:5-25 as part of my Advent readings. Zechariah has always struck me as a figure we all could relate to from Scripture. He encounters and angel of the Lord in the Temple, the place of all places that it seems like such a thing should happen. Yet Zechariah is so overwhelmed and confused by the message the angel brings that he doubts it could be possible. Struck dumb until the birth of the child, his silence becomes a message, even as the baby that his wife, Elizabeth, carries in her womb will be “a voice of one crying out,” directing attention to the Messiah. There is so much in here about speaking and silence, hearing and responding, as part of God’s work in relationship to humanity.