An Advent Devotional

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An Advent Devotional

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The Gift of Peace

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

For almost a decade now, I’ve always loved the music written by John Mark McMillan. Most of you probably don’t know who that is, but you’ve probably sang his song, How He Loves. I’ve listened to his albums on repeat, seen him in concert, gotten his autograph, wore his concert tour t-shirt until it was unwearable, and kept up with him on social media. Well, you could imagine my excitement when I was asked if I wanted to interview him about his latest Christmas album, Baby Son, on a friend of mine’s podcast, The Daily Brew. That song is actually one of my favorite Christmas songs! Here’s a snippet of the lyrics:

We thought You'd come with a crown of gold
A string of pearls and a cashmere robe
We thought You'd clinch an iron fist
And rain like fire on the politics
But without a sword, no armored guard
But common born in mother's arms
The government now rests upon
The shoulders of this Baby Son
Have you no room inside your heart
The inn is full, the out is dark
But upon profane shines sacred sun
Not ashamed to be one of us

The day of the interview, I was so nervous. I meticulously worded all my questions, I tried to think of ways to come across as casual and funny, my stomach knotted up as the phone rang, and I paced back and forth jittery the entire conversation. I think that’s the definition of starstruck, and yet it was over someone you’ve probably never even heard of, over someone that I’ve admired and thought of for years, yet who has no idea who I am.

Wouldn’t you think our relationship with God would be similar? That the Creator of universe has no reason to know who we are and no business being around us? We spend all this time, some our whole lives, thinking about Him, reading about Him, praying to Him, and yet who are we that he would be mindful of us as the psalmist writes in Psalm 8?

And yet, Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that this God knows the plans that he has for His people; plans that include prosperity, hope, and a future. A better translation of that verse says, “For I know my thoughts towards you…” We could, and should, stop right there and be taken back that the God of the Universe, the Alpha and the Omega, the God outside of time and space, thinks of us.

But what does Jeremiah tell us the Lord is thinking about? It says plans to prosper us, but the Hebrew word used there is the word Shalom. The word Shalom is a rich Hebrew word that in its most basic understanding is translated as peace.  For Israel, it was a promise of peace that comes from the absence of war and the fear of being conquered, which ultimately will lead to their prosperity and a future as a nation under the rule of a mighty king, but even more, shalom is peace from God that brings wholeness and makes all things right, not only for us, but all creation. Shalom is what we are longing for when Christ returns, where we will no longer be separated from God and one another because of our sin, brokenness, and rebellion. Peace with God. Peace with ourselves. Peace with our neighbor. Peace with creation. Shalom.

Our Advent reading plan on day 4 took us to Jeremiah 33, where God promises the people of Israel what his plan of shalom will be…

“I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me… The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time. I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.” – Jeremiah 33:7-8; 14-15

I can already see some of you squirming as the broken record of Context is King! is being triggered in your head by quoting Jeremiah 29:11, a commonly taken out of context passage. So, I’ll address the elephant in the room… Yes. This passage is not written to us, but to the people of Israel in exile. God did not tell the church in modern day America that he has plans for our prosperity and future. But I’ll end with this question… If that was true for Israel, God’s people under the old covenant facing judgement and exile because of their sin and rebellion against God; if God thought of them and had a plan for their peace to give them hope and a future by forgiving their sins, wouldn’t that be exponentially true for us today as God’s people under a new covenant of grace, given the gift of His Spirit, who put their trust in Jesus, God’s plan for salvation, The Lord Our Righteous Savior?

That’s what Advent is all about. We, just like Israel, are a people who are waiting for God to fulfill his promise for our peace and to bring his plan for salvation and free us from our captivity. We are waiting for the fulfillment of our hope and for the future he has for us. Advent reminds us that God not only knows us, not only thinks about us, but that the Creator of the universe thinks so much about us that he would become one of us, walk amongst us, die like a thief because of and for us, and then trust us to continue to prepare the way for his second advent, promising to always be with us.  

This second week of Advent, let us fix our eyes upon the Prince of Peace, the Prince of Shalom, who by his blood gave us peace with God, so as to be called His sons and daughters, even amidst our sin and rebellion. And let us prepare ourselves for the day when our King comes again bringing the full reign of God’s peace.

Shalom,

Ben

Posted by Ben Faust with

The Gift of Hope

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“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"

A few months ago, I purchased a collector’s edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Then, I got busy and the book sat on a shelf for quite some time. Recently though, I have been rereading the trilogy in the evenings. There is a part near the end of the third book where Samwise Gamgee encounters Gandalf, whom he thought was dead and asks a very simple, yet profound question, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

This is the message of Advent. We have a very real and tangible hope and we long for the coming of our King who will make all things new. Even our pain, confusion, and sadness.

Now, the point is not to undervalue life in this world, but to set it in context. Our pain must be weighed in the light of eternity. Our hopes and expectations are anchored in a greater reality that is both transforming (waiting on Him) and certain (He will return). Pain does not become less real, nor is it unimportant or less difficult. Rather, because of this very real, very tangible hope, pain is limited in its reach by the knowledge that it too shall “come untrue.”

The apostle Paul and many other New Testament writers describe God as the "God of hope." The word "hope" appears 85 times in the New Testament alone, and throughout the Bible it is stressed that a relationship with God is the ultimate anchor of our hope. To the Roman church Paul wrote, "For in this hope we were saved... 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." Paul anchors believers in the certainty of hope and in the need to wait for the King who will make good on His promise. The end will come, everything sad will come untrue, but until then we trust in God as we wait on His return.

This is why Advent has the potential to create in us a transforming anticipation for something better. As the writer of Hebrews reminded us in our study last fall, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf."

Because Jesus came, we can walk through the difficulty of life with a very real hope. A hope that He will return for us. A hope that one day, we will no longer have a need for hope because we will be face to face with the one in whom we placed our hope.

If you’re like me, Christmas can be bittersweet. I love the traditions with my wife and kids, gathering with our church family, sleeping in, watching sports, and even (if only for a few hours) the potential of snow. But I also carry the pain of missing loved ones, the sting of regret, and weight of disappointment. And in the midst of it all there is hope.

So, this year, as you wrestle with the bittersweet nature of Christmas in a broken world and you wonder, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” remember the King is coming and His message is simple and clear, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

-Rob Jankowski

Advent Reading Plan
Dec 2 - Hebrews 1
Dec 3 - Isaiah 9:1-7
Dec 4 - Jeremiah 33
Dec 5 - Psalm 110
Dec 6 - John 14
Dec 7 - Luke 1
Dec 8 - Luke 2:1-14

Posted by Rob Jankowski with

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