An Advent Check-in

Three weeks into the Advent season and things are just about to get very, very busy!

You no doubt know the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42).  Martha was fuming as she worked in the kitchen to prepare a meal for Jesus and his TWELVE! disciples. (Martha thought TWELVE! a lot!) And where was Miss Mary? sitting at the feet of Jesus just listening.  Martha came out of the kitchen and asked Jesus to send Mary to her rightful place– the kitchen alongside her sister. There were those TWELVE disciples and Jesus to feed after all.   Jesus must have suppressed a laugh as he said that Mary had a place among the disciples, learning from Jesus with them.  Jesus was no sexist– but it still didn’t make Martha very happy. Besides, there were a lot of mouths to feed.  Still, she missed the point Jesus was making.

The Advent season is not about getting ourselves all worked up for the season with innumerable preparations. It really is about sitting at the feet of Jesus, hearing him speak to your heart, learning from him and quietly centering yourself in his presence.

So, on this third Sunday of Advent, how are you doing? Are you all worked up in a tizzy? Or, are you taking some time to sit at the feet of Jesus?

I get that you have a lot to do. I do, too.  So, make a list, prioritize it as you see fit. Plan your work–work your plan. But the season is not much use apart from entering the spirit of the season. So, after you finish your “To-Do” list, sit quietly at the feet of Jesus and rest in him awhile.


Consider Cousin John…

Read: John 1:6-8; 19-28

John the Baptist was an unexpected prophet.  As I read the text, he seems to come out of nowhere.  If Santa is the “ho-ho-ho” jolly kind of guy, John was the “HEY!HEY! HEY!-STOP THAT!” kind of guy.

The Gospels of Mark and Luke help fill in the details to some degree. A bit of study online or in a commentary also helps.

John was born to a Levite Priest and a Judean mother. He came along in their “old age.”  To serve at the Temple one had to be between the ages of 30 and 50.  So, if he was on the upper end-towards 50–for the day, that would be pretty far along.

He would have received a good education. From early on he would be immersed in the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible. He would have memorized huge chunks of it. He would have been taught to argue points of the law much like a lawyer. He would have also learned a trade. That was the standard for all Jewish men of the day.  And, it is likely his parents passed away before he was fully grown.  There is some speculation that John lived among the Essenes in Qumran for a time. The Essenes were a separatist sect that stressed fidelity to Scripture in everything.

John would have had peers from his schooling and they very likely became the Scribes and scribal lawyers we meet in the Gospels. Or, they may also have been Levites and served the temple staff in some capacity.  Not unlike our day, they jockeyed for the best positions with influence and money.  John rejected that entirely.  His clothing was so opposite that of the wealthy priests. He dressed in rough camel hair with a crude belt.  He gave himself to seeking God in the wilderness for days, weeks and months on end.

He was an honest man. He was a moral man. He was not afraid to speak truth to power–even if it might cost him his life; which, in the end it did.  He was not afraid to step into a prophetic role. his voice rang with divine authority. The people counted him as an authentic prophet.

So, what did John really do?  The answer is: nothing for himself. He gave himself away to be used of God as a “voice crying in the wilderness.”  He testified to the greater light of the Christ –of Jesus. And of all that John has said, nothing is so profound as this, which he said in regard to Jesus: “I must decrease that he might increase.”

Jesus honored John and said of him that John was the greatest prophet. Jesus gives insight like this world cannot grasp: he or she that is least, is greater even than John.

I am meditating on that tonight. How may I testify to Jesus and leave my ego out of it?   How will you do that?

Texts for December 17, 2017 The Third Sunday In Advent

Bible Texts For The Third Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 64:1-4; 8-11

Psalm 126

I Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8; 19-28



These texts may not seem related at all, but they comprise a theme.  On the first and second Sundays of Advent we light a blue candle. (Some use purple)  On the third Sunday in Advent we light a pink candle. It is a signal that the season will draw to a close next week. The color pink signifies the change and the texts all resound with hope.  Hope is on the way.  God is revealing the true purpose of the Christ and of Christmas.

Isaiah spoke that word of hope to a people who had been in exile in Babylon. This happened between the years 586 BCE and 515BCE. Now they are given permission to return.  It must have so taken them by surprise!   We see that reflected in the Psalm

I Thessalonians reminds us that joy is our watchword.  And the Gospel of John opens as the world has just stepped on the threshold of change.

Read each of the Lessons carefully.   Jot down a few things that bring up questions.  If you have insights, please share them.

As you read Isaiah 61 in particular, picture you with your church and how this text might touch you and your church as you hear it.  Then, picture your community.  In every community there are people who could care less about God. There are people who are listening for God. There are people dealing with illness, depression, grief and death. How might they hear this text?

Two Questions From Today’s Gospel


Reading: Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets:

“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.”
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”

John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


Mark’s Gospel is a unique piece of writing for several reasons. First, it was the first of its kind. Nothing like it ever appeared in print prior to its writing.  The literature of the day just did not include stories of common people. Nor would any author have considered it. Writings were about winners and not losers. Jesus came for the so-called “losers.”

Why does Mark’s gospel appear to be in a hurry?  Its key word is “immediately,” or in the King James version, “straight away.”    Mark wrote to resource his readers during a time of extreme trial. The Roman army was crushing Israel and to survive, the people were fleeing, much like contemporary refugees do in times of war and violence.  Though God took in years of preparation for the coming of Jesus, once he was here, things were moving fast.

Mark also did not use the typical scroll format for his writing. It was much too cumbersome to take along in times of necessity. Instead, he used a rare method of cutting the pages and stitching them together just like a book we would commonly see. It was much easier to hide this or simply store it in a backpack as you were on the move.

Second. Why was John Baptizing people in the Jordan?  Typically, Jews were not baptized. That was for gentile converts.  But, to go to the temple, one washed ceremonially in one of the pools near the temple mount—for a fee.  Follow the money and ask who is in control and where is the money going?  (Here’s a hint: when Jesus over turned the tables of the money-changers outside the temple, who were the money changers working for?)

John went to the Jordan and baptized native Jews who were turning away from a system that used them and lined the pockets of their leaders. He was restoring worship to the people, where the only condition is an open, repentant heart and not a monetary donation.

But John is a true prophet because, he not only had an authentic word from God for the people, he himself did not let his ego get involved. He was a voice—crying in the wilderness. He pointed beyond himself to the One God had chosen to redeem God’s people.  A prophet knows the message is not about themselves; it’s about what God is doing.  You have to admire John for his humility and wisdom.  Later, Jesus himself acknowledged John as one of the greatest prophets.


What man or women of God do you know demonstrates the kind of selfless humility John exemplifies?

Patience in Tough Seasons

 Take a few minutes to read the text.  Don’t rush it.  Just read with comprehension.  After reading, make note of the questions behind the texts that it answers. Make a note of the questions it brings to your mind.

2 Peter 3:8-15Modern English Version (MEV)


But, beloved, do not be ignorant of this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness. But He is patient with us, because He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat. The earth also and the works that are in it will be burned up.

11 Seeing then that all these things are to be destroyed, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 while you are waiting for and desiring the coming of the day of God, in which the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will be consumed by intense heat? 13 But, according to His promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these things, be diligent that you may be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless. 15 Keep in mind that the patience of our Lord means salvation, even as our beloved brother Paul has also written to you according to the wisdom given to him.


The writer, traditionally, the Apostle Peter, is writing to Christians who are growing weary of waiting for Christ’s return.  It is interesting, but every generation believes they are living in the last days.

Do you recall waiting for your mom or dad to come home after being gone for several hours and saying, “When are they coming home?” And behind that is the fear they you might be forgotten.   That seems to be the case with the disciples at the end of the 1sst century.

The author wants to convince his community that Jesus will return. He reminds them that God’s time is nothing like our time. They were thinking that seventy years was a long time. Not so, “with the Lord … a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). They shouldn’t, they can’t give up. We who sang of the good news of the Lord’s first coming have placed our lives in the loving hands of a God who “is not slow about his promise” (2 Peter 3:9). Our God keeps his promises and will return in great surprise. Using traditional apocalyptic language, Jesus will come like a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10; cf. Luke 12:39). Make no mistake; this is neither a fable nor a failure. Jesus will come. (Lucy Hogan)

I cannot say these present times make me comfortable.  I ask questions, like: Will God allow us to release nuclear missiles against a small, enemy power? Will they send some our way?    And, what will now happen in the hyper-excitable Middle East with the recognition by the US of Jerusalem as the Israeli capitol?

Peter reminds us that God’s time is not according to our schedule.  Our part is to trust, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and do what we can each day to make our part of the world better.

Martin Luther was planting a tree in an orchard his wife, Katherine was establishing.  As he dug the hole someone asked, “What would you do if you knew the world was coming to an end tonight?”

Luther placed the sapling in the hole he dug and calming said. “I’d finish planting this tree.”

As the early Shakers put it: Hands to work and hearts to God.

Voices You Need To Hear In The Text

As I read through Isaiah 40:1-11, it seemed to me that there were many voices in this text.  I always heard God’s voice and the prophet’s voice, but on reading it, there seems to be many voices.

In Jewish literature, Heaven has councils.  I think this might be like that.  As you read through the text, you will hear God’s voice echoing—and also Isaiah’s voice.  But verse 6 there is another voice.  It is a voice of one who puts no hope nor trust in people.  “All flesh is as grass…”

But then there is another voice and this one is full of hope. “O Zion, bearer of Good News; get you up to a high mountain…”

The voice is an exhortation.  God can be trusted by his people, and will act on their behalf.

Verses 10-11 are yet another voice. Perhaps, as G.F. Handel understood it in composing the incomparable, “Messiah,” this section is a chorus of the heavenly hosts, affirming God’s care for a downtrodden people—God’s own people.

Spend some time here and listen closely. What voices do you hear arising out of this text?


Isaiah 40:1-11Modern English Version (MEV)

40 Comfort, O comfort, My people, says your God.
Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been pardoned,
that she has received of the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.

The voice of him who cries out,
“Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up,  and every mountain and hill be made low,
and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rough places a plain;
then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”

The voice said, “Cry out.”
And he said, “What shall I cry out?”

All flesh is grass,
and all its loveliness is as the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
because the Spirit of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God shall stand forever.

O Zion, bearer of good news,
get yourself up onto a high mountain;
O Jerusalem, bearer of good news,
lift up your voice with strength,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 See, the Lord God will come with a strong hand,
and His arm shall rule for Him;
see, His reward is with Him,
and His recompense before Him.
11 He shall feed His flock like a shepherd;
He shall gather the lambs with His arm,
and carry them in His bosom,
and shall gently lead those that are with young.



Texts for the Upcoming Sunday Dec 10th

The texts for the Second Sunday of Advent are here (below)

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

Start at the reading from Isaiah 40 and read it slowly. Ponder over the words and let them soak in.  Do this each succeeding day with the other 3 texts.

If you wish, go to and look up the Isaiah 40 text from Handel’s “Messiah.”  With just ten minutes each day in these texts you will certainly know more about the background for the Christmas season, but I would think that you will find yourself gaining significant depth in your walk with the Lord.