Category Archives: Advent

Keep Christ in Christmukkah!

ep-151219982Blessed Advent greetings to all, Merry Christmas! and Happy Chanukkah…

Yes, it is a busy time of year.  But all this busyness, except maybe the shopping, is a great way to spend time considering the best gift of God we could possibly receive.  And maybe even in shopping we can focus on gifts that bless as God has blessed us!  Praise Him for His gift of salvation through our Messiah Jesus, who’s birth, life, death and resurrection give us the promise of everlasting life.

This month is an oddity in the calendar because the two calendars, the Hebrew and the Gregorian have actually synced.  The new moon this month was on the 1st of December, which means that the 1st of Kislev and the 1st of December were the same day.  The 1st of December then, was a minor festival , Rosh Chodesh, (literally the “Head of the Month”), the festival of the New Moon.  This festival was introduced by God in Numbers 10:10, and you can see it’s observance throughout the Scriptures.  Paul mentions this festival in Colossians 2:16.

Rosh Chodesh is not a significant festival of the Jewish calendar, often sufficient to simply mention it the previous Sabbath with the inclusion of some prayers for the occasion.  But the significance of this new moon for us is that the 25th of Kislev and the 25th of December are the same day.  The 25th of Kislev, of course, is Chanukkah, which goes from the eve of the 24th through January 1.  Some in our circles are calling it Chrismukkah and Jew Year’s Eve!  I am not that bold, but I am reflecting on the reality that as our family celebrates the twelve days of Christmas, including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, The Feast of St. Stephen (the 26th), St. John the Evangelist (the 27th), and the feast of the Holy Innocents (the 28th), we will be lighting a candle on the Chanukkah menorah for most of those twelve days.  While the feeble lights of the Chanukkiah may not contend well with the brilliance of Christmas, without the events of Chanukkah, none of Christmas would have been possible!

So this year, more than perhaps any other, we are remembering all the miracles of the Christmas season, including the miracle of God’s preservation of His people against enormous odds, so that from their cradle the Messiah would come.  Some 200 years before Jesus stood in Solomon’s colonnade at Chanukkah to affirm that He is indeed the Messiah (John 10:22), a nation sought to destroy Israel.  God would have none of it!  That nation would survive and Mary would become with child.  The rest, as they say, is His story.

Merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.  And . . .Happy Chanukkah too.

If you are interested in Advent devotions, just type “Advent devotions” into the search bar above, and you will be taken to a list of Advent devotions beginning with Epiphany (so you have to scroll down).  May I also suggest that we hear all the time about Luther’s “On the Jews and Their Lies,” but go to http://www.ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/primary-texts-from-the-history-of-the-relationship/272-luther-1523 for a different perspective on Luther (“That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew”).

http://www.BurningBushLCMS.org http://www.ChaivShalom.com

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Epiphany–Wise Men Still Worship

MagiIllustration:  “Journey of the Magi” by James Tissot, c. 1894.  Oil on canvas.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him’” (Matthew 2:1-2).

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord, the day that Magi from the east followed a star and came in search of Messiah. Not only were they students of astronomy, but also of God’s promises. Perhaps they had prepared for this time with those Hebrew Scriptures that were translated into Greek before Christ’s birth. No matter how they knew, God’s promises of a Messiah were clearly communicated to those outside of Israel. The Magi traveled to Jerusalem in search of the King, bringing Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  It was their way of answering the Psalmist’s cry, “May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!  May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!” (Psalm 72:10-11).   It was their way of worshipping this infant incarnation of God.

Like the Magi, you and I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn about God’s promises to send a Savior. God has given us faith to recognize that Jesus is the Promised One. Also like the Magi, God’s love in Jesus inspires us to worship Him. As you gather with other Christians today to worship Jesus, offer your most precious gift—yourself, committed anew to His mission.

Prayer: Bless us today, Lord, forgiving us all our sins, renewing us by the power of the Holy Spirit, and strengthening us for the world to come. In Jesus name. Amen.

As We Wait: Thank you so much for taking this Advent, Christmas and Epiphany journey with me.  I hope you have enjoyed the artwork of faithful people from many generations.  And I hope you have been blessed by these daily devotions.  In celebration of Christ’s revelation to all the world, both Jew and Gentile, set aside a gift today to support those in the mission field.

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A Remnant Remains

Olive treeIllustration:  “Menorah of Zechariah’s Vision (Folio 316v)” from the Cervera Bible illuminated by Joseph the Frenchman, Spain, 1299-1300.  Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment.

“For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:24).

Peter said God made us living stones to build a temple. In this passage from Romans, Paul describes God’s work in us by pointing to the tree of Abraham, the root from which all of God’s promises have been fulfilled. Gentile Christians—people who believe in Jesus but are not descended from Abraham—are “wild olive branches,” which God prunes and grafts into the tree of Abraham. By faith in Messiah, these Gentiles are the adopted children of Abraham and are saved by the same promise God gave Abraham and his descendants.

God has not forgotten the natural sons of Abraham, the Jewish people. The wild branches do not replace the natural branches, but increase the fullness of the tree. Although Israel’s hard hearted disbelief caused many of them to be cut off, God will use your joyful life in Christ to make Israel envious for what they have forsaken. When they do believe, God will graft these natural branches back into the tree of Abraham.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for giving me faith. Show me how to live so that others will see Jesus. Amen.

As We Wait: God keeps His promises, to the children of Abraham and to you. Always live as His child, expecting the best from your Father!

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Waiting and Telling

12 Good WorksIllustration:  “St. George: From the series ’12 Good Works‘” by Yevgenia Kokoreva, 2010.  Sketch.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).

What does it mean to be ready every day, every moment of the day? It means responding to Christ’s command to share your faith, and living as a person who is already redeemed. Peter says that you and I, because we believe in Jesus, are the living stones with which God is building His temple.

I met an Israeli believer in Jesus while I was in Israel.  He told me that in Israel they call stones that have been cut or carved “living stones.” Dead stones are those which no hand has touched. To be a living stone means allowing God to shape you and form you according to His will. It means doing the good works God has prepared for you to do. Certainly your good works will never save you, but since you have been justified by Messiah, your good deeds glorify God. As you wait for Christ’s return, everything you do testifies to the glory of God and points others to Him.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, use me to testify to Your glory. Thank You for shedding Your blood, redeeming me, and raising me up as a living stone. Amen.

As We Wait: How does your life testify to Christ living in you? Good works flow from the love of Christ and respond to the love He has already shown you.

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When Is He Coming Back?

ParousiaIllustration:  “Parousia” by Justin Morris (Concordia University Irvine), c. 2007 .  Oil on canvas.

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

For thousands of years, people have tried to predict the day of the Lord, the day of judgment. Prophets have spoken of it and visions about it have been interpreted. Today, Jesus’ promise that the end would come at a time only God knows, a promise given to reassure us of God’s power and redemptive grace, has instead divided the Church. Some Christians believe Jesus will be here soon; some believe there will be a long period of terror and tribulation before He comes; some believe tribulation will happen after Jesus takes all Christians to heaven.

It seems clear to me that Christ’s kingdom on earth has come and we are living in it. What else could explain the growth of the Church? Yet, it is also clear that the peace God has promised is not yet here. The Garden has yet to be restored. When will that happen? I think God’s answer would be, “When the time has fully come.”

Prayer: Dear God, help me to be ready for Your return every day. Preserve my faith in You and show me how to live for You. Amen.

As We Wait: No matter when Jesus returns and the world ends, remember that every day is judgment day for someone. Pray for an opportunity to share Jesus with someone who does not know Him yet.

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Still, We Wait

JudgmentIllustration:  “The Last Judgment” by Michelangelo, finished in 1541.  Fresco, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:4-5).

What now? Jesus has been ascended to sit at His Father’s right hand in heaven. He has gone before us to prepare a place for us, but now it has been almost 2,000 years since His resurrection. It seems like some of the things He said must happen are being done: the Gospel of Christ has been preached to many, if not all, the nations. In the last hundred years more Jewish people have come to faith in Jesus than in the history of the church! There have been wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and persecution of the Church (Matthew 24:6-14). What should I be doing while I wait for His return?

As popular movies and books about the end times have heightened our awareness of the signs of God’s plan, our call is to focus on and point others to Jesus. Many people who never considered spiritual things before are asking questions. The most important answer we can ever give to questions about the end times is that Jesus is the Way of salvation. He is the only Christ.

Prayer: Lord, use me to show Yourself to people who have questions about the end times. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

As We Wait: Ask a non-Christian friend what he or she believes the end of the world will be like. Be prepared to share your hope in Jesus, who is preparing a place in heaven for you.

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New Year’s Day–When the Fullness of Time Had Come

I Stand at the DoorIllustration:  “The Light of the World” by William Holman Hunt, 1853.  Oil on canvas over panel.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

When I see bad things happening, knowing God can do good things, I often wonder, “What is God waiting for?” You see it, too: Christians persecuted for their faith, children dying of malnutrition, congregations suffering for lack of pastors. What is God waiting for? Surely Israel asked that question often during the 4,000 years of waiting for God to fulfill His promise. Paul answers this question with one simple sentence: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.”

By the time Jesus was born, Greece had influenced the entire known world and Greek had become a common language. In the last few centuries before Jesus’ birth, the Hebrew Scriptures had been translated into Greek and its promises made known throughout the world. The vast Roman empire had created a well-developed system of roads that provided for easy passage throughout their territory. The world was primed for God’s promise to unfold. What better time for the Savior to come?

Prayer: Lord, preserve me in my faith and show me how You want to use me to bless others in Jesus’ name. Amen.

As We Wait: As you wait for the Lord’s return, keep in mind that God knows when the time is right. Watch for the ways He wants to use you to bless others now.  May God bless you today and in 2016 as He uses you to further His kingdom and bless others with faith.

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New Year’s Eve

The CircumcisionIllustration:  “The Circumcision,” by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, c. 1739-1774.  Oil on canvas.

This day the world is getting ready to usher in a new year.  Parties are being planned, clothes are being laid out and reservations are made. But so many of those party-goers never give any thought to what the Church is preparing for.

The circumcision and naming of Jesus is probably one of the lesser known and celebrated festivals of the Church Year.  But it is one infinite importance.  Jesus’ circumcision tells us many things.  He is a child of Abraham.  His parents observe the law for Him and bring him to the mohel, the “circumciser” and Jesus sheds His first blood for us.

Yes, for us.  For Him to be the Lamb of God, he must be blemish free, and ironically, to be blemish free is to be cut upon, to shed blood, to observe the law, so that when he sheds His blood on the cross for us, “it is finished.”

And his name is Y’shua, “He saves.”  It is by that name that we enter into the presence of God.  When Mary followed Gabriel’s command and named her baby Y’shua, she set into motion the events we await.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for keeping all Your promises to me.  This year, with Your help, I want to keep all my promises to You.

As We Wait:  As you make your plans for the new year, start with a worship service and celebrate the real reason we have so much joy.  And Happy New Year.

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Share the Promise

St. PaulIllustration:  “St. Paul” by Masaccio, 1426.  Tempera on wood.

“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers, a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).

God’s people act on God’s command. The obedience of the nations is Messiah’s (see Dec. 6). All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). At His command and with His authority, we go to people of all nations, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3).

At Pentecost (the 40th day after Easter, when God sent the Holy Spirit), Jewish people from many lands came to the temple in Jerusalem and received the Holy Spirit. They returned to their homes proclaiming God’s glory in Messiah Jesus. As Jesus commanded, they spread the message from Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Though these first evangelists were Jewish, the sad irony is that soon the Jewish people became hardened to the name of Jesus, and fell away from faith in Messiah. Even today they struggle with God, refusing to hear His Word. But as God promised, a remnant of the Jewish people still believe in Messiah.

Paul’s theme verse of the letter to the Romans is  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).  Paul put this into action as everywhere he went, he went first to the Jew.  God still has a plan for his beloved first children.

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for being “Immanuel,” God with us, as we serve Your gospel among Jews and Gentiles throughout the world. Amen.

As We Wait: Find out more about Lutherans in Jewish Evangelism (Burning Bush Ministries), a Recognized Service Organization of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and Congregation Chai v’Shalom, ministries to Jewish people who do not know Jesus is the Messiah they await.

http://www.BurningBushLCMS.org http://www.ChaivShalom.com

Resurrection Fulfills the Promise

ResurrectionIllustration:  “The Morning of the Resurrection” by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt, 1886.  Oil paint on wood.

“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’–and that he had said these things to her” (John 20:18).

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! We don’t have to wait until Easter to give this glad tiding. Today we celebrate the resurrection, God’s final victory over death and Satan. Isaiah’s prophecy has come to pass. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).

The apostle Paul taught that without the resurrection, our faith in Christ would be in vain. Yet there are many who call themselves Christians, but deny the resurrection. Clearly, there is much work yet to be done. Satan may not have any dominion over us who are saved, but his whisper is still heard throughout the land. He knows he is defeated, that he will no longer rule. But he will take as many with him as he can.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for giving me faith that does not depend upon the evidence of my eyes, but only upon You and Your promise. Sustain me in my faith, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

As We Wait: God has not returned in final victory because there are still many who can be saved. Lutheran Hour Ministries is one tool God uses to reach people around the world with His love. Consider supporting this Christ-centered ministry today.

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