Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
The second week of advent is the week of preparation. I am admittedly quite late in posting. Ironically, I had nothing prepared and found it difficult to do so. Thankfully, the Lord is never late nor does He fail to provide for His plans.
The truth is that the more I had intended to focus on this season for meditation, the more “life” seemed to happen that got in the way of that. My expectations were to enjoy this season to its fullest, throw parties, and in general, really do Christmas. I guess my expectations were a bit Clark Griswald-esque. Instead, projects overran their deadlines, the baby decided to cut two teeth simultaneously, and we found ourselves out of time and energy. It wasn’t what I was expecting.
We all have expectations, and those expectations affect our preparation. First century Jews were looking for someone to throw off the yoke of Rome. Instead, God sent His Son to throw off the yoke of sin. The fact that Israel was prepared for one thing and got another in the first Advent in no way surprised or confounded God.
Despite anyone’s expectations, Bethlehem was long ago assigned and prepared by God. The religious leaders knew that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem, but I suspect they were expecting a superhero to emerge from Bethlehem, not a baby. Even when we know a little, our expectations are often wrong. But that’s okay. The truth is that our proper response is to look to God’s guidance when we prepare; He’s the only one with the whole picture. The fact that God cannot get anxious is of great comfort to me. The fact that He prepared redemption before preparing the world that would need it is of even greater comfort.
Thus says God the Lord,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
Who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,
To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.
I am the Lord, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another,
Nor My praise to carved images.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
And new things I declare;
Before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
The third week of Advent is the week of joy. This is also referred to as the Shepherd’s week.
I have a complicated relationship with joy. The pursuit of joy is not for the faint of heart. It takes effort. It takes strength. It takes hope.
But what joy does not take is a feeling of happiness. Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Rather joy comes from the contentment and hope that we have in God. We are not called to ignore our sorrows or pain and only “feel” joy. The abundant life does not invalidate your past experiences; it redeems them. Our hurts and scars are real. They just aren’t more powerful than God’s grace.
I chose Isaiah 42:5-9 for week three’s verses because real joy must be catalyzed by an honest view of God. Observe:
- Take joy because God is powerful – The Lord made the heavens and the earth as easily as you or I set a table (He stretched them out with the strength of His right hand).
- Take joy because God gives life – God alone gives the breath of life.
- Take joy because God gives salvation – God sent His Servant to make salvation available for all people and not just one or a few peoples.
- Take joy because God has sent a Redeemer – God sent His Servant to heal and set captives free.
- Take joy because God will not compromise His glory (i.e., His righteousness, His holiness, His integrity, His honesty, His promises, etc.).
- Take joy because God is not finished yet – This world is not all there is; God is making something new.
God is never surprised, outwitted, or overwhelmed. His plans are never thwarted, and his preparations are always foolproof.