Promised New Heaven

Don’t you just hate interruptions? They slow down your progress, derail your train of thought, and often feel just rude. I used to get aggravated when I was interrupted at work until I finally realized that interruptions ARE the job. Every time someone pokes their head in the doorway and says, “Can I bother you for a second?” it is a call to ministry. I have even learned that when the sound of a siren interrupts worship, that is a time to stop everything and pray. Something more important is happening…God is redirecting our attention to what he wants us to focus on.

The interruption of 2 Peter into our mellow Christmas preparations is a little startling today. We are so ready to hear about angels, shepherds, mooing cows, the baby who sleeps through the night on a pile of hay without crying….bring it on!

But this lectionary passage looks well past the manger and reinforces the reason that the Holy Child came at all. What exactly was the point of the incarnation? To prove God’s power through a miraculous conception? To deliver God-Made-Flesh as an infant for us to worship and adore? To give the Three Kings somewhere to go?

Jesus came for one reason: to save humanity. All the lullaby songs, all the gentle sheep, all the startled shepherds standing under the epiphany star were just the beginning. Jesus came to herald in the Day of God.

2 Peter 3 (The Message)

11-13 Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness.

Where are you looking this Advent season? Are you so focused on the life-giving birth that you have forgotten the life-saving death? Remind me, why are we doing this again?

We do it again to be ready for the real ending. The ending that Christ began in the manger. The ending he delivered on the cross. The ending that he guaranteed three days later at his resurrection.

So for today, live your life for the ending. Live at your best. Live in purity and peace. Live as one who is looking the other way, toward the promised new heaven and the promised new earth.

Live a holy life.

14-16 So, my dear friends, since this is what you have to look forward to, do your very best to be found living at your best, in purity and peace. Interpret our Master’s patient restraint for what it is: salvation.

This is what you have to look forward to! And it promises to be the best Christmas present you’ll receive…so don’t miss it.

Look Toward the New Heaven by Peggy Bryson

Prepare the Way

Our adventure toward the manger continues today with a look at the very first chapter of Mark. Mark is accepted as the first Gospel that was written, so it will be interesting to look at the first words of the first words. What was important? How shall we start this story? Every journey begins with a first step and every story begins with a first word. What did Mark think would be the most important way to start the good news of Jesus Christ?

He begins with Isaiah, and then quickly pivots to John the Baptist.

Mark 1 (Common English Bible)

1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you.
He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:
        “Prepare the way for the Lord;
        make his paths straight.”

This is a convincing and deliberate way to speak to the Jews of the time. Mark begins by presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of a well-known prophecy. Every hearer would have known Isaiah’s foretelling of the promised Messiah. Mark connects the preparation that Isaiah laid with John the Baptist’s call to prepare. This is to demonstrate that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.

John’s preaching

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 

Here we find the instructions for how to prepare to receive the Messiah. Change your heart. Change your life. Ask God to forgive your sins.

Sounds a little like Lent, doesn’t it?

But what better way could we possibly prepare ourselves for the incoming and indwelling of God-made-flesh?

Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 

OK, so John was a little strange in his appearance and habits. But the spotlight was never supposed to be on him. His announcement is loud and clear: there is one coming after me who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals.I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

This might be a good day to put down the tinsel, set aside the wrapping paper, and really be about our Father’s work. It was his will to send Jesus so that we might be cleansed of our sins and saved.

How are you preparing? Have you stopped your Christmas preparations long enough to do some Advent soul-searching?

Today is the day. Ask God to come into your heart and take inventory. And be ready for a baptism of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and change.

Come, Holy Spirit! Make us ready.

Preparing by Jennifer Thompson

The Great ADVENTure

Come along with me on a great adventure. One that doesn’t require time in the malls or searching Amazon, but one that ushers in the ADVENT of the Kingdom of God on earth. This breaking-through of the holy presence did not get cleaned up by hospital nurses and handed to his momma wrapped in a hospital print blanket and matching hat. This presence did not receive a baby shower with brightly wrapped presents from his adoring family. This presence didn’t even have a gender reveal party…can you imagine?

No, this presence was birthed in dirt and spent his first night on earth sleeping to the sounds of a mooing cow and a snoring donkey. The stink must have been noticeable, but he was too little and much too polite to mention it.

This miraculous presence came straight from heaven above, intended to take root in the hearts and souls of humanity. God sent his only son to walk among us, to experience temptation, to feel hunger, pain, disappointment (lots and lots of disappointment), anger, and friendship. When God deigned to be one among us, he went whole-hog. He didn’t just tickle his toes in humanity-water, he went for the deep dive and didn’t come up for air for 33 years. God with us, Emmanuel.

The great ADVENTure we will embark on will lead us straight to that manger scene, where we will find ourselves standing among dirty shepherds, regal wisemen, a couple of sheep, vibrant angels, and his parents. Like a piece in a nativity set, we will freeze there in worship and adoration.

But not just yet.

In the meantime, we must prepare. Advent is a season of preparation. Not with decorating, buying, baking, and decking all our halls, but by making our spiritual heart-homes ready to receive the awe that is coming.

In Matthew, we are reminded that we didn’t know the hour of Christ’s first coming on earth, nor will we anticipate the timing of his second coming. So we have one job: to be ready.

Matthew 24:36 (NRSV)

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

KEEP AWAKE. You don’t know. You must be ready. The hour will be unexpected. You don’t want to be caught unaware.

How can you get ready for the greatest breaking-in of heaven upon the earth? How can you prepare to receive this incredible gift of the infant God, who came to save, heal, forgive, teach, help, rebuke, serve, and love?

Maybe it’s time to clean out the musty attic of your heart and create a space for the manger child to have a room there. Do you carry any unconfessed sin? Repent. Do you harbor a grudge with someone? Forgive. Are you estranged from a family member? Reconcile. Are you lazy in your discipleship? Begin a new discipline, like reading this Advent devotional without fail every morning.

Advent kind of sounds like Lent, doesn’t it?

This season heralds the greatest adventure humankind has ever known. If you keep stressing about gifts, cookie baking, parties, cleaning, and entertaining, you are sure to miss it.

Don’t do that again this year. Be still. Listen. Breathe deeply of the fragrance of the Evergreen that brings both life and eternal life into your nostrils. Settle yourself down so that you can be open to receive him.

See you at the manger.

Pennsylvania Snow by Becca Ziegler.