Meditations for Advent

Meditations for Advent

Friday 25th December 2020

Christmas Day

Reading: Lk.2,8-20

V.10 “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

‘Lord, you were rich beyond all splendour,
yet, for love’s sake, became so poor;
leaving our throne in glad surrender,
sapphire-paved courts for stable floor:
Lord, you were rich beyond all splendour,
yet for love’s sake, became so poor.

‘You are our God beyond all praising,
yet, for love’s sake, became a man;
stooping so low, but sinners raising
heavenwards, by your eternal plan:
you are our God, beyond all praising,
yet for love’s sake, became a man.

‘Lord, you are love beyond all telling;
Saviour and King, we worship you;
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
make us and keep us pure and true:
Lord, you are love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship you.’

                                                Frank Houghton (1894-1972)

 

Thursday 24th December 2020

Advent, Christmas Eve

Reading: Lk.2,1-14

V.7 ``And she gave birth to her firstborn son… and laid him in a manger``

The significance of the incarnation is hardly perceived in the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. The whole thing bears the mark of lowliness. One does not get the impression that what happened there had any or much significance beyond the circle of those who were affected. And yet it did. But who sees?

The blind do, because Jesus has come to give sight. The bound, because he has come to give freedom. The guilty, because he has come to forgive. The lost, because he has come to find. The people sitting in darkness, because the One who came is the light. The sorrowful, because he has come to bless. The sinner, because he has come to give life.

God’s condescension reaches into our despair, the guilt of our sins, our lowliness, so that in finding us where we are God may be with us and redeem us.

Drop the high esteem you may have for riches, for achievement, for possessions, for grandeur, for power, for your own ways and ideas, ban the intimidations born of sin and despair, pain and trouble, and lower sight and knees before the manger – where lies your Saviour and King, God with you.

 

Tuesday 22nd December 2020

Advent, Tuesday of 4th week

Reading: Lk.1,76-80

V.80a “And the child grew and became strong in spirit.”

At this point John, a small child still, knows nothing of his sending to prepare the way for the Lord. But it is what he grows towards. John will shape up to be what God has called him to be – “a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe” (Jn.1,7) There will be both happiness and suffering along the way, but the goal will not shift nor will it be missed.
For this calling and sending John is being prepared not just physically but also spiritually. Indeed, the aspect of spiritual formation in the shaping of what John is meant to be and to do is the one that is here emphasised.

In this little phrase which concludes the events leading up to the nativity, we’re given a hint that the coming of the Lord, the Redeemer, is about a spiritual formation – that of the person of faith, the community of believers. In Eph.3 there is this description of the nature of the growth of faith: “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Spiritual formation is something that needs to be given due attention, as Paul makes clear in his encouragement to Timothy, which shows us also the means of such formation: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2Tim.3,14-16)

 

Lord God, help us to become strong in spirit and wise unto the spiritual formation of those in our care. Amen

 

Monday 21st December 2020

Advent, Monday of 4th week

Reading: Lk.1,68-79

V.78 “because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven.”

Zechariah sees the marvel that God is doing. It is best seen in the light of Ps.130, which stands behind these words of Zechariah’s song of praise:

“Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; Lord hear my voice. Let your ears by attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”

Zechariah knows the sun is rising: morning is here!

 

Lord God, the miserable darkness of sin and guilt dissipates when your light comes; the Saviour who comes from you and is for us is your greatest gift, for he is your tender mercy. Amen

 

Sunday 20th December 2020

Advent, Sunday of 4th week

Reading: Lk.1,67-79

V.72 “to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant.”

In order to comprehend the significance of what is coming, the birth and life of Jesus Christ, one must not let one’s expectations develop freely but must root them in that which sheds light on it: the events and words, embedded in the history of God’s people, that speak of it.
The event referred to in Zechariah’s song of praise is one that goes back to the beginnings of Israel – God’s promise to Abraham that he will become a great nation and that through him, that is, his offspring, all nations shall be blessed (Gen.12,2; 15,5) And behind this promise there is the one made after the Fall to the woman that her offspring will crush the enemy’s head (Gen.3,15; the enemy being what subjected us to sin and death, the loss of paradise).

“to remember his holy covenant” is a way of saying that Jesus is Abraham’s descendant through whom God will bless “all peoples on earth” (Gen.12,3)
What does this mean for our expectations of the coming of Jesus? That in him we shall learn and know that and how God is for us in mercy, love and faithfulness.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom.8)

 

Saturday 19th December 2020

Advent, Saturday of 3rd week

Reading: Lk.1,67-68

V.68a “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

The events surrounding John’s birth and Mary’s circumstances are the announcement of something utterly wonderful and so cause Zechariah to cry out in praise.
This is a response typical of us human beings. Praise is what we do when something is announced that has the potential to turn things around for us and make things better. We praise those who deliver us in our needs, who make a discovery which proves to be helpful or provide a solution for a going concern. Sometimes their work is hailed a ‘saving the world’.

But what is announced here is of a different order from that of man. The praise is not to man but to “the Lord, the God of Israel”: Who sees the need of his people and has come to help and to save them, to bring the deliverance he has promised them and show himself faithful to his promises.

Nowhere will we know that God is faithful but in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, because he comes to fulfil the promise of deliverance from sin and death that God gave to the people whose God he chose to be, to fulfil the promise “I will be their God and they shall be my people” through cross and resurrection, so that Jesus should be Lord and ‘God with us’ (Immanuel) for all who believe.

Lord God, we praise you, for you are trustworthy in all that you promise and faithful in all that you do. You uphold all who fall and lift up all who are bowed down.

 

Friday 18th December 2020

Advent, Friday of 3rd week

Reading: Lk.1,65-67

V.66a “Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’”

Already, just a few days after his birth, he causes people to wonder what his mission is, what he will do when he grows up and how he will benefit their community (which, surely, he will?). The circumstances of his birth, the events at the name-giving ceremony mark him out as special and signal that something is being prepared. But what?

His father and mother know that at the centre of John’s story, of what he is and what he is sent to do, is not John, but the one he will prepare people for and to whom he will point. And they know that the one he will point to, comes in order to be the centre of everyone’s story and make it a story of redemption, of being found, of coming home.

The people do not yet know, but they wonder. Will they wonder still and listen when John shall point to Jesus, born just a little after him in a stable in Bethlehem, and will say: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”

 

Lord God, it is good to seek you; give us grace to wonder about your Chosen One and learn about the riches you give us though him. Amen

 

Thursday 17th December 2020

Advent, Thursday of 3rd week

Reading: Lk.1,59-64

V.63a “He asked for a writing tablet … and wrote, ‘His name is John’.”

What is obvious to all around, that their boy will be named after his father Zechariah, is rejected by Elizabeth, his mother. He is to be called ‘John’. Why, they ask? What could possibly account for such a contravention of tradition and culture? Name-giving is an act expressing belonging and the call to honour one’s roots. Surely, Zechariah would put things right, if only he could hear and speak. But great is the surprise is when Zechariah reveals that indeed the boy’s name is to be ‘John’, as instructed by the angel Gabriel.

As soon as it’s made known Zechariah is enabled to hear and to speak. And again something not at all obvious to all around happens – Zechariah uses his newfound speech to praise God. (What he couldn’t when the angel announced the good news, he now can and does!)

In words of praise he shows that the boy’s calling is not to carry on with the old but to prepare for the new that God is about to do – the new, because God will open the hearts of his people and they will belong to him and be a people of God’s praise (think of Jesus opening the ears of the deaf and healing the mute!).

John is called by the name God chose for him and to point to the name of the one who shall come after him. We must hear this with Is.43 in the background, which speaks of the name of Jesus and about what that name will mean for all who will call on it: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”

Lord God, open our hearts in praise to you for blessing us with the name of Jesus Christ, the name above all other names. Amen

 

Wednesday 16th December 2020

Advent, Wednesday of 3rd week

Reading: Lk.1,57-58

V.57 “When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.”

Time brought the fulfilment of God’s promise/word to Elizabeth. As she hoped and believed, so she came to see. Long had she waited, bearing the disgrace (for such it was perceived to be) of childlessness, and even more the pain of it, having to learn to accept things as they were as she moved beyond her childbearing years.
She must have wished for a child very strongly and born this wish before God in many prayers. Then came the promise and with the promise the fulfilment. And that was a day of much joy, a joy in which many shared when they “heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy.” As it turned out, the long wait, even in suffering and pain, was the preparation of the showing of God’s mercy, to the joy of many.

Faith waits, not because God will eventually fulfil our wishes, but because he always fulfils his promises. Which is why faith clings to his word and prays for what it knows will come.  

 

Tuesday 15th December 2020

Advent, Tuesday of 3rd week

Reading: Lk.1,45-56

V.56 “Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about 3 months and then returned home.”

It would be easy to read past this verse in the context of the whole story and pay it scant attention. Why is it here anyway, and how could meditating upon it be profitable? It is no more than a fairly minor historical detail, surely? But on the contrary – to read past it might be symptomatic of overlooking in our own circumstances what this verse, what Mary, would show us.

And it’s that she stayed with Elizabeth, her cousin, until shortly before her delivery. That is, she would have cared for her, made sure in many ways, small and big, that Elizabeth was resting enough, done the shopping and the cleaning, the cooking, and the washing etc., and all while being to her a warm companion. She could have expected this for herself, could have said: “I’d love to stay, but I can’t; there are more important things for me to care about because the Saviour is coming through me!” But she is free to care for Elizabeth, as needs arise, because she is free from having to care for herself instead.

The Saviour she carries will do the same, he will lay down his life for us to save us from our sins. And he will be in the midst of his own as one who serves.
God cares for us, so that we should be free to care for one another and do it in all the ways, small and big, that needs arise around us.

 

Monday 14th December 2020

Advent, Monday of 3rd week

Reading: Lk.1,45-55

V.50a “His mercy extends to those who fear him”

To modern ears this may sound like a limiting qualifier on God’s mercy, as if it is somehow valid in a restricted sense only, including some and excluding others. But his completely misses the mark. And why would Mary sing about this?
No, this is about what the Germans would call ‘wahrnehmen’ (to take as true is) – seeing so as to perceive/receive the truth of a thing. Imagine you are at a party and visible to everyone there, but when you leave you have the sense that nobody really “saw” you nor cared to, the truth of your-being-there was not received but left to pass everyone by. No doubt you would be affected by such a thing.
The relevance of this shows in the case of love. ‘Love’ is not perceived truly where it is only spoken of or written about and read, but where it is experienced and suffered, and where it is lived in rejoicing and suffering. And only where love is perceived truly will it dwell and flourish. There is no limitedness of love itself here, but a conditionality that goes with the nature of love and necessarily limits what love can be and do in any circumstance.
But so it is with the mercy of God – it is known in its beauty, power and depth, in its healing, restoring, transforming, God-glorifying nature by those who fear him, because it is to them that it ‘happens’ and to the greatest and truest extent.

Let not the fear of God be taken from us – if we have lost it let us find it again -, because we shall sing in praise of his mercy when we see that Christ brings grace and truth.

The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (Jn.1,17.18)

 

Sunday 13th December 2020

Advent, Sunday of 3rd week

Reading: Lk.1,45-55

V.52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”

The coming of God is news that the ‘powerful’ – thrones and rulers – must dread, because it disempowers them; it is news that the humble – the oppressed and ruled over – can greet with joy, because it empowers them.

‘Thrones and rulers’ characterise those who have the say and thereby lord it over those who must and will do as they’re told; they amass to themselves power, might, honours and wealth and thereby make others serve their end. Their power lies in the adoration that their strength and aims receive and in the people’s desire and readiness to bow down before them. What keeps the thrones and rulers going and sustains them, even as they bring destruction and oppression, is that we adore what they represent and bow our knees before it – it owns our desires ( = to be enthroned in the kingdom of ‘self’ and to rule in our own authority) and numbs our fear of death.

But break the hold that sin has over our desiring and remove the fear of death for good and thrones and rulers must fall before justice and righteousness. That is why thrones and rulers are terrified of the crib in Bethlehem: For those who bend their knees before that child in adoration and serve him shall be their nemesis and shall inherit the world to come.
Serving the suffering Saviour and following his way, their power through him shall be to rule over sin and over death and by doing what they do for his sake to do justice and righteousness. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

Saturday 12th December 2020

Advent, Saturday of 2nd week

Reading: Lk.1,46-55

V.47 “…my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”

A rejoicing spirit – that is what you have when someone receives good news. Which could be – an overwhelming gift, or a job offer, the top prize, nation – or even worldwide acclaim, a lifesaving medical intervention, a “golden opportunity” of some sort, a rescue attempt underway to reach you, the timely arrival of help. All these and things like it make us rejoice. They are events that make us celebrate and which we often speak of or hear of as ‘good news’.
But our spirit is made for a rejoicing that the presence of all or any of these things will not bring nor the lack take away, for they do not yield knowledge of God nor do they save. Our spirit is made and longs for God and his salvation, and the rejoicing it seeks it can only know in Christ.

One may be in receipt of much that is considered bad news and struggling and say: “It’s all very well for Mary to rejoice! All very well for the church, for the well-situated, the rich, the pious etc., to rejoice at Christmas! But it’s different for me, I cannot rejoice because I haven’t got any good news.” To this what Mary put in song replies: You have good news; and as my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, so will your spirit rejoice when God becomes your Saviour.
Christ is his coming, to be your God and Saviour – your rejoicing. Go and see and hear, and let him be what he comes to be – your God and Saviour.

 

Friday 11th December 2020

Advent, Friday of 2nd week

Reading: Lk.1,39-45

V.43 “But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

“Why didn’t you tell me!?” “You never asked!” A scenario familiar to most of us. And one which, among others, gives context to Jesus’ word, ‘Ask and you shall be given’, and to what James says in his epistle, ‘You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.’ (4,2.3)

Elizabeth (the more senior of the two ladies!) asks why she should be so favoured as to receive a visit by Mary. With this question she betrays some knowledge of what the Lord’s promise which he fulfilled to Mary is about – his favour. She asks so she may know.
The Lord’s promise, fulfilled to Mary and coming into the world (for you and me also!) through her, is the favour of God. We shall not fail to know and receive Christ when, knowing we need God’s favour (grace!), we ask for it and ask so we may know.
Christmas is about God’s grace given to a world that needs it most badly. Do we know? If we know, we will ask. If we ask, we will hear what the Word of God tells us – and know the grace of God.

 

Thursday 10th December 2020

Advent, Thursday of 2nd week

Reading: Lk.1,39-45

V.42 “In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’”

It wasn’t the easiest thing for Mary to consent to the word she received, to yield herself to it, and to say to God’s messenger, ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ But she did, and it has rightly been said that the fact she did so was nothing short of a miracle. Faith in God of such self-yielding kind is not the fruit of human power, but of God’s Spirit.
Elizabeth knew, also by the Spirit, what that self-yielding faith meant. And her greeting very much was a declaration of that – it meant Mary was blessed. Through her would not only come new life, but life itself, the One who shall say, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’, through whom all shall find true life and be blessed.
Among women Mary indeed was singularly blessed, because of her faith and the Word of God that grew in her.

The word ‘blessing’ has the ring of ‘enriching’, of increase, prosperity, happiness and so on. In knowing that Mary was ‘blessed’, our thoughts are turned to the way in which God blesses us through Jesus Christ by faith in him. To what kind of ‘increase’?
Is.9,6.7: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

 

Wednesday 9th December 2020

Advent, Wednesday of 2nd week

Reading: Lk.1, 26-38

v.37 “’I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered.”

It is the most beautiful answer and it is made in response to what God said to her. And as the answer is beautiful, so is the result: She becomes the door through which God enters our world, his word to her is fulfilled.
Right it is that she should sing: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.”
Being a servant here is more like being a king! And it is a fine truth worth pondering which lights up here – that God will honour those who honour him (1Sam.2, 30).

Faith trusting and submitting according to God’s word is the most beautiful and most promising thing the world can possibly behold in man. It is not without reason and meaning that the Messiah, sent by God do deliver his people from sin and death and be a blessing to all the nations, is called “the servant of the LORD”.

 

Tuesday 8th December 2020

Advent, Tuesday of 2nd week

Reading: Lk.1,30-37

V.37 “For no word of God will ever fail.”

“It is not plausible, is it really, that things actually happened this way. Virgin birth and all that? I mean, let’s get real!” So faith is challenged. And often in response faith retreats to that place called “real” in order hopefully to remain of interest to those who dwell there.
Mary too in her query to Gabriel was guided by what is plausible in the real world and what is likely not (though she was no determined sceptic). What happened next is highly instructive. Gabriel, in a manner of speaking, took her by the hand and walked with her a little so that he might give her a view on ‘faith’: “We are not dealing in plausibility here, dear Mary, but in certainties. Take the case of Elizabeth who is now in her sixth month and will soon deliver a child. That this should happen was completely off the plausibility scale. Yet happen it did. And should you not know why? Should you not know that she received a word from God and that this word made the thing inevitable? His word inevitably brings about what it says, always. He is, after all, God. And the real? – is only that.”

Faith does not deal in the plausible as identified by the human mind, but in the certainly that attaches to every word from the mouth of God. The “real” is no constraint on faith, it is there only thanks to God’s word that goes before it. “And God said … And it was.” So faith is a trusting in God’s word and when it is that a maker of new things.

So important, then, to come to the ‘word made flesh’ of John 1, 14, to whom Mary gave birth.

 

Monday 7th December 2020

Advent, Monday of 2nd week

Reading: Lk.1,26-35

V.34 “’How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’”

Mary found it difficult to get her head around what the angel Gabriel had just announced to her. The fact was, she was a virgin and therefore not in a position to be found with child. Perhaps she expected Gabriel to become “practical” and “realistic” at this point and bring in Joseph, the man she was engaged to be married to, and the part he was going to play.
But that was not the case. Instead she learned that the fruit of her womb would be of the Holy Spirit, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

It is not just that the fact of Mary’s condition as a virgin declares the divinity of Jesus (which it does!), but that it also declares something regards our humanity, which is to be restored in him. We too might ask, ‘How will this be since we are by nature what we are?’  And we might then go on to consider a kind of Christian faith which “realistically” and “practically” seeks to build that true humanity on our own nature. But the answer is that faith, because it unites a person to Jesus Christ so that he dies to sin and begins to live to righteousness through him (cross and resurrection!), is of the Holy Spirit. It is the sovereign work of God.

 

Sunday 6th December 2020

Advent, Sunday of 2nd week

Reading: Lk.1,25-33

v.32a “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

To human thought and imagining Mary is not an obvious choice for being favoured with this announcement and for bringing into the world the one who “will be called the Son of the Most High”. Contrary to the transformation she will undergo in the church’s perception later on, she is here but a humble being. These later attempts to turn her into something grander may well detract from what this choice indicates – that the Most High comes in order to dwell with the lowly and humble.
This message is seen even more clearly in the circumstances of his birth, and of his life and mostly in those of his death. Far from shunning the lowly and humble places of humanity, God seeks them out to bring there the light of his grace and make known his glory.

The greatness of the One whose birth is announced to Mary shall be such that in him the lowly and humble, those who know they lack the righteousness before God that they ought to have, shall be lifted up and be “crowned with love and compassion” (Ps.103,4).That he will be called the Son of the Most High makes the point that now the humble and lowly who receive him shall become children of God. 

 

Saturday 5th December 2020

Advent, Saturday of 1st week

Reading: Lk.1,26-38

v.29a “Mary was greatly troubled at his words.”

Mary was troubled by the greeting she received from the angel Gabriel, because it got her wondering about what it would mean for her (someone who did not think herself worthy of such a greeting, even less that she would be able to prove to be so), what would come next, what God was up to in her life. She felt this keenly because she was a woman of faith and knew that God’s favour towards her did not mean success and plain sailing for her own plans, but rather a claim on her to become part of God’s plan, and because she was ready to submit.
Indeed, God’s favour towards her and her readiness to submit meant she was to have a most honoured place in the story. But it wasn’t one that was not to have its share of pain and sorrow. Yet the place she was to have in the story of the coming of the Saviour played a major part in that coming.

Through Jesus Christ, the Saviour, God’s favour (grace!) is coming to all, and all as a consequence of receiving him in submission are given a place in the story of salvation, become part of his kingdom “which will never end”.
However troubling the grace of God may be perceived to be in respect to our own plans and ideas, because of its claim on us to become a part of God’s plan, it does equip us for that part and assures us that God is up to something exceedingly good in accordance with his will and purpose. Let us look out for God’s grace and expect to find it in Christ Jesus.

 

Friday 4th December 2020

Advent, Friday of 1st week

Reading: Lk.1,21-25

v22b “The realised he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.”

True to what the angel had said, Zechariah found himself unable to speak when he finally came out of the temple, re-joining the people who stood wondering what had delayed him so. This would have been the time to tell everyone what had happened. After all, the vision he had received was not just a private message but had relevance for all. Yet all he could do was make signs.

But surely these signs were saying, ‘Something is happening, something is in the making!’ even as they hid from eye and ear what exactly that was.

Some that were there would have run away with their speculations and soon lost interest. “What eye has not seen and ear has not heard..” – of what likely relevance could that be, especially when compared with what the eye does see and the ear does hear?!
But there would have been those too who said, ‘Let’s wait; let us wait expectantly for what God will surely reveal to us in his good time and way. Then we shall see and hear what is now hidden under these signs.’

The Advent sign points to the Saviour. He comes, even as we wait for him.

 

Thursday 3rd December 2020

Advent, Thursday of 1st week

Reading: Lk.1,8-20

V.15a “…he will be great in the eyes of the Lord.”

This is spoken of John the Baptist whose birth was announced to his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth in answer to their prayer for a child. The greatness said of him here derives from the fact that he will “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” and will do so “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, “filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born”.
Of all the prophets who announced the coming of the Saviour, John is the greatest, because while they saw it from afar John will point to him and say ‘He has come; he is here!’ And the one he will point to is thus marked out to be the Saviour, who will make even the least of those who receive him to be greater than John in the eyes of the Lord (Mt.11,11).

When Zechariah doubted that this was possible due to his age and that of his wife, the angel Gabriel took away his power of speech “because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Let us not contradict the promises and the word of God as it points to Jesus and what he is for us, but follow and trust it. And let all the world be silent before the greatness of our Lord and his salvation.

 

Wednesday 2nd December 2020

Advent, Wednesday of 1st week

Reading: Lk.1,8-17

v.12 “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.”

The effect of the angelic visitation on Zechariah was fear. This was the reaction when he realised the truth of what he was in the presence of. Is that to be wondered at? Must straw not fear when in the presence of fire? Must the messenger of God’s coming not cause fear in one who was any true sense of God’s holiness and majesty and his own unworthiness?

Yet we have made of ‘angels’ harmless, cuddly agents of comfort and cosiness who could not possibly instil a sense of terror and fear. And this is symptomatic, surely, of an even more consequential idea – that God need not be feared: that we would abide, of course, should he decide to come, that he is not utterly opposed to all impurity and unrighteousness.

But Zechariah’s fear, while not declared to be wrong is nevertheless, removed by the words: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah…” And he has his place in the coming of God.

There is a place in the coming of God for the fear of God in those to whom he comes. This is said of him who embodies our true humanity: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD – and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.” (Is.11,1-3)

 

Tuesday 1st December 2020

Advent, Tuesday of 1st week

Reading: Lk.1,8-17

V.9 “He was chosen by lot … to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.”

The hand of the Lord was at work in Zechariah’s life, though in a background kind of way. As a priest the lot was customarily used to determine who was to be on duty in the temple “to serve as priest before God”. The lot fell, as the Lord willed it, on Zechariah. And he was thereby in the place of receiving the appearance and the message of the angel. This occurred when Zechariah was serving God by burning incense on the altar, which he was doing faithfully and readily.

Zechariah was ready to go with the result the lot determined, taking that result to indicate the will of God to assign to him this task.

We take our place promisingly in the coming of our Lord as we ready ourselves to do faithfully the task which God assigns to us. For it is certain, in doing this, that the hand of the Lord is at work.

 

Monday 30th November 2020

Advent, Monday of 1st week

Reading: Lk.1,5-7

V.6 “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord commands and decrees blamelessly.”

Advent took place; it is an event embedded in history, involving actual places and people whose names are known to this day. It is not about an abstract and timeless bit of spiritual advice or truth, which unfortunately it has become to the mind of many. But it is about God having entered the realm of history, making our salvation a matter not of thought and attitude but of those events at the centre of which was Jesus.

Are we ready of the event that is Advent, for God’s work for us and in our lives? Are we waiting and looking forward and expecting it? Do we look at what God has done in those events and know that our own story is to partake in it, so that through it we may find and know him?

About these events (of God’s coming!) and our partaking in them we must not overlook what God had in his sight – that Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous.
We can only miss what God comes to do for us if we overlook the matter of what it means to be righteous in the sight of God. The blessing of Advent comes with the hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt.5,6).

 

Sunday 29th November 2020

Advent, Sunday of 1st week

Reading: Lk.1,1-4

V.3.4 “…I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

What are the chances that what Luke is about to relate will be received fruitfully and that his account of Jesus of Nazareth will have the kind of effect that those who were with him saw he had on all who received him and believed?
The stakes are high, because what Jesus embodies and restores in all who receive him is nothing less than true humanity.

Two things increase these chances: (1) The accuracy of his account, which enables a close and proper look at the matter, with open and clear eyes, and (2) the attitude or frame of mind of the reader/hearer indicated by the name “Theophilus” – lover of God.

What are the chances of navigating the period of ‘Advent’ meaningfully and fruitfully towards the joy of Christmas, of not missing its import under all the diversions that go by the same name? They are increased when we follow the story with listening ears and a seeing heart, both matters with which God readily helps all who seek him.