November 30, 2015

Advent 2015 - Hope

Devotion for the Week...

I love celebrating Advent. The Christmas season is a busy one, with concerts and parties and shopping and baking and parades and...You know what it's like. It's easy to get overwhelmed, isn't it? The question, "Are you ready for Christmas?" really means, have you decorated and bought and cooked enough? In short, have you done enough? But really, all the hustle and bustle only gets us ready for the earthly side of Christmas, the gifts and family side of the holiday. Celebrating Advent gets us ready for the spiritual side. Lighting the candles in the Advent wreath and reading a short devotion reminds us that there is more to Christmas than presents and parties and stress. Advent helps put the focus back on Jesus.

In the weeks to come, we'll look at Peace, Joy and Love. For this, the first week of Advent, we begin with Hope.

The first person to know of the imminent arrival of the promised Savior was a priest named Zechariah. While Zechariah was in the temple one day, an angel appeared to him, telling him that his wife, who was old and barren, would conceive a son. That son, the angel said, would "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). As most of us probably would have been, Zechariah was skeptical, and asked "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years" (v. 18). His question seems reasonable, but for his skepticism, Zechariah was struck mute until the birth of his son, who, when grown, would come to be known as John the Baptist. When the baby was born and Zechariah wrote "His name is John" on a tablet, his voice was returned and he began to prophesy about Jesus (who had not yet been born). Zechariah said that He would come "to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days" (vv. 74,75).

That, right there, is our hope.

The religious leaders of His day didn't recognize Jesus as the Messiah because they were looking for a king who would save them from their Roman overlords. They were only looking for someone who would save them from their earthly enemies. Their view of their trouble, and the rescue God would send, was way too narrow. Jesus didn't come to save us from earthly enemies. He came to save us from sin and death, the enemies that keep us separated from God. Romans 8:1,2 says, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." He has rescued us and set us free!

Once we have been rescued from our enemies, we can then have a relationship with God. "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are" (1 John 3:1). We are now able to love and serve Him without fear of punishment because Jesus came to take our punishment for us. We can come before God in holiness and righteousness, not because we are suddenly holy and righteous ourselves, but because we now have holiness and righteousness from Jesus. Philippians 3:9 says we don't have "a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith."

Without Jesus we have no holiness, no righteousness, and no chance of earning either one. But through faith in Him, we can "serve [God] without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days." Zechariah's people had waited over 400 years for Jesus, but because of Christmas, the wait is over!

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