Season 1 - Advent Season meditations

by Tim Isbell, posted November 2019 (written a year earlier)

These Advent meditations are the first part of the seven-part collection for every season of the Christian calendar. Unless you read it earlier, please read the introductory material at Responsive Prayer Meditations

(If you're a minister or worship leader and looking for Advent readings for public worship settings, please check out Advent Readings.)  

The Advent season includes the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day. It is a time to prepare us for the incarnation of Jesus as well as his second coming.

Reading scripture is not the same as listening to God. The Christian’s interest in scripture has always been in hearing God speak, not in analyzing moral memos.  – Eugene Peterson

Stand and Look Up

Advent - Luke 21.25-36

Thank you, Jesus, for this reminder that when the world is at its worst, you are at your best. It is your Spirit who helps us not to “duck and cover” but to “stand and look up.” Eventually, all the world will see your goodness and recognize your sovereignty over all Creation, and you will lift us up.

In the meantime, you tell us to remain alert to our surroundings, stay level-headed, and pray for strength and wisdom for today! I have found this is only possible so long as your Spirit resides within us. When this is true, we serve as your witness and as an invitation for others to trust in you. Two thousand years of history confirms that this is your divine strategy.


Ministering to others

Advent - 1Thessalonians 3.9-13 

The Apostle Paul writes, 

“What would be an adequate thanksgiving to offer God for all the joy we experience before him because of you?”

As you gave people to Paul to help along on their spiritual journey, so you gave and continue to give me people to walk alongside. Each one is a joy and a blessing. So are those who walked with me in past decades. I’m so aware and impressed with how you work in their lives - far beyond any contribution from me. Thanks for letting me join you in this ministry.

“And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you.”

It's even more of a thrill when one of the people you entrusted to me splashes over on others. Please continue to fill my life with such people! Thank you!

Better times lie ahead

Advent - Jeremiah 33.14-18

Thanks, Holy Spirit, for recently guiding me through teaching from the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. It provided context for this Jeremiah 33 passage of hope, and a few other hopeful passages that Jeremiah threaded through the otherwise gloomy prophecies of his writings. Such scriptures greatly help me navigate the murky political and even discouraging personal seasons.

I like these words, “When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right.” I don't miss the contrast between how the Lord Jesus will lead his Kingdom and how our current world leaders run their countries.

Gratitude for redemption

Advent - Psalms 25.1-10

As much like David in this psalm as imaginable, I can give my life to you (Lord) because I trust you above all others. Despite my former sins, show me the best path today, and in the days and weeks and seasons yet ahead. And thank you for reminding me that your endless love and faithfulness is not just for me, but for all who will keep deep covenant with and follow you.

Encouragement for hard times

Advent - 1Thessalonians 3.1-8

Paul knew the Thessalonians were encountering hard times, and he was worried they might fall away from the faith. So he sent Timothy to reassure them. By the time Paul wrote this letter, Timothy had returned with an excellent report of the Thessalonian Christian community, despite their difficulties. Still, Paul felt compelled to offer insight that difficult times are an expected component of following you (Lord Jesus). So while Paul was greatly encouraged by the news from Thessalonica, with this letter, he made sure they knew the theology behind their struggles and the importance of living through them as Christians.

It’s like saying to them, “That’s it. What you did is exactly right. That’s how to live as a Christian. I’m so proud of you. Here’s something to help you in the future.” This kind of encouragement undoubtedly strengthened their resolve and confidence.
Holy Spirit, thanks for the insights from this passage! It helps my resolve and confidence. I stack it alongside the encouragement I received from teaching the Jeremiah/Lamentations series. These kinds of vignettes of life in the Kingdom inform my own life.

Repent and turn to God. Then what?

Advent - Luke 3.1-6

In this passage, John the Baptist describes your (God’s) two-step process to begin a new life: repent of sin and turn to you. The first step requires profound humility; the second step waves self-rule and pledges to follow your ways. The process quickly liberates us from guilt and feels terrific for a while. But, every mature Christian topples back into the sin of self-rule. Fortunately, we know how to resolve the dilemma: humbly return to the two-step process. Most of us traverse this loop frequently in the early years, not so often later.

Life within the 2-step process may seem like nothing’s happening. But a beloved teacher once told many of us, “When it seems like nothing’s happening, something's happening.” I found this true. Especially as we live humbly in process, your (Jesus) Spirit patiently grows our hearts to beat increasingly like your heart. The outcome is worth the journey - very much so.

John the Baptist died before you revealed the remaining steps in the new life process. I’ve written about the complete process in Beyond Conversion 1, The journey toward Christlikeness. (Readers: Please, if you are just remotely drawn to new life, check out the link.)

As Luke writes, someday you (Jesus) will bring justice and salvation to your Creation, and…

The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see the salvation sent from God.

Blessings of a ministering life

Advent - Philippians 1.3-11

It sounds like Paul expected that the Philippians would follow you (Jesus) steadfastly, even through hard times. This is different from his expectations for the Thessalonians, who Paul expected to slip and then was pleasantly surprised when he learned from Timothy that they didn’t. I can relate to both situations, but I am probably more often like Paul with the Thessalonians. I’m pleasantly surprised when I find someone I nurtured years ago still growing in their spiritual journey. Thank you, Spirit, for giving me a window into Saint Paul. It helps me live in context.

I like the last section of this passage, v 9-12, with its emphasis on growing in a genuine love affair with you and your Kingdom and letting this spill out onto the world around us. It’s another pointer to the importance of living out The Romance and at the same time, letting it inform my relationship with those around me. Again, thanks for this affirmation toward the Romance. Please help me spill it over to my kids and grandkids, not just to others.

God’s elegant strategy

Advent - Luke 3.7-18, Pilgrim Year Series (PYS) Advent, ch 1

John the Baptist told his listeners to do their best to change their self-serving ways and trust the rest to you (God). John even had some idea that you would transform people from the inside out. It was a hint of Pentecost. What an elegant strategy you entrusted to John for his people. I see this as another example of your beauty/elegance.

I see it in the Steve Bell Advent material, too. Passages like this one in Luke fit Steve's description of bringing deep joy and reverential awe in anticipation of the coming incarnation celebration. Steve writes how Advent is a season to reflect on the rich spiritual metaphor of motherhood or spousal maturity. It is the most profound truth about the mystery of the human person: that we are created to receive and house heaven in our womb, and bear it forth for the sake of the world. You do not merely come to us, but you come through us. Steve points out that your astonishing kingdom is breaking into our desperate history.

You are amazing. Thank you so much for looking my way and somehow leading me into this romance.

Intimacy with God

Advent - Exodus 33.7-11, PYS, Advent, ch 1

Thank you (Spirit of Jesus) for speaking to me through Keller’s Prayer and Steve Bell’s PYS, Advent. Keller’s Exodus passage affects me deeply. I can barely imagine the intimacy Moses must have experienced in the tent with you. I’d never noticed that Moses brought young Joshua along. For some reason, I find it profoundly touching that not only did Joshua experience these times in the Tabernacle, but he stayed behind after Moses left. What precious times those must have been. I'm sure that such times informed and fueled the ministries of Moses and Joshua. I have experienced a snippet of this closeness with you, and it fuels my life. Thank you for your Presence in the quiet times, and as I minister afterward.

A few pages later, Keller writes, “For most of us, God has not become our happiness. We, therefore, pray to procure things, not to know him better.” Please put me in that category of one who values knowing you above procurement.

During this Advent season, such thoughts from Exodus point me to the incarnation. You put yourself, your Spirit, into Moses and Joshua, and they expressed you to their surroundings. Your manifestation in bodily form is a huge instance of this same concept of expressing yourself to our world. And at Pentecost, your Spirit came to fill everyone who would lay down their own lives to follow Jesus. And from that moment, you’ve expressed yourself through those believers.

Thank you for connecting these dots in this Advent season.

Slack for Malachi

Advent - Malachi 3.16-17 (MSG)

I’m teaching an Advent lesson this Sunday from Malachi’s four-chapter book. It offers glimpses into the future of your (Jesus) incarnation and second coming, but does this in the context of scathing criticism of Jerusalem’s leaders. Their disillusionment with the outcomes of following you (God) led to hostility towards you. They saw their heathen neighbors living in better circumstances than they were, and it bugged them so much that they had become sloppy in their worship and lax in their holy living.

Malachi responded that justice would eventually come, so they needed to get their act together to avoid being on the wrong side of history!

I found Malachi a discouraging read until chapter 3.16-17, where he recognized a minority who remained fully devoted and loyal to you. Here’s my paraphrase of Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

Then those whose lives honored you gathered to talk it over. You listened in, and took minutes of the meeting, writing down the names of those who honored your name.

Then you declared, “These people are mine, all mine. I will give them special treatment in the last days, treating them with the same consideration and kindness parents give the child who honors them. Once more, the world will see the difference between a person who does right and one who doesn’t, between serving me and not.”

I intend to live as this minority, honoring you in all circumstances, but not primarily for a reward in the distant future. I serve you more for the partnership you offer in the present than an eventual reward, though I’m sure I’ll welcome the reward in its time.

But I realize that I need to cut Malachi some slack because he wrote 450 years before your (Jesus’) birth. Malachi only had the Law. In contrast, we have the story of your life, death, and resurrection. So, we know that you fulfill the Law for everyone who opts-into following you. Plus, we have your Spirit living within us to grow our hearts to beat increasingly like your heart. Finally, we have 2000 years of Christian history.

The book of Malachi is another reminder of the theological value of starting with you (Jesus) and interpreting everything else through that lens.

I’m writing this meditation on Thanksgiving Day. I am so thankful to live on this side of Pentecost.

Blessings, Tim

End Notes

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