December 13th, 2014

Advent Theme December 8-14: Joy

Scripture for this week:  Isaiah 12:1-6

Saturday, December 13, 2014

                Here is your “family time” devotion for this weekend.  If you are not using the Advent wreath, just ignore that part of the devotion.  My next Advent devotion will be on Monday.

                PRAYER:  Begin your time by eliminating as many distractions as possible and gathering the family around the Advent wreath.  Put a glass of water in the middle of the room or table where you are gathered.  Have someone pray in their own words or read a simple prayer like this:  “Lord Jesus, thank you for coming into the world.  As we look forward to celebrating Christmas, we also remember that you are coming again.  Fill us with joy as we wait for you.  Amen.”

                ADVENT WREATH:  Light the third candle.  Ask the youngest child to say, “Why do we light the third candle?”  An older child or adult answers, “The third candle is the candle of joy.  Jesus brought joy into the world.”

                SCRIPTURE:  Read Isaiah 12:1-6 and have a family discussion, adjusting the length to your family.  Look at verse 3 and talk about the glass of water.  What do we use water for and where do we get our water?  How would that be different from the “wells” Isaiah is talking about?  What is joy?  “Salvation” is the Hebrew word “Yeshua,” which is the same as the name “Jesus.”  When people who draw water from a well bring a bucket of water to the surface, how is that like the joy of salvation through Jesus?  Notice that in the first two verses, Isaiah’s song is personal.  Talk about some of the reasons he sings for joy.  Verses 4-6 are about singing for joy with others who believe.  Talk about why we go to church, especially at Christmas time, and how we celebrate our joy together.

                PRAYER:  Think about places in the world or people you know who do not have clean water, like you do.  Also name some people and places where they do not know the joy of salvation through Jesus.  Talk about people who might be lonely or sad this Christmas, and think about the ways you might bring joy to them.  Then pray in your own words or use a prayer like this:  “Thank you, God, for the angels who brought good news of great joy to the shepherds.  The coming of Jesus brings us so much joy because he saves us.  Help us to live joy this Christmas and to share joy with others who need you and need us, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”


What follows are the daily Advent devotions from this past week.  If you would like to receive a devotion by e-mail each day now through Christmas week, e-mail [email protected] 

Monday, December 8, 2014

If you’re wondering about the color change in my font this week, click here and scroll down to “The Colors of Advent.”

Begin the week by reading Isaiah 12:1-6.  The first 11 chapters of Isaiah reflect a consistent theme of judgment for sin, with some hopeful words of promise interspersed.  But chapter 12 is all joy, all celebration.  “That day” is a reference back to 11:1-9, which we read our first week of Advent.  It’s about the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Jesus) who will usher in justice and peace.

Verses 1-3 form a poem of personal joy and celebration.  As you ponder them, think of your own story of God’s salvation.  When and how did the Gospel wash over you with his grace?  Take a moment today and journal your own thoughts of joy over what the Apostle Paul calls in Ephesians 1 “every spiritual blessing in Christ.”  If you do not have that assurance of his forgiveness and the hope of eternal life, e-mail me at [email protected].  I’d love to enter into your journey.

Today, begin making a written list of people you know for whom joy is a struggle, especially this time of year.  Pray for them daily this week.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

OK, quick.  Which popular Christmas “carol” was not written for Christmas at all?

Hint:  It fits this week’s theme of “joy.”

In 1719, hymn writer Isaac Watts published a series of hymns titled “Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.”  In other words, he was going to take the Old Testament psalms and interpret them through New Testament lenses.

One of his choices was Psalm 98.  You might want to read the whole psalm, but here are a few lines –

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.


Do you know yet which “Christmas carol” emerged from that psalm?

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth receive her king.”

Think through (or read through) the words to that carol.  There’s no mention of Bethlehem or shepherds or baby Jesus.  While the song does apply Psalm 98 to Jesus, it has more to do with his reign over the earth and our willingness to acknowledge and receive his rule than it does even with his earthly life.  Some have interpreted it as a hymn about the second coming of Jesus, but I’m not sure Isaac Watts even intended that. 

The bottom line is that this is a song about the joy we experience in knowing that Jesus is fully in charge.  Pray today for those who do not yet know him as Lord, and who displace him with other gods.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I think my dog is happy.  Finally!  He and his feline sisters sleep in what used to be a detached garage, but we closed it in.  We used it as a rec room (complete with pool table) when our kids were teens, but when we inherited some pets from our daughter, it became their room because Linda and I are both allergic to cats and dogs.

Recently Nyles (our large white German shepherd) has been breaking out of his crate and devouring the cats’ food, snacks, water, and feces, which makes him even more anxious about being stuck inside (let’s just say it’s not good for his digestive system) and makes ME very angry.  Our frustration and anger have been building reciprocally as Nyles figured out ways to continue getting into what I thought I made increasingly inaccessible to him.  The bottom line is that he kept finding rewards for breaking out of his crate, in spite of having to endure my daily scoldings.

This morning, however, we are both happy.  I took the time last night to install a pet door for him, and I think I finally have all the things he was getting to out of his reach.  He can come and go into the yard as he pleases, but he no longer sees my angry face in the morning.  We were both happier this morning.

Isaiah 12:1-2 is a personal song of joyous praise.  The community song follows in the rest of the chapter.  Isaiah writes, “I will praise you, O LORD.  Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away, and you have comforted me.”  Isaiah always knew God cared, but he knew what it was like to face the anger of the one who loved him so deeply. 

There’s hardly any comfort greater than comfort that follows forgiveness and reconciliation.  Are you aware of God’s kind face today?  Do you know his anger has been turned away from you because of Jesus’ death and resurrection?  Can you feel his loving embrace of comfort?

Pray for yourself or those you know who need to understand and accept God’s grace this Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Today’s Advent devotion is a little bit of “thinking out loud” on my part.  Maybe you can help me.  As you know, I’m writing these daily devotions on the same Scripture text Pastor Paul and I will preach on this Sunday.  As I try to write something that might be helpful to you during Advent, I’m also thinking ahead to, as they say in my business, “what will preach.”

Isaiah 12:3 captures my attention today:  “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  This week’s theme is joy, so that’s a key verse.  I’m asking myself what “joy” is, and I think there’s a powerful analogy here.  But it’s an analogy with a certain disconnect to our culture.

Picture yourself making a trip once or twice a day to the well with a bucket to draw water for your family.  The reason this is hard for me to picture is that I don’t get my water from a well; I get it from a tap.  Even if I did have a well, I would likely have an underground electric pump, not a bucket, to draw that water to the surface.  My water supply is also not limited to one bucket at a time.  I use a bucket of water every time I flush the toilet, and probably much more than that to run the dishwasher or take a shower.

What if I had to walk a hundred feet or to the center of town or a mile outside of town with an empty bucket at least once a day just to be sure my family had clean water to drink or to cook with or to wash our hands?  And what if those days were hot and the ground was oh, so dry, in the summer?  And what if every time I went, no matter how long the drought had lasted I could count on a bucket full of cool, clean, refreshing water from an endless underground supply? 

 Would I not then understand joy better the way Isaiah expresses it in this verse?  “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation?”  Is joy not this idea that there is an endless provision available to me that nevertheless requires some initiative and effort to draw from that supply for a life-giving refreshment that sustains and nourishes and rejuvenates?  And what is salvation?  In Hebrew it’s yeshua, which means deliverance, rescue, prosperity.  The Greek name Jesus is the same as the Hebrew Joshua (yeshua).

Is there anything at all in our time and culture that says that as well as the “well” analogy?  Let me know in a reply e-mail if you think so.  Meanwhile, pray today for those who don’t know about the ‘wells of salvation’ available to us from the Living God through his Son, Jesus.

Friday, December 12, 2014

I have had some great responses to yesterday’s devotion on “the wells of salvation,” but I think I’ll save further reflection for Sunday’s sermon and move on briefly to the next part of this text.  You might want to read Isaiah 12:1-6 again.

Don’t forget the pronouns here.  In vv. 1-2 they are singular.  This is the personal song of Isaiah’s comfort and trust in the character and person of God.  The Lord himself is the reasons he’s OK.  If I have God, he’s enough.

In verse 3, the pronoun “you” becomes plural.  We Southerners know how this should be translated:  “Y’all will draw water from the wells of salvation…y’all will say, ‘Give praise to the Lord.’

Pastor Paul and I were talking yesterday about how what we do in leading corporate worship is essentially a weekly reset.  I had a conversation with someone yesterday who asked, “Can you believe in God and not go to church?”  Of course the answer is yes, but it’s sort of like asking, “Can you be married and not have sex?”  A poor or absent sexual relationship (unless there is a physical disability or other reason that is beyond their control) is almost never the cause of a couple’s marital problems, but it’s almost always a symptom that something deeper is wrong.  In the normal course of their lives, the sexual relationship is a powerful indicator of resetting their intimacy, of reconnecting their souls as well as their bodies, of expressing their exclusive loyalty and love.

Corporate worship is a weekly reset of our relationship to God. We worship leaders want to sing songs and pray prayers and preach Scriptures that help all of us (ourselves included) return to the only and true reality of life – the presence and power of the God who made us, knows us, loves us, redeems us, and craves intimacy with us because he knows that’s where our true life and meaning lie.  When y’all gather to “give praise to the LORD, for he has done glorious things,” we’re all just reminding ourselves and one another that everything else in life is transient.  He alone is true life and joy.

Pray today for your pastors and worship leaders as we prepare to lead the weekly reset of our souls this Sunday.

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