Devotions for January 2, – January 8, 2017
Luke 3:1-22 John the Baptist, Preparing the Way
John the Baptist, Preparing the Way Monday, January 2, 2017
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee” (Luke 3:1).
We grew up hearing stories about legends. There was Robin Hood who, in a time of great injustice, stole from the rich and gave to the poor. King Arthur was another legend. Compared to the rule of immoral and self-centered despots, Arthur was a paragon of virtue and integrity. Legends transformed into super heroes. There was the alien, Superman, who gave his strength to the weak and fought against crime and injustice. Batman was a troubled soul who rose above his personal struggles to stand for the good and fight against the bad. There is one problem, though. These examples of character, integrity and selflessness never lived; they are only stories.
The writer of Luke took great pains to place his gospel in the middle of human history. Cesar Augustus issued a decree and a young couple, Mary and Joseph, journeyed to Bethlehem. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, John appeared in the wilderness. Historians may debate the accuracy of Luke’s references, but they don’t argue about the reality of John and Jesus. They were real historical figures. The Spirit moved and God entered our history.
Just as God entered human history, so God comes and dwells with us. The Holy Spirit is more than an inspiring ideal. Rather the Spirit is God’s presence and power within us. It is the Spirit who gifts us with faith in order to respond to God’s grace. The courage, love, joy and hope by which we live are the results of God’s presence in our lives. We are not alone. God is with us.
“Into our hearts. Into our hearts. Come into our hearts, Lord Jesus. Come in today. Come in to stay. Come into our hearts, Lord Jesus.” Amen.
John the Baptist, Preparing the Way Tuesday, January 3, 2017
“The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2).
Marine veteran Jake Wood was sitting in his Los Angeles home in January, 2010 when news broke about the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Hearing the reports of the destruction and human suffering, Jake felt a call to serve as clear and distinctive as he felt the call to serve his country. Calling on a few of his military buddies and others, Jake organized a relief squad. Within one week’s time, Team Rubicon traveled to Haiti. Since that time, the team has grown to over 41,000 volunteers, and 75% of those volunteers are veterans. As a result, Team Rubicon now serves in relief efforts around the world.
John the Baptist looked out and saw a rebellious people living apart from God. Responding to a need, John began to preach his message of repentance. In a similar manner, Jake Wood heard about the disaster in Haiti and responded by creating Team Rubicon. With open eyes we can see the needs around us and hear God’s call, also. Empowered by the Holy Spirit we use our talents and abilities to answer our call and touch the lives of others.
Lord, you have called us like you called John the Baptist. Empower us that we might boldly answer your call and lovingly serve those in need. Amen.
John the Baptist, Preparing the Way Wednesday, January 4, 2017
“Proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).
Miguel and Lucinda Juarez got caught up in life and forgot about their marriage. Their two careers demanded a lot from them and being the parents of two rambunctious boys was daunting. Because of this, their marriage slowly died and they didn’t even notice until one morning, when they were sitting at the breakfast table ignoring each other, while they worked their cell phones. Miguel made an off handed comment about what their breakfasts together used to be like and suddenly they began to realize what had happened to their relationship. It took a lot of hard work and a lot of “I’m sorries” and “You’re forgivens.” As a result of their hard work they eventually they breathed life back into their marriage.
The people of Israel had wandered away from the Lord. The daily demands of putting food on the table combined with the oppressive presence of the Roman armies, distracted them. John addressed the situation. He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Because of this he encouraged the people to prepare for the event through repentance and baptism.
Conversation, confession and forgiveness are parts of all healthy relationships. None of us are perfect. We all need to admit it, and we all need to be forgiving. John the Baptist reminded the people in first century Israel just as he reminds us now.
Create in us a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within us. Amen.
John the Baptist, Preparing the Way Thursday, January 5, 2017
“‘And the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:5-6).
It began with God choosing Abram through whom God made a great nation. Because of this, the People of Israel stressed that they were God’s chosen people. It was important for them that they keep themselves separate. The Christian Church continued this trend of thinking. Some strains of Christian theology even stress the idea that some people are chosen for salvation while others are selected for condemnation. People of these “in groups” selectively ignored the phrase, “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
“In groups” are out in a diverse world. Proclamation of God’s kingdom does not identify people as “us” and “them,” but rather as “we.” God invites us to see the world from God’s perspective. Looking at the world from God’s perspective results in is seeing that all people are children of God and all people are objects of God’s love. Consequently we begin to understand that knocking down the fences that separate people is one way that we can make the crooked straight and the rough ways smooth, and prepare for God’s coming kingdom.
Jesus, you love the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in your sight. Enable us to live in this reality and proclaim this truth. Amen.
John the Baptist, Preparing the Way Friday, January 6, 2017
“And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise'” (Luke 3:10-11).
We can identify everyone as Children of God and people whom God loves. Unfortunately, we can also identify people as “the haves” and “the have nots.” Some people have food and some do not. There are people who have health care while others do not. Because of this, discrimination is experienced by some and ignored by most.
Government programs can be one avenue of change. John, though, has a much more grass roots solution–love and share. The Lord invites us to love the people around us, not only with the words, “I love you, ” but also with our actions. One thing we can do is to share our largesse with others by cleaning out our crowded closets and giving it to clothing outlets. Another idea is to lighten our pantries by giving some of our supplies to food banks. We might also be able to overcome other needs with our time and talents. Obviously, we can’t feed the world, but that shouldn’t stop us. We can feed one or two people. We can’t clothe the world either, but we can help clothe one or two others.
Today we can bring in God’s kingdom–with a little love and a little generosity.
God of abundance, help us to be more aware of what we have rather than what we don’t have. Inspire us to share so that we can meet the needs of others. Amen.
John the Baptist, Preparing the Way Saturday, January 7, 2017
“‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire'” (Luke 3:16).
John the Baptist belonged to a Jewish community called the Essenes. The Essenes were very devout and lived lives of simplicity. One of the religious rituals that the Essenes practiced frequently was baptism. They would baptize themselves several times a day, because they understood baptism to be a symbol of cleansing and purification. It was an outward sign of an inward occurrence.
When the people came out to hear and see John, he baptized them in the Jordan River. Their baptism also signified what had happened in their lives. They wanted to make changes in their lives because they wanted to prepare themselves for the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Good intentions were not enough, though.
When the Messiah arrived, he would baptize with the Holy Spirit. As a result God’s presence and power in people’s lives would cleanse them and make them, as Paul would later write, “new creations” where the old has passed away and the new has come into being. The fire of trial and tribulations would also come upon the people and burn away the dross of their lives; purifying them.
The Holy Spirit has never stopped working in the lives of followers of Jesus. As we walk along the paths of faith, the Spirit cleanses us and forgives us. We take on the likeness of God, and we receive the Spirit’s power to serve. As a result, life is different–wonderfully different.
Spirit of God, descend upon our hearts. Wean them from earth through all their pulses move. Stoop to our weakness mighty as you art. And make us love you as we ought to love. Amen.
John the Baptist, Preparing the Way Sunday, January 8, 2017
“But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison” (Luke 3:19-20).
An immigrant family from Syria moved into the Johnson’s neighborhood. As soon as they did, the neighbors started to talk. The family was made up of a father, mother and three children were Muslim. Because they were Muslim some of the people thought that the family had taken a pledge to kill Christians. Other people from the neighborhood thought that they should convert them to Christianity for the salvation of their souls. A few people thought that the family might even be ISIS terrorists who were planning to cause mayhem. Because of these uninformed beliefs, the neighbors silently agreed to shun the family.
The Johnsons adamantly disagreed with their neighbors. They rebelled against the actions of their neighbors and welcomed the new family. They helped the family get settled into their new community and navigate the many differences in their new country. The Johnson children, who were near the ages of their Syrian neighbors, befriended the children, played with them and help them adjust to their new schools. The Johnsons paid a price, though, their neighbors shunned them, too. Close friends became cold and distant. The children of the neighborhood stopped inviting the Johnson children to sleepovers and parties. The Johnsons paid a price for their loving actions.
Then and Now
John the Baptist experienced the price of preparing the coming of God’s kingdom. As followers of Jesus, who have been called to spread the kingdom of God, we too discover that there is a cost to our discipleship. Loving words and actions go against the anger and hatred of many. There are many people around us who have been rejected and marginalized. These people are opportunities for us to share God’s love and grace. We can stand with them against the opinions, words and actions of others–no matter what the cost.
“Lord, make us an instruments of your peace, Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” Amen