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Wednesday - Week 2

True Rest

December 2, 2020 • Brittany

Rest is a complicated idea in 2020. There has been so much turmoil, with both solitude and crisis at every corner, that the idea of rest almost seems impossible. And yet, as we celebrate Advent, I cannot imagine a better passage to dive into today. If you haven’t read the passages on Sabbath yet, let me encourage you to take a few moments before reading this devotional to read or reread the Scripture for today (Exodus 31:12-17; Mark 2:23-3:6). John Ortberg says this about modern day Christians, “For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”[1] When I read the passages today, I see how God’s good design for holiness and rest directly combat this idea that Ortberg explains is so prevalent in our society. Scripture pleads with us to keep the Sabbath because it is holy for us, and yet most people I know really struggle with true, life-giving rest. I’m not sure what you think of when you read or hear the word “Sabbath” but during Jesus’s day, practicing Shabat – the Hebrew word for Sabbath – wasn’t just highly recommended, it was a part of their laws and customs. One day a week, God’s people practiced Sabbath and intentionally chose rest. They didn’t work. They didn’t cook. They obeyed a surplus of rules and laws that defined what they could and couldn’t do. As you would imagine, the Pharisees we read about in the Gospel of Mark (the rule-following religious leaders of the day) were really good at knowing the laws, and following them, but that knowledge and obedience didn’t translate to a changed heart. When Jesus and the disciples weren’t quite living up to the Pharisee’s expectations, they jumped at the chance to catch them and prove they weren't properly following the Law. But Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (as we read in our passage this week), didn’t come to destroy the Law, but fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). He said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” And just a few verses later in chapter 12 it says, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (sounds a lot like our passage in Mark doesn’t it?!). You see, the Sabbath isn’t some list of dogmatic do’s and don’ts. It’s not an old-timey ritual that church-going people perform. As the passage says in Mark, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” It is a posture that pursues true, life-giving rest that we can only find in Christ. It is the recognition and confession that we are finite creatures who rely on an infinite and holy God – a holy God who made Himself small, in the form of a tiny infant, to come and redeem all of humanity. The passages we read today show us our ultimate rest, our true and better Sabbath, is found in Christ alone. What does that mean for us during this Advent season? St. Augustine of Hippo famously said it this way, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[2] Eugene Peterson says it this way in The Message that we must “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”[3] Sisters, like I mentioned above, 2020 has been quite the year. As we await the celebration of the birth of our Savior, let us posture our hearts to find rest in that baby in a manger. Let us learn the unforced rhythms of grace and rest in a sovereign and good God, because we know that the baby in the manger grew into a man who willingly laid down His life for the restoration of all humanity. When the world feels too heavy and when suffering draws near, we draw near to the true and better Sabbath. When crisis and heartache and brokenness surround us, the people of God expectantly look for His return. We celebrate Advent and we hope in spite of hardship, because we know we serve and unchanging God in the midst of an ever-changing world. During this Christmas season, let us remember that Christ, the foretold Messiah, came to redeem a broken world. In the God-child laying in a manger we find not only our salvation, but we find our Sabbath, our true rest. -Brittany

Friday - Week 4

The Promise Fulfilled • December 18, 2020

In the Old Testament, there was a season of time where a long awaited promise – a promise of a Savior, a promise of a salvation yet to come – seemed dormant and forgotten. There was a hush, a quiet from heaven for 400 years. For 400 years, there was no further prophetic word from God to His people concerning His promise of salvation. What would it look like? When would they see this word, this hope fulfilled? Life was lived, generations came and went, and I imagine some people wondered if God had forgotten about His promise. Or had they done something wrong? When might they see this promise fulfilled? What would it look like? God never forgot His Word concerning bringing hope and salvation to all people. He saw the end from the beginning and was ushering His promise to fulfillment. Then, on a seemingly normal day, and through ordinary people, the promise arrived. An angel visited a young girl named Mary and announced the promise God spoke hundreds of years earlier was being fulfilled. God began moving people and circumstances into place to show His Word would be fulfilled in full, exactly as He promised. Mary gave birth to this promise, and gave Him the name Jesus. On the night Jesus was born, God sent an angel to some shepherds in the field, filling the sky with the brightness of His glory and issuing a proclamation of awe and wonder and joy like the world had never heard, delivering this Good News that would bring great joy to all people: “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born…” --Luke 2:10-11 What makes it so beautiful is that this time, when God spoke to His people, He sent this Good News to ordinary people. This time, the promise did not come through a prophet or preacher. It came through a young girl. It was announced to simple shepherds. He broke through every barrier, every assumption, every boundary, every limitation. He was speaking to the shepherds, just as He was to every person who would one day hear: “Listen carefully.” This message is for you. He made it clear that the Good News of salvation had arrived: Jesus, the Savior of the world was born, and this Good News was meant for all people. With the arrival of Jesus, God fulfilled the covenant promise made hundreds of years earlier. It was what it looked like for a long-awaited promise to be fulfilled. A Savior, Jesus, who is Christ the Lord, was born to save us from our sin, to bring hope, to set things right between God and humanity. I wonder what promise God has spoken into your heart that you have wondered if you would ever see realized. Perhaps it feels quiet, maybe forgotten by God. God never speaks a promise that He doesn’t also intend to fulfill. We can know this: God is the Promise-Keeper. He will fulfill every promise, every word, every covenant He has made. Even now, where we are today, the best is still yet to come. There is a promise yet to be fulfilled. We continue to look forward with hope-filled expectation for the day when Jesus, our Savior, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, returns again and fulfills His final promise. Jesus, we are waiting here for you. “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!” -Andrea

Thursday - Week 4

The Birth Of John The Baptist • December 17, 2020 • Jen

The birth of John the Baptist is a beautiful story because it shows, yet again, the mercy and kindness of God. An older couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, incapable of conceiving a child were given a promise by God that they would have a son of their own. Zechariah means “God has remembered again." Once again God we see God keep His word.  John would grow up to be used by God in a mighty way. He would proclaim to the people around him that the Messiah was on His way. His love for Jesus was bold and radical, and, eventually, he would lose his life for his faith and conviction. Zechariah lost his ability to speak during Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but at the birth of his son he regained his speech and immediately began to sing a song of praise to God. He sang of God’s goodness in keeping the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Zechariah’s name does not just refer to the fact that God kept His promise to this childless couple, but it reminded everyone that God keeps all of His promises, including the promise of a Redeemer.  It may seem like a lot of time had passed since the beginning of the covenant of grace until the day Jesus came, but God is not slow in what He does. His timing is perfect, His plan well thought out and meticulously executed. This plan included the birth of John and the preaching he would do to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.  This is true for our lives as well. As we get close to celebrating the birth of Jesus, remember God is the great Promise Keeper. If He loved you enough to make and keep all the promises that would lead up to Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, we can be confident He will keep all the promises He has made to us. Do you recount and rely on the promises of God? He promises to forgive our sins and never forsake us. He promises nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:31-32). He promises to cause all things in our lives to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). He promises to give you everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He promises to cause our faith to persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6), and He will never lose any who are His. He promises all of His people a resurrection unto life (John 3:16), and to come again and gather His people together to dwell in paradise forever. These promises are yours in Christ Jesus. You can count on them, because you can count on God (Psalm 33:4). Looking to Jesus, Jen

Wednesday - Week 4

Mary's Song: The Magnificat • December 16, 2020 • Kaitlyn

I love Christmas decorations: twinkly lights, poinsettias, garland twirled around a staircase. My mom has an incredible collection of nativity scenes from around the world she puts up all over her house every year. Each scene is made from different indigenous materials, reflects different cultures, and includes slightly different elements. But each scene includes Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus; and most of them depict these three important characters in the same way. Jesus is laying in some kind of little manger, Joseph is standing next to him, and Mary is kneeling over Jesus. That’s the image many of us have of Mary: quietly kneeling over her newborn, playing the role of the meek and mild mother. Mary’s song is anything but meek and mild. A young unmarried girl had been visited by an angel and given the most terrifying news: she would miraculously become pregnant. That she would bear the Messiah is amazing news, that she would likely face scorn and abandonment by her family and community is not. When Mary says, “I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word,” she said yes to a daunting assignment. Mary traveled to meet Zechariah and Elizabeth. Upon seeing Elizabeth and hearing her exuberant greeting, “blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:42), Mary responded with her own outburst of praise. She praised and rejoiced in God, declared that all generations would call her blessed, and described the character of the God who blessed her. He is mighty, holy, and merciful to those who fear Him. He has demonstrated His power by scattering the proud and arrogant, bringing the mighty down from their positions of power, and lifting up the lowly. He fed the hungry while sending those who hoard resources away empty-handed. He protected Israel, remembering His promise to Abraham and acting faithfully toward His people. Mary’s song is not a sweet Sunday school song. It is a powerful declaration of God’s character, a theological treatise full of Old Testament references, and a stunning proclamation of Jesus’ coming ministry. Many of the themes in Mary’s words reflect not only God’s past action but the work Jesus described at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:18) and would fulfill throughout His life. Mary’s faithful “yes” to God’s plan in her life also required a faithful “no.” She said “yes” to the terrifying task of birthing the Savior of the world and “no” the forces of sin and evil in the world He came to defeat. She said “yes” to God’s plan for her life and “no” to the plan she made for herself. She said “yes” to the powerful, holy, and merciful God and “no” to pride, arrogance, corruption, and injustice. Mary’s song is a powerful picture of a faithful life. She knew Scripture well enough to describe its story, she knew God well enough to describe His character, and she knew His redemptive plan for creation well enough to say “yes” to her part in it. May we all strive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to do the same. -Kaitlyn