Monday, December 27, 2010: Present to Give Us Hope
Daily reading: Isaiah 62:6-12
According to some scholars, the book of Isaiah is really a melding of three prophets. If that’s true, our text is from third Isaiah. Third Isaiah is written to the Israelites after their return from exile, facing broken walls, a destroyed temple, and chaos. The condition of the holy city leaves them hopeless. Chapter 62 is meant to address these feelings. Third Isaiah paints a picture of Zion’s future glory, the glory of a city reborn. The people are to pray for the city day and night until God restores it and it becomes the talk of the town; indeed the whole earth (6-7). God promises that the inhabitants of the city will not be plundered again by a foreign nation who will devour their grain and wine. Instead, the people of God will enjoy the produce of the land and the fruit of their labor. Where in your life are the walls broken down? Ask God for the gift of hope for a new day.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010: Present to Point to Jesus
Daily reading: Isaiah 62:6-12 again
Salvation and restoration are indeed coming to the people of Israel who once walked in darkness; they will be compensated for their suffering (11). Once they had felt unclean and abandoned in exile, and perhaps in the currently destroyed city, but their new names point to the reality that they cannot yet see, that they are not forsaken, but sought after in love. Sorrow will give way to salvation. Read through the lens of Christmas, third Isaiah points to a reality far greater than Jerusalem. Through the gift of God’s grace in the Christ child, we are now a people who are sought out, redeemed, saved and deeply loved, even though we don’t always see it or feel like it in this broken world. Where do you need God to be more present in your life? Ask for God’s presence to point you to Jesus.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010: Present to Shepherds
Daily reading: Luke 2:8-20
Anyone but shepherds! If you had a daughter, you’d rather she marry a tax collector than a shepherd. They worked on the Sabbath, let their sheep graze on land that didn’t belong to them, and smelled like sheep. They were so low on the social scale that they were not allowed in the city, not allowed to testify in court, or even to enter the Jerusalem temple. They couldn’t be any lower on the social scale. Yet these were the very people to whom God chose to reveal the birth of his Son into the world. God often uses surprising people in surprising ways. Sometimes, when we encounter a new person, we judge them by their looks or the way they dress. It would be easy to judge a shepherd this way, but the angels know what they are doing. Who is a surprising person in your life that God is using in a surprising way? Ask God to lead you to surprising people today.
Thursday, December 30, 2010: Present for Everyone
Daily reading: Luke 2:8-20
The Savior has come for the humble of this world, those who know they haven’t got a prayer. While Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy to Abraham, the father of the Jews, Luke traces it to Adam, the father of all humanity (chapter 3). The Messiah is not just for the Jews; he has come for ALL people, and he has cosmic implications. It isn’t the righteous and religious who “get it.” It is those on the outside who respond with faith: a peasant girl, shepherds, Roman centurions, lepers. Jesus is found by and found in “the least of these.” Remember that Jesus is descended from David, who was also a shepherd. Jesus will shepherd his people. Are there people you think are outside of God’s plans? Ask God to lead you to “the least of these” today.
Friday, December 31, 2010: Present in the Face of Evil
Daily reading: Matthew 2:13-23
Another angel appears to Joseph, allowing the baby Jesus to escape Herod’s wicked intentions. We see the violent reality of the world that Jesus was born into: the slaughter of male children two years and under. Evil is one reality of every time and generation, and Jesus has come among us to be God’s presence with us, even in the midst of a cruel and messy world. This escape to Egypt echoes stories in the Old Testament and foreshadows Jesus’ fate. A peasant girl and her husband, with a new child, far from home, might not have the funds to make the journey that the angel encourages. Some scholars believe that the gifts of the Magi were the way God provided for their escape. In your life, do you see where the presence of God confronts evil? Ask God to actively confront evil in our world.
Saturday, January 1, 2010: Present in Silence
Daily reading: Isaiah 62
The relationship between God and the people of Israel resembles that of a parent and a child. The parent calls the child to a certain way of life marked by good health and sound living. But from time to time the child disobeys, tries to “do it on their own,” discovers that won’t work, and returns to the heart of the parent. The parents don’t always jump in and rescue the child; nor should they. The child must learn on his or her own. We could call this a silence; not a “silent treatment,” but certainly a learning kind of silence. This parent/child relationship is played out in Isaiah. Leading up to chapter 63, God is in silent mode. The people of Israel misunderstand, thinking that God has not fulfilled God’s promises. But God remains faithful, and does fulfill promises. Do you ever feel like God is in silent mode? Ask God to help you learn from these times of silence.
Sunday, January 2, 2011: Present in Steadfast Love
Daily reading: Isaiah 63:7-9
In our times of trouble and despair, when we are overwhelmed by life, God is not silent. We can give thanks, honor and praise to God, who shows steadfast love. The word “hesed,” or “steadfast love,” is an important word in Hebrew Scriptures. Of the 250 times it appears, eight are in Isaiah. God’s love for us is steadfast, cannot be moved, shaken, loosened or undone. It’s like a knot: it grows stronger and tighter when you pull away from it. At Christmas we celebrate the presence of God’s steadfast love in our lives. Do you sense God’s steadfast love in your life? Ask God to guide your life in 2011.