Monday, December 6, 2010: Stump
Daily reading: Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:7-13
This messianic prophecy was spoken in a time when the Davidic dynasty was indeed a “stump,” a mere shadow of its former glory. Israel’s kings had been axed by the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions of the 8th and 6th centuries, respectively. Into the degradation and hopelessness of exile, Isaiah presents a vision of hope, a promise that one day a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, an offspring from David’s line. In the natural world, stumps can bloom with new growth. How much more can the powerful word of God create hope and new life from even the most desperate circumstances? And God promises to do so through a new King. Where do you need new life to spring up? Ask God to grow something new in you today.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010: Reign
Daily reading: Isaiah 11:1-10 again; Revelation 22:3-5
This promised King will have a seven-fold gift of the Spirit – words we recognize from both our baptismal and affirmation of baptism liturgies. Empowered by the Spirit, this promised King will lead with justice, power and piety. He will not be influenced by the wealthy and their bribes, but will reflect God’s preferential treatment of the poor and harsh judgment of oppressors. Either during his reign, or because of his reign, even the natural world will be turned upside down. An unheard-of era of peace and non-violence will be inaugurated, transforming this broken creation. This transformation will signal God’s global reign to all creation. The vision in Revelation pictures this reign as one in which all people worship the one who is on the throne. Is there something in your life that the reign of God needs to turn upside down? Ask God to come and reign in you so that everything you touch is turned upside down as well.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010: Fulfillment
Daily reading: 2 Kings 18:1-8; John 4:22-26
Did the Israelites ever experience such a reign? According to 2 Kings 18, Hezekiah was a great king and reformer who loved, feared and honored the Lord in all things. But even Hezekiah’s reign fell short of the messianic promises in Isaiah. And certainly the transformation of the natural order has yet to be experienced. But in Jesus Christ all of history is rushing like a river toward that day when all of God’s messianic promises will be fulfilled. In John 4, Jesus declares that he is the One who fulfills the prophetic promises throughout all time. Are you longing for that day of fulfillment to come when the natural order is transformed and all of God’s promises are fulfilled? Ask God to give you a heart that yearns for the renewal of all creation.
Thursday, December 9, 2010: John
Daily reading: Matthew 3:1-12; 2 Kings 1:8
Once again we hear the word of God spoken as a word of hope into an era of degradation and hopelessness. Rome’s occupation of Israel had left the people crying out for redemption and vindication. John the Baptist entered the scene as a prophet, foretold by Isaiah and aligned with Elijah. His message is clear and concise: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” As a sign of repentance, John called all people to be baptized. John’s baptism has its roots in the Qumran community, rather than Jewish tradition, and practiced daily baptism, or ritual washing, to symbolize an internal cleansing from sin. The verbal tense for “repent” is present, implying continual (daily, regular) action. John is not calling for a one-time repentance but a life of repentance, of consciously turning from sin. In your life, what do you need to repent (turn around) from? Ask the Holy Spirit to allow the work of repentance to transform you.
Friday, December 10, 2010: Repentance
Daily reading: Matthew 3:1-12 again; Ezekiel 18:30-32
The arrival of the Kingdom is connected to Jesus’ entry into public ministry. Matthew probably uses the phrase “Kingdom of heaven,” as opposed to “Kingdom of God,” because as a Jew he avoids using the sacred name of God. Jesus’ arrival signals a new reign of God in the world that is marked by the qualities expressed by Isaiah: peace, justice, righteousness and the unity of all people. This new reign of God demands repentance, a daily turning from sinful, self-centered ways and a turning to the ways of God. While repentance certainly includes sorrow for the wrong we have done in the past, it is also a profoundly hopeful practice because it opens us to and prepares us for God’s promised future. This work of transformation begins with John’s baptism but will find its full expression in Jesus, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. What can you turn away from today that will more clearly align your life with the ways of God? Ask God for the power to live a life of daily repentance.
Saturday, December 11, 2010: Expression
Daily reading: Romans 2:4-6; 2 Corinthians 7:9-11
Repentance is not just an internal practice. It must also have an external expression. A life of repentance, according to John, will be a life that bears the fruit of repentance. If we connect this repentance to the prophecy of Isaiah, the lives of the repentant will bear fruit such as peace, justice, righteousness and unity. We repent in order to align our lives with the movement of God in the world, a movement that is as old as Genesis but finds its full expression and fulfillment in Jesus. 2 Corinthians tells us that even grief can lead us to repentance. What would the outward expression of a repentant life look like to you? Ask God to reveal to you what this might be.
Sunday, December 12, 2010: Reality
Daily reading: Job 14:18-22; Ephesians 2:11-17
None of us are terribly happy with our current reality. We long for a world in which no one goes hungry or lives homeless, in which every child has equal access to education and opportunity. We long for a world in which all people have equal access to affordable healthcare. We long for a world in which all people have meaningful employment. We long for a world in which families are supported and support one another. We long for a world in which we feel safe without having to spend so much on military hardware and human lives. We long for a world in which all streets and neighborhoods are safe for all people. Like the Israelites, these messianic promises stir our hearts and breathe hope into our lives, and, like the Israelites, we continue to experience disappointment. What is your reality today? Ask God for renewed hope for a new future.