Advent: Christmas Day – Monday, December 25, 2023

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Luke 2:1–20

Merry Christmas!

Today, on Christmas Day, our passage is a very familiar one. Whether you’re a Christian or not, you probably know this piece of scripture. Personally, my mind immediately goes to Charlie Brown when I hear this passage. As a kid we watched the Charlie Brown Christmas Special every year on Christmas Eve. It’s a tradition that Sarah and I have continued with our own kids.  

Within this well-known passage is one of the most famous lines of scripture — “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” Interestingly, if you ask people on the street what Christmas is all about, a common answer would actually be the right one. A lot of people would say that Christmas is about peace on earth. It’s a rare example where a person-on-the street interview would actually yield the right answer!

But, of course, the critical question is what kind of peace. What kind of peace are we actually talking about? When Jesus comes on Christmas, what kind of peace does he bring?

The most common misperception is that Christmas is about political or international peace. There is a whole slew of Christmas pop songs about peace on earth — from John Lennon singing “so this is Christmas, war is over” to Amy Grant’s “Grown Up Christmas List,” wishing for “no more lives torn apart, that wars would never start.” But this isn’t the kind of peace the angels were talking about. And that’s obvious just by the plain fact that here we are 2,023 years after the first Christmas, and war isn’t showing any signs of abating. To be clear, God will one day bring this kind of peace, as promised in the book of Isaiah. It’s just not the kind of peace He brings on Christmas.

So, we assume then that if Christmas peace isn’t political peace, it must be about inner peace. It must be that when the angels declare peace on earth they are talking about some kind of internal, phycological peace. But anyone who has been a Christian for any length knows that, yes, sometimes we have an internal “peace that surpasses understanding,” as Paul talks about in Philippians 4. And yet, other times following Jesus brings us the complete opposite of inner peace.  

The very next story in Luke 2 describes an episode where Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple to dedicate Him to God. This wise prophet Simeon comes to bless the child. He looks at the baby, and then he looks at Mary and says, “a sword is going to pierce your soul.” In other words, Jesus is going to bring anything but internal psychological peace into your life. He’s going to bring great pain and suffering into your life as you try to raise this child that you don’t understand, and watch him be tortured and suffer and die. 

So what kind of peace are the angels talking about? The answer is found in the next line of that verse (Luke 2:14) – “goodwill toward men.” On Christmas, God comes to earth and brings His goodwill to us.  

That’s a big deal, because we first rejected Him. And God isn’t the kind of guy you can blow off without repercussions. Which is why all throughout the Bible, when God shows up the first reaction people have is fear. That’s precisely the reaction the shepherds have here. And the angels basically say, “I understand why you’re afraid, but we have something we want to show you, and when you see it, you’ll realize that you no longer have to be afraid of God.”

God has to enter into the world in a way that can get past our fear. So He comes in disguise, in the form of a baby — “veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” 

And He comes to bring peace. Not political peace. Not inner peace. But peace between us and God.

As you celebrate with family and friends today, may you celebrate that God has come to earth to get back what He lost — us. He’s come to restore peace between us and Himself.

Matthew A. Scogin is the president of Hope College.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Advent: Day 22 – Sunday, December 24, 2023

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:4–7

A beautiful Methodist rite exhorts the congregation, ”Remember your baptism and be grateful.” How often do we thank God for the gift of our baptism? Though, perhaps we might be asking first, why should we be grateful for our baptism?

Throughout the Scriptures, God creates and heals his world through water and the Holy Spirit. In creation, the Spirit hovers over the face of the deep waters. In the flood, Noah sends out a dove (symbolic of the Holy Spirit in the renewed world) who returns when he finds an olive tree. In the Exodus, the Spirit goes ahead in a pillar of cloud leading the Israelites through the Red Sea to freedom from slavery. At Pentecost, Peter says, “Repent and be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” God uses water and the Spirit, something earthly and something divine, to create his world and to recreate it.

In our reading today, Paul tells Titus that it was not our own efforts that saved us, but God’s mercy. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” We are washed from our sins, given a new birth from God, and made new again by the Holy Spirit. So, there is much to be grateful for! God has made us clean and forgiven our debts; he has made us part of his own family so that we are properly his children; and he has given us a new source of life and power so we can live as God lives. And if we live the life of the Spirit given to us in baptism, we can be assured of inheriting eternal life.

Dr. Jared Ortiz is the Lavern ’39 and Betty DePree ’41 Van Kley Professor of Religion at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Advent: Day 21 – Saturday, December 23, 2023

On your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have set watchmen;
all the day and all the night
they shall never be silent.
You who put the LORD in remembrance,
take no rest,
and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes it a praise in the earth.
The LORD has sworn by his right hand
and by his mighty arm:
“I will not again give your grain
to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink your wine
for which you have labored;
but those who garner it shall eat it
and praise the LORD,
and those who gather it shall drink it
in the courts of my sanctuary.”

Go through, go through the gates;
prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway;
clear it of stones;
lift up a signal over the peoples.
Behold, the LORD has proclaimed
to the end of the earth:
Say to the daughter of Zion,
“Behold, your salvation comes;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.”
And they shall be called The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the LORD;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.
Isaiah 62:6–12

I am not going to pretend that I understand the nuances of Isaiah’s words. I don’t know what this passage means completely because it is confusing. I want to think it is about the birth of Christ, but Jerusalem is not the praise of the earth. I know that for sure.

I want to connect it to my toil — so often my days feel more like toil than the celebration feast. I try to tend to my little patch of earth but for what? I eat someone else’s grain. I drink wine made in vineyards unknown to me. Not only is Jerusalem not the praise of the earth, but there don’t seem to be watchmen who are never silent on the walls. 

I cannot help but connect the passage back to all the laborers of Israel when Isaiah wrote this poem. So often their grain, their wine, their harvest, all the fruits of their labor are taken by someone else. Both the bread that is their sustenance and the wine that is their joy. Their mourning and work must have been intermixed. Something like, “Why did you take us out of Egypt just to die in the desert?”

I start to see that the passage knows that without Christ’s incarnation all of history would be pointless toil. All it would be is injustice, stealing, and working only to see the fruits of your labors turn to ashes. Life would be toil and strife without end — both an end in time and a teleological end. At least that is what Ecclesiastes has convinced me of.

But now I am wrapped up in trying to understand a deeper layer of this poem. I think it is true that the world has deserted the watchmen who have been set on the wall.
That indeed the watchmen have not remained silent.
That the work and toil was not pointless.
That the restless days and nights of waiting were worthwhile. 
We can and should say to “Daughter Zion, ‘See, your Savior comes!’” 

The bread and the wine were stolen from our lips. The enemies were not just taking their hard-earned fruits, they were stealing the communion. The work of our hands which Christ made sacramental. Our bread and our wine becomes His body. This is not a passage about the way being prepared for Him. It is about the way being prepared, “for the people.”

He is calling us back to Jerusalem. It is a city for the nations. It is a city that will never be deserted again. His coming incarnation is the cornerstone of the Jerusalem that Isaiah prophesied about. 

We must continue the watchful waiting, and we must not be silent. He is waiting for all the Holy People to be called. Can we patiently wait for even just one or two more? Can we turn this Advent observance into waiting for His final return? A time when our communion is no longer stolen?

Can we endure the injustices of this world for a while longer? Even if it is the rest of our lives?

I get to eat the bread and taste the body and drink the wine and savor the blood. I get to taste that city that is here and is yet to come. To live is Christ, but what is coming is life everlasting. 

See, your Savior comes!

Greg Lookerse is an assistant professor of art at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Advent: Day 20 – Friday, December 22, 2023

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Titus 2:11–14

There is a certain paradox in the Christian life that this brief passage from Paul’s letter to Titus throws into stark relief. It is that the Christian life is marked simultaneously by waiting and zealous action.

The grace of God has appeared in his incarnate Word and will appear again. For this we wait. And if our generation goes anything like the last hundred or so generations in human history, we will likely wait our entire lives. I hope you brought a magazine.

Actually, I hope you didn’t. Because in our waiting, Paul tells us, our call is not to kill time but to make the most of it (Ephesians 5:16); we are to be “zealous for good works.” Now this is a strange thing. What normally happens when we interact with a person who is waiting for something they really want? Talk to them. (Their mind is elsewhere.) Invite them out. (No, they’re… busy.) Change the subject. (What? No, sorry, they’re not listening, could you say that again?) Such a person is not present, but rather distracted. Life is on hold.

Waiting for Christ, though, produces the opposite effect. Christ has redeemed and purified a people for himself who pour themselves out for the life of the world. With zeal, friends. There’s nothing perfunctory about Christian discipleship. Of course, good works look different from disciple to disciple: some write elegant code, some diligently clean houses, some pray quietly for the world’s salvation. But none regard this earthly life as simply a decades-long waiting room to be endured before the main event.

“For You I wait all the day,” says the psalmist. Perhaps the essence of waiting for God is not so much inactivity as it is a change in our horizon, a relativizing of the things we thought this life was about. I thought I was waiting for my first car. My first job. My wedding. My first child. My retirement. (I may be glossing over all the naughty things that the Cretans surrounding Titus were waiting for, but the point still stands). But actually, all of these things were always secondary. I was waiting, I am waiting, and as long as I have breath I will always be waiting for “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Joshua Kraut is an associate professor of French at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Advent: Day 19 – Thursday, December 21, 2023

Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth!

Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Psalm 96

Psalm 96 emphasizes that the Lord is deserving of our praise and adoration. It is in this recognition of the Lord’s majesty, goodness, and holiness that the Psalmist urges us, especially in this period of Advent, to sing his praise “among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”

The meta-narrative of Advent is the believer’s recognition of the dynamics of giving that defines this aspect of our Christian lives — that God Almighty has given mankind a precious gift for our salvation, and that the gift in turn presents us with another gift, his own life. This double sense of giving that constitutes Advent must be predicated on reciprocity — the willingness of the receiver to prepare their hearts and make space for the gift to dwell in us. The concept of Emmanuel, God incarnate and dwelling among us, will only be meaningful when we create the space for him to abide with us and to do so “in the splendor of his holiness.” 

It is equally important for believers to appreciate the fact that Advent prefigures Calvary in the same way that the Resurrection foreshadows his Return. We celebrate Advent in anticipation and appreciation of the cross — the gift that the gift will give us for our salvation, and the anticipation of his return when the kingdom of heaven will come down to earth. 

And so as we anticipate the birth of our savior, let us be reminded that salvation occasioned by the shed blood of Christ transcends geographical borders, social categories, and every form of human classification. The Good News is that he died for Jews and Gentiles alike, so that by the Great Commission, we are required to spread the word, praise his name, proclaim his salvation, and declare his glory “among the nations [and] among all peoples, until he comes again in glory “to judge the earth.” Until then, “Let the heavens rejoice, [and] let the earth be glad.”

Dr. Ernest Cole is the John Dirk Werkman Professor of English at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Advent: Day 18 – Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Romans 16:25–27

I remember only one thing from a half-year forestry class I took in high school: a goldfish died on my watch. 

My teacher announced one day that we had to prepare for the coming of a goldfish in about a week. He put us in groups and gave us materials that described how to care for a goldfish. We had to prepare a tank. We had to condition and aerate the water. When the fish arrived, we were supposed to acclimate the goldfish to the new environment by placing the bag of water with the fish in our tank, so that the temperature would equalize slowly. Otherwise, the fish might die from shock.

My group was not up to the task. We did get water in a tank and managed to prepare the water, but we forgot about acclimation. We opened the bag and poured the fish into our tank. Our teacher said nothing, but I could see the worry on his face. The next day, when we came to class, the goldfish had died, its body floating in the water. My teacher asked us what we learned. Four 16-year-old boys shrugged. He added, “Life happens under certain conditions, and it needs to be cared for.” Ok. Got it.

In these final words from the letter to the Romans, Paul is ecstatic that, in Jesus, God has unveiled a secret, a mystery, that God had kept close to the chest for long ages. God was active in creation for eons and spoke in Israel for hundreds of years before the big unveil of Jesus. Why did God take so long? Probably because God breaking into creation requires preparation and acclimation. Adam and Eve hid from a God who walked near them, which shows that God’s presence, especially God’s presence in the flesh, takes some getting used to. You might say that God, through those eons and years of prophecy, ever so slowly, put the colder water of creation into the warmer water of God’s life so that when the moment came, we wouldn’t die of shock. Instead, because God waited until we were ready, we can swim in, enjoy, and revel in God’s life in Christ. In fact, that’s the way to be acclimated for the next big reveal of Christ’s coming: to learn in thought, word and deed to enjoy God’s life in Christ now, because that’s what, in God’s mercy, we will be doing, as Paul says, “forever.” Amen.

Dr. Keith Starkenburg is the director of the Vita Scholars Program at Hope College and Western Theological Seminary and associate professor of theology and interim associate dean at Western Theological Seminary.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Advent: Day 17 – Tuesday, December 19, 2023

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John 1:6–8, 19–28

The coming of Jesus has more witnesses than Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Okay, maybe not that many — but a lot. Every Gospel begins with accounts of witnesses. Matthew begins with the witnesses of genealogy, Mark with John the Baptist, Luke with his own reflection of witness, and finally the Gospel of John who introduces us to John the Baptist again — a witness to the Light.

Now, at first we’re not actually sure who this John is. The Pharisees give us some options though — running the list from greatest to least: The Christ? Elijah? a prophet? But it seems that he is simply a nameless “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” not even worthy to untie the sandal of the coming messiah. Not exactly the ideal way to set up a character — and certainly not one with such an auspicious message to deliver!

When I think about who John is in the story of the Bible, I’m reminded of a conversation I’ve been having with my 11-year-old.

We’ve been talking about how different characters function in comic book movies. Who are the heroes, the villains, and the ones you can just tell are going to get axed at some point in the movie? Currently, we’ve been having fun analyzing the characters whose roles are a little more blurry. The characters who’d rather not be in the story, the reluctant heroes, the anti-heroes, the innocents caught in the crossfire — will they live or die? John the Baptist is certainly one of these secondary characters. While he’s first out of the gates in the story, he also describes himself as one “not even worthy to untie the sandals” of the coming main character. Later on Jesus describes him as simultaneously “greater than all born of women” and “least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 11:11).

I can just imagine the religious Pharisees trying to figure out who this John is. Is he a good guy? A bad guy? They just aren’t sure! But in classic literature types he is certainly the herald. The one who gets the story going. He also features as the character that bridges the old and the new — fading from the scene as Jesus literally emerges from the baptismal waters. But it’s always clear that John is never witnessing about himself but always pointing us, the reader, to Jesus — the Light of the World.

Who are the witnesses in your life to Jesus? Those that cut through the endless news cycle and social media noise to bring the unfettered peace of the King of Kings? This year for me it’s the advent poetry of British writer Malcolm Guite. Here is his sonnet meditating on the Emmanuel that helps me to see Christ afresh:

O Emmanuel
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

Bruce Benedict is the chaplain of worship and arts for Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

“O Emmanuel” © Malcolm Guite. Used by permission of the author.

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Advent: Day 16 – Monday, December 18, 2023

Now when the king lived in his house and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.”

But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.

“‘And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”
2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16

In this Old Testament passage, we read one of God’s promises that will ultimately be fulfilled in the person of the God-man, Jesus Christ. God promises David that his throne will be established forever. We know Jesus fulfills this promise because that’s one of the things the angel Gabriel tells Mary during the Annunciation: “the Lord God will give to him [Jesus] the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32).

What I find curious about this promise is the exchange in which it happens. In a dialogue with God that takes place through the prophet Nathan, King David says that he is going to build God a house. What is God’s reply? He says, “No, I’m going to build you a house.” Not just any house, either, but a house that will last forever.

How often do we do the same thing? We promise God that we’ll do something for him, only to find that God says, “No, I’m going to do that for you.” And he will do it (he has already done it) in the same way he did it for David: through Jesus Christ. 

We tell God that we will obey him, and we find that Jesus was already “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). We intend to please God, and we find that Jesus “always [did] the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29). On our best and most ambitious days, we may even find ourselves promising to give our whole lives for God — and we find instead that God has given his life for us (1 John 3:16).

In short, we tell God we will do something for him, and he replies, “It’s already been done.” It is finished (John 19:30). And all of this on our behalf, yours and mine.

This Advent season, may you rest — truly rest — in the work that Jesus has already done for you.

Josh Bishop is the web content manager for Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Advent: Day 15 – Sunday, December 17, 2023

I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever;
with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant:
‘I will establish your offspring forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’”

Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said:
“I have granted help to one who is mighty;
I have exalted one chosen from the people.
I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,
so that my hand shall be established with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall not outwit him;
the wicked shall not humble him.
I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him,
and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
I will set his hand on the sea
and his right hand on the rivers.
He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’”

Psalm 89:1–4, 19–26

This psalm authorship in the Hebrew Bible is attributed to Ethan the Ezrahite. The title “Ezrahite” likely denotes Ethan’s lineage or origin, possibly associating him with the clan of Zerah, a descendant of Judah. Despite the lack of specific biographical information, Ethan’s contribution to the Psalter suggests a role as a wise and contemplative figure within the ancient Israelite community. Psalm 89, stands out for its emphasis on God’s covenant with David, reflecting a deep theological understanding and a sense of communal identity. In addition, within the title of the psalm we also find the term maskil; it suggests that the psalm is intended for instruction or contemplation, emphasizing its didactic nature.

The psalmist, in the opening verses, exclaims with joy and gratitude, praising the Lord for His steadfast love and faithfulness. This sets the tone for the comprehensive theme of Advent, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the fulfillment of divine promises. 

During the season of Advent within the Christian faith we often hear the expression “Come and Cheer.” These three simple words together consolidate the essence of Advent, and they invite us to rejoice in the midst of waiting, to find comfort in the promises of God even in uncertain times. Our Lord Jesus Christ once said to his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV). This firm statement provides hope for the present and future because God’s promises are yes, and amen. 

Biblical history highlights the focus of this season of how Israel’s messiah, Immanuel (God with us), came once humbly to this world in the person of Jesus more than two thousand years ago. He came as the hope of this world. He did not come as people were expecting him, as a powerful warrior with armor, a sword, a horse, and a massive army behind him to deliver Israel from political oppression. Instead, He came as a meek lamb ready to be sacrificed for his people, demonstrating his steadfast love and faithfulness to them, just like the psalmist remarked in his psalm writings. That same Messiah is who we joyfully remember and celebrate during this season and who also promised to come again to make all things new.

The psalmist’s words, echoing through the centuries, resonate in our hearts as we embrace the season with anticipation, celebrating the fulfillment of ancient prophecies in the birth of Jesus Christ. 

As we reflect on Psalm 89 during Advent, I invite you to have a spiritual journey of introspection and hope reflecting on how God has demonstrated his steadfast love and faithfulness in your life.

Charley Peña is a chaplain of discipleship for Campus Ministries at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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Advent: Day 14 – Saturday, December 16, 2023

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:16–24

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” When I was a seeker of Christ but not yet a follower, these kinds of instructions in holy living would fill my heart with despair. Paul does not say to the church at Thessalonica: “Rejoice as much as possible, pray as much as you reasonably can, try your best to thank God in the bad times as well as the good.” No, Paul commands followers of Jesus to pray without ceasing and rejoice always. But who can possibly do that? The obvious unachievability of these commandments, and others like them, was a provocation and a source of anguish for me. How could I ever become a Christian if this was the standard I had to meet?

Holy living is an important component of Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica. Paul sees it as fitting to remind the Thessalonian church of the necessity of abstaining from sexual immorality (4:3–8), of working to support themselves (4:10–12), and of living peacefully with one another (5:11–13). But alongside each of these directives, Paul also tenderly reassures the church that God, who is faithful, will help them. God has chosen them (1:4), and He is the one who makes them increase in love for one another and for everyone (3:11). Paul repeatedly reminds the church that in making his people holy, God prepares us for the second coming of Christ, making our hearts, souls, and bodies ready to meet Jesus at his return (3:13; 5:23).  

What I failed to understand when I first read passages like the one above is that God doesn’t leave his people alone to figure out holy living through our own efforts. He himself helps us to become the kind of people ready to stand in his presence. Advent is a time to anticipate the coming of Christ. Let’s remember today that our faithful God is the one who will establish our hearts blameless on the day of Jesus’s return, and rejoice.

Dr. Julia Smith is an assistant professor of philosophy instruction at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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