- Advent and Christmas Bible reflections
- DAY 1 Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6 — Immanuel announced
- DAY 2 Psalm 80:1-7 — Restore us, O God
- DAY 3 Psalm 25:1-10 — Show me Your ways
- DAY 4 Jeremiah 23:1-6 — The announcement of the Lord our Righteousness
- DAY 5 Jeremiah 33:14-16 — The fulfilment of the promise
- DAY 6 Isaiah 11:1-5 — The new shoot
- DAY 7 Romans 3:21-22, 2 Corinthians 5:21 — Our new identity in Christ Jesus
DAY 1 Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6 — Immanuel announced
Fundamental to the season that many Christians call Advent is the expectation of Almighty God presencing Himself in His created world in a new way. He was going to reveal Himself to those who would receive Him, in a new and much more approachable way. Of course, this has happened – near enough 2,000 years ago. But in preparing to celebrate His first coming, we are keenly reminded (and Scripture shows us repeatedly) that He will come again. We don’t know when. We do know that we are to be prepared, at readiness. This is the point.
Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6
Therefore the Lord Himself will give [all of] you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Matthew, narrating the event which came to pass in his time, records in Matthew 1:22-23:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
SOAP – Scripture, Observe, Apply, Pray
S – Scripture – This promise was received about 700 years before the birth of Christ. Generally in Scripture ‘a sign’ is fulfilled in a few years, not hundreds or thousands of years. The Early Church eagerly anticipated Jesus’ final return – soon. As we now know, the timeframe is longer.
O – Observe – The four titles of Isaiah 9:6 (read it again: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace) headline four aspects of Immanuel: – a ‘counsellor’ is someone who carries out a plan or action… – …with divine power… – …bringing the Father’s compassion and protection… and – …exercising a style of rulership which brings wholeness and wellbeing to the whole of society.
A – Apply – This speaks to us of a much greater plan than we can readily comprehend. It’s too big for us, and we find it hard to grasp an eternal timescale because we’re used to time we can measure. So we are forced to ‘think big’!
P – Pray – for spiritual eyes to be able to see the bigger picture of what God is doing. How do we align with this? Pray for the wisdom to prepare for it.
DAY 2 Psalm 80:1-7 — Restore us, O God
Setting the scene – this psalm speaks of our need and our longing for God to presence Himself again
1-2 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock
3 Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.4 How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smoulder against the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink
6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us.
7 Restore us, God Almighty
SOAP – re-read and reflect: Scripture, Observe, Apply, Pray
S – Scripture A psalm of lament probably written around 722 BC when the northern kingdom (Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh etc) was overrun. ‘Joseph’ is an allusion to all tribes. Like all Scripture, these words reach into our time and beyond, and bring God’s voice to speak into a Christian witness that appears marginalised and challenging.
O – Observe
– It speaks of us being restored that we may be saved, v.3, v.7.
– Not all prayers please God, evidently, v.4.
– There is the sense that derision and being mocked, v.6, has been allowed by God.
– There is a prayer – and an expectation – of God coming to save us, vv.2-3.
A – Apply What kind of prayers might make God angry? To carry on with our familiar routine in worship, without giving heed to what God is saying might be a cause – didn’t the prophets say a lot about this at times when there was urgency to change? What is our sense of need, for God to come near and save? Was the “Come and save us’ plea fulfilled with Jesus, the Son of God, coming in human form, as we remember especially at this time of year – or is this still a prayer and urgency for us today?
P – Pray “Lord, we come to You in our world of wars, conflicts, injustice, sickness and pain and ask that You will restore us with new direction, and presence Yourself with us. In Jesus, we pray. Amen.”
DAY 3 Psalm 25:1-10 — Show me Your ways
The anticipation of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full, through David’s prophetic appeal.
1 In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.
I trust in you;
2 do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3 No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.
4 Show me Your ways, Lord, teach me Your paths.
5 Guide me in Your truth and teach me,
6 Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;
according to Your love remember me, for You, Lord, are good.
8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways.
9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and
S – Scripture Read and soak (re-read). This is, at first sight, a supplication prayer for guidance, particularly clarity about the difference between His ways and man’s independent ways. Just beneath the surface is a texture of praise which draws out who God is, in character:
– One who is faithful and able to be trusted, v.1, because of the covenant relationship, v.10, which is what gives Biblical hope its surety, v3 and v.5;
– One who is true, merciful, and loving;
– One who understands man’s tendency to independence, v.7, and reaches out to those who transgress, v.8, seeking those who are humble enough to be teachable, vv.8-9.
O – Observe There is a contrast drawn between “Your ways” and “my ways”:
- “Your ways, Your paths” (vv.4, 7, 8, 9, 10) “Your truth” (v.5) “Your mercy and love” (vv.6, 7)
- “My trust” (vv.1-2), “my hope” (v.5), “my rebellious ways” (v.7)
A – Apply There is a sense of expecting the Lord to again seek out those who relate to Him in a right attitude of dependence, vv. 1, 9-10. In examining my dependence on God, does that need to change?
Does my chosen path, and my ways of achieving it, run parallel with God’s ways, or are they tending to diverge?
P – Pray Lord, You are good and upright, loving and faithful, and utterly trustworthy. Show me Your ways and Your paths once again in this season. Amen.
DAY 4 Jeremiah 23:1-6 — The announcement of the Lord our Righteousness
The promise of the raising up of ‘a righteous branch’ called Yahweh Tsidqenu, the Lord Our Righteousness. Read with Jer. 33:14-16.
1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord.
2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend My people: “Because you have scattered My flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord.
3 “I myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number.
4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. 5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour [Yahweh Tsidqenu].
S – Scripture – read and re-read The shepherds are the people’s rulers. The original hearers were in siege and facing deportation after a lengthy period of leadership that was rebellious towards God, vv.1-2. Following Josiah’s good and godly reforms, there was a succession of short and damaging reigns (Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim and Johoiachin) which were not God-fearing, ending with the last king of Judah whose name, Zedekiah, means ‘The Lord is Righteous’ – but he did not live up to his name. Hence the irony of “I will raise up for David a righteous branch”, v.5.
O – Observe “For David”, v.5, means recognition of the covenant made earlier with David, regarding a special descendant of his. The passage also speaks of a future restoration of people and their leaders, vv.3-4, and of God being with them in a new kind of redeeming relationship, vv.5-6.
A – Apply What does “Judah” and “Israel” stand for (v.6) in our expectation of “the days…coming” of “The Lord Our Righteous Saviour”? What might this mean for us? Are there believers scattered by the actions of ungodly leaders (v.2) who are being brought back and fed again, to become fruitful? What does this say about our understanding and relationships with the wider and non-traditional part of the church?
P – Pray Lord Jesus, we welcome You as the Righteous Branch and invite You to be Lord of Your church – in every aspect. Amen.
DAY 5 Jeremiah 33:14-16 — The fulfilment of the promise
The righteous branch growing out of the historic rootstock of King David appears, at first, to be a just and fair king to rule over the Jewish nation – who is then described as the Lord Himself.
Read with Jer. 23:1-6 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
He will do what is just and right in the land
This is the name by which it [He] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Saviour [The Lord Our Righteousness].”
S – Scripture to read and re-read. This is a repetition of the prophetic promise in Jer. 23:1-6. Here it is not only the Saviour who is called by the covenant name, but Jerusalem and Judah, representing the people of the Saviour.
O – Observe The promise of the ‘righteous branch”, the Saviour of David’s line, bringing what is just and right, is repeated. What does the repetition emphasise for us?
A – Apply How does our knowing “the Lord my righteousness” change us? How does it release? How might it also constrain our attitudes and actions? When The Lord Our Righteousness comes again, what does He expect of those who belong to Him?
P – Pray “Come, Lord Jesus” – but help me prepare my heart for Your coming.
DAY 6 Isaiah 11:1-5 — The new shoot
A prophecy from Isaiah, 300 years earlier than Jeremiah’s, about a righteous branch, growing and bearing fruit
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from His roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord —
3 and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what He sees with his eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears;
4 but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of His lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist.
S – Scripture Read, and re-read in the awareness that chapter 10 ends with a picture of the destruction
O – Observe Why did the “lofty” and “tall” “forest thickets” have to come down – be “brought low”? What attitudes can grow up to block what the Lord wants to do?How many different expressions of righteousness, faithfulness, etc?The picture is that of a shoot, or new life, that is growing. Where is it growing? Certainly in the One the Spirit of the Lord rests upon, whose uniform is righteousness and faithfulness – who we now know to be the Messiah and our Lord Jesus.
P – Pray Lord, we are so grateful for the new life we have in You, and for You choosing us to partner with you. Help us to be prepared to be available to You as ‘new shoots’ of Your kingdom, growing up wherever You deploy us. Amen.
DAY 7 Romans 3:21-22, 2 Corinthians 5:21 — Our new identity in Christ Jesus
This is the New Covenant revelation of who we are in Christ Jesus, that the Old Covenant prophecy anticipates. That is Christian living in the fullness of the Spirit now – with implications for the time will Jesus will come again to rule and reign, with the gathering of those that are His.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
S – Scripture Read and re-read, especially this short passage which is one of the most empowering in the Bible. The revelation that comes through Scripture is progressive. Jeremiah’s prophetic words are set in the context of the Old Covenant, but resonate both with Jesus’ own words, and with post-resurrection teaching when the Holy Spirit was given.
O – Observe In His “I am” sayings, Jesus states a series of righteous roles that He performs. Each one imparts a dimension of His righteousness to us.
– The bread of life, John 6:35 and 51
– The light of the world, John 8:12
– The gate for the sheep, John 10:7 and 9
– The good shepherd, John 10:11 and 14
– The resurrection and the life, John 11:25
– The way, the truth and the life, John 14:6
– The vine, John 15:1 and 5.
In this progressive revelation, this point is the bridge between the end of the Old Covenant (pre-Resurrection), and the New Covenant (post-Resurrection) instituted by Jesus on the Cross but revealed by the Holy Spirit as an entirely new kind of relationship.
The “righteousness given by faith” that in Christ Jesus “we might become the righteousness of God” is an immense, arresting truth. We need the Holy Spirit to coach us, as we try to grasp this! This is what we now see, which Jeremiah saw less clearly in giving his 400-years-before-Christ prophecies.
A – Apply If we are seen by heaven as righteous before God because of our relationship with Jesus, what does that say about our prayer and worship influence in a dark world? What does that say about the confidence with which we not only pray supplication (asking) but also declare truth to the heavenlies
P – Pray Thank you, gracious Father, for the revelation of this great truth of who I am in Jesus that I already hold. “More, Lord” – help me to get it more fully, and live it more fruitfully. Thank You, Jesus, Amen.