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Inspirational Image of the Day

G-MM™: Meditation Moment

The Free Press WV

God, grant me the grace to be patient and vigilant in watching, waiting, and listening attentively, so that I won’t miss Christ when he comes knocking at my door. Remove whatever hinders me from receiving the gifts which the Savior brings — Joy, peace, justice, mercy, and love. And let me always remember that these are gifts that are only received by giving; let me remember, during this season and throughout the year, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the outcast, the prisoner, the weak, and the defenseless, with my prayers and with my substance.

In the name of Christ I pray,
Amen.


1 Chronicles 17:11-14 (Holman CSB)
The Lord’s Covenant with David

“When your time comes to be with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant, who is one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for Me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to Me.

I will not take away My faithful love from him as I took it from the one who was before you. I will appoint him over My house and My kingdom forever, and his throne will be established forever.“


Luke 1:5-17 (ESV)
Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Hebrew high priest burning incense at the altar

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”


Notes on the Scripture

Today, with two weeks left until Christmas, we start our Christmas readings in earnest. The birth of Christ is bound up with the birth of John the Baptist. God did not send Christ into the world cold, as they say in the theater (and in sales). John the Baptist was His warm-up act and His emcee; he introduced Christ to Israel by prophesying His imminent arrival and then by baptizing Him in the Jordan River.

Their ties began before their birth. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were Levites, the descendants of Aaron, the tribe from which Judaism took its priests. As would happen to Mary in six months, John’s father was visited by an angel (Gabriel) to inform him of a miraculous birth. In John’s case his birth was remarkable because of the age of his parents. As happens several times in the Old Testament (most notably Sarah), God chooses a barren woman, past the age of conception, to bear a child of a special significance. Thus, people will find it easier to accept the child as special, since his conception was a miracle. His mere existence is a sign of his significance.

John the Baptist reminds us somewhat of Samson. Both were born to barren women; both were announced by an angel; and in both cases, the angel forbade them to drink alcohol. (See Judges 13.) Samson’s strictures were more stringent than John’s, because he was a Nazarite, and was forbidden to cut his hair or beard. John, however, although not a member of a formal monastic sect, would prove to lead a monastic life: living in the wilderness in rough clothing and surviving on locusts, as a sign of his dedication to God.

Note that the name “Zechariah” can cause some confusion. It is a good transliteration of the ancient Hebrew, but various versions of the Bible Latinize the name to Zacharias or even Zachary. However, there is a more important Hebrew prophet also named Zechariah. This person lived 500 years earlier, and his prophesies are contained in the Book of Zechariah, the penultimate book of the Christian Old Testament.

G-MM™: Meditation Moment

The Free Press WV

Lord God, let me not put my trust in the words of men, for their minds are weak and their tongues are tainted by the world; but let me test everything having to do with faith against our only true teacher, Jesus Christ, and the true Word of God that was inspired through the Holy Spirit.
Amen.


Psalm 135:5-7 (ESV)

For I know that the Lord is great,
and that our Lord is above all gods.

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps.

He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
who makes lightnings for the rain
and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.


Isaiah 25:6-9 (ESV)
He Will Swallow Up Death

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.

He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”


Notes on the Scripture

After reading a couple of the baleful prophecies, concerning the terrible wrath God will bring some day upon the world (such as yesterday’s), it is a relief to get into the wonderful, thankful prophecies of Christ and the salvation and joy He will bring.

We are in the season of feasting. Most of us spend the weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s eating lots of great food, and we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that we didn’t invent the idea. The idea of combining a celebration with a great meal extends until the earliest days of history, and most likely, before.

We certainly see lots of feasting in the Bible. But Isaiah, of course, is a prophet and a poet, and when he mentions the feast that God will prepare in today’s Scripture, he means it to symbolize a specific idea: Salvation. And not just Isaiah; the greatest feast in Christian life is the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, or Holy Eucharist — despite their differences, just about every denomination celebrates the Last Supper, because Christ commanded us to do so.

But Isaiah’s feast is not in an upper room. It is on a mountain; and it is not real, but a prophecy, a vision. Mountains in general tend to symbolize power, or nations, in the Old Testament, and without doubt Isaiah means to invoke Jerusalem specifically in this passage. The city itself was and is, geographically, on a mountain. But Isaiah is not looking to the old Jerusalem, but to a new Jerusalem, a city that will exist only when God’s Kingdom is fulfilled. Revelation specifically echoes this vision of Isaiah’s: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, . . .” (Rev. 21:10)

One characteristic of mountains: it’s hard to climb up to the top. The mountain of God’s feast is even worse; it is impossible to climb. We cannot get there using our own power. Notice that in the cite from Revelation, the speaker is carried by a Spirit. Just so, we cannot attain salvation using our own power. It is only the grace and forgiveness of Christ that will enable us to reach the top.

Isaiah, more than any of the other prophets, predicted the coming of Christ, and prophesied much about his birth. Other prophets, as well, predicted the birth of Christ, and it is to these prophecies that we often look during Advent. But Isaiah looks much farther ahead in this passage, to the day when Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection should be fulfilled by His return. For this is the Holy City of the Kingdom of God, where Christ will prove his victory over death.

It is a prophecy that is still prophetic for us, as it describes our future. It hearkens to our promise and hope, that death will be swallowed up forever. There is a direct connection between this ancient old man, who lived around 700 B.C., and the last book in the Bible. They even use the same language and imagery. “[A]nd the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,” Isaiah promises. And how does Revelation describe the ultimate end of time for us? “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, . . . He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. . .” (Rev. 21:2-4)

So let us prepare our Christmas feast with every joy and hope for eternal happiness.

G-MM™: Meditation Moment

The Free Press WV

Lord God, the heavens are telling of your glory and the wonders of your love, the sun by day, and the moon and stars by night. Yet, as clouds will cover your sky in gloom, as the ceilings of men’s buildings hide the sky from my sight, so the cares of this existence block your majesty from my mind.

I look with hope to the day when my knowledge of your glory will never be hidden by the concerns of the world, and I may know you every moment of time, forever; but until then, forgive me for all the time I spend with my face bent to the things of earth, your Spirit ignored and forgotten; for you are always there, willing to show yourself to me and guide me and comfort me, if I only lift up my head and see the sky above.
Amen.


Isaiah 24:1-6 (ESV)
Judgment of the Earth

Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
as with the slave, so with his master;
as with the maid, so with her mistress;
as with the buyer, so with the seller;
as with the lender, so with the borrower;
as with the creditor, so with the debtor.
Sodom, Corot
Burning of Sodom (detail), Corot

The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; for the Lord has spoken this word.

The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish.

The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.

Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left.


Notes on the Scripture

Well, this isn’t exactly a rosy cheerful Christmas message. But Isaiah, who predicted the coming of a Savior with astonishing alacrity, fully appreciated what was at stake, and had no compunction about expressing it. To appreciate Christ, we must appreciate fully what He saved us from.

This grim prophecy from Isaiah foretells the future of the physical world, and of the physical humans who inhabit it. Our bodies will die some day. No matter whether we are priests or lords or servants, whatever our station in life has been, our lives as physical human beings will end. And just as we will become old and our bodies will become weak and sick, the earth will become desolate and eventually be “empty and utterly plundered.”

Knowing the certainty of the pain of death, we can appreciate the magnitude of the gift God has given us. Our joy at the birth of Christ, which we celebrate three weeks from now, is as great as our understanding of our future without Him. We are, indeed, safe to hang fragrant wreaths and bask in firelit comfort, for we have been rescued. Christmas is not only a time of joy, but a time of relief.

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