With the hustle and bustle of Christmas a week behind us and a new year stretching out before us, it’s a convenient moment to reflect on the central realities of the gospel, which provides us with a new life and a new view before calling us to share that gift with those around us.
Note that there is no discussion guide this week. Instead, please learn more about Winter Term and sign up for a class.
It’s easy to forget that the Psalms are meant to be sung, especially when the songs are dedicated to subjects that we aren’t used to praising musically. One such psalm is Psalm 119, which praises God’s law. But when we read that psalm through the lens of Christmas, it’s easy to see why such laws can move us to song (and what they tell us about the King who handed them out).
If there is a God, would you have an appropriate sense of his greatness? A reasonable sense of his scale? And if you did, why would you ever expect to be recognized by him? The biblical prophets understood that the only proper response to the power and greatness of God was fear and trembling. However, in Jesus Christ, God provided more than just a picture of his power—he provided a picture of his heart and the means to approach him with comfort and joy, as well.
We kick off Advent 2011 by looking at Psalm 42, which not only points us toward a universal cosmic truth about humanity and touches on very specific, personal experiences we all share: In so doing, it also tells us about who Jesus is and why his incarnation matters.
Stars have long since fascinated us. For many, the first song they learn sings of this fascination (“Twinkle, Twinkle…”). The Greeks developed elaborate system of constellations. Some, like the Magi of Matthew 2, believed they contained secrets. God thinks highly of stars as well. All throughout the Bible they are used by God to teach. The star of Bethlehem the most amazing of all stories.
The time after an election and before the inauguration is unique. It may be the most enjoyable for a president-elect: a blank slate, time of creativity, honeymoon. All leaders enjoy this time: when optimism is high and they’ve done no wrong. There was no time in Israel more glorious than when Solomon ascended to the throne; and Psalm 72 is a wish-prayer for him. However, upon closer reading we see that a Greater King is what we’re promised.
We live in a world of broken promises. As a result, it’s hard for us to imagine, let alone hope for, a relationship of unbroken promises—a true relationship. It’s not surprising that we therefore have a hard time believing that even God would keep his word. However, right in the middle of one of the bleakest chapters in the whole Bible, we find God unexpectedly making—and many years later in a manger and on a Roman cross, keeping—his grand promise to redeem the world. The God of Advent is a promising God. Have you encountered this God?
PDF Study Guide for: The Promising God
For many generations, Israel longed for the day when God would come again to the wilderness and not leave his people to be “like sheep without a shepherd.” Then Jesus performs a great miraculous sign to announce that the long-awaited, Moses-like shepherd–the true Shepherd–is finally here! To those who are worn out and exhausted, he gives rest. To those who are estranged and suffering pain, he draws near and suffers with them. To those who are hungry and unsatisfied, he gives bread for the soul. Would you receive what he offers? Will you be the sheep of this shepherd?
If you’ve returned to your childhood home or neighborhood, perhaps you found yourself thinking or saying to another: “And, over there where those houses stand, was a great sled riding hill. And, on that block was the best pizza joint. And, do you see this stump–it was once a great apple tree”. Isaiah speaks about Israel that way – they used to be like a flourishing tree, now their like a cut down stump. Their lives are marked by fear, disappointment and shame – the way many of us feel around the holidays. But, out of the stump grows a green sprig of life – and that life represents a King. And although his identity and kingdom won’t be revealed for hundreds of years, the promise is so real, and glorious, it sustains them for the present. Can you imagine a future hope so great, it has the power to sustain you even now?