December 12 - Malachi 3:3
And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
So, God begins to purify his people, starting with the priests. Ouch! Now lay folk don’t be smug, remember what Peter says in his 1st letter, “For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin first among God’s own children.” (4:17)
The goal though is the same for everyone that they may make a righteous offering. What is a righteous offering? It’s not only the content of the offering itself be it large or small, which was certainly important under Levitical law. I think it is rather the motive that gave birth to the offering. A righteous offering is given freely, and cheerfully not given reluctantly or under compulsion. (2 Cor. 9:7). A righteous offering is an expression of thanksgiving, gratitude for blessings large or small received, not a bribe to get something in return. A righteous offering is an act of love … “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). May our offerings be they to God or to family and friends in this season be truly righteous.
December 13 - Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us.
Emmanuel is a Hebrew name which appears in the book of Isaiah as a sign that God will protect the house of David. Jesus could not have been born into just any family. If you look at Jesus' family tree recorded in the first chapter of Matthew's gospel you will see a perfect line of very imperfect people, all pointing the way to the birth of the Messiah. The stage was perfectly set. At exactly the right time, in the right place, to the right parents, Jesus was born. And it should blow us away to think that Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God is also Emmanuel; God with us. The Creator of the universe, the One who laid down His life for the sins of the whole world is with us. How can we doubt His love and not rest in knowing He is with us in the messiness of our lives? We can trust Him with all of it. Because He is Emmanuel.
December 14 - Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 60:1
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Usually, heralds precede the arrival of a king or queen, the blowing of trumpets, the playing of drums draw the people’s attention to the herald’s announcement that royalty has arrived. Here the herald is commissioned to get up the highest mountain, to project his voice to proclaim wonderous news. He is told not be fearful. Why? Is the news so improbable as to be unbelievable? Is the news so difficult to bear, so life changing as to first appear threatening? Is the news beyond people’s comprehension? In any case it must be shouted fearlessly.
The Christian’s news about God’s love coming in the person of Jesus first at Bethlehem and then at an unknown future date can seem improbable, unbelievable, difficult to say much less hear, and beyond comprehension. Still, we are called to proclaim this good news wherever and to whoever we can. “Christ is born, Christ is died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Amen.”
December 15 - Isaiah 60:2, 3
For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
For Behold, Darkness shall Cover the Earth. The darkness may be an era of despair (climate change, systematic racism, poverty, etc), a society of excesses or sinfulness, a culture of hatred and suspicion where justice and decency seem far away. (Sounds familiar?) But there is hope, as God’s glory will come to Israel. His glory will be so irresistible that the rest of the world will see His answer to the darkness, which is Christ, the light that cannot be put out. Justice, inclusion, forgiveness, mercy, peace, dignity, respect--the darkness can not overcome these. This is echoed in the great Christmas Day gospel reading from John: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Nadia Bolz-Weber (Lutheran pastor) writes about the elements of darkness these days, and how they won’t last: “forgiveness is more powerful than resentment, that compassion is more powerful than judgement, that love is more powerful than fear. In the bigger picture I defiantly believe tyrants will be a footnote.” Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Handel uses the string orchestra to paint a picture of fog, perhaps, or eerie darkness of some sort, covering the earth. Actually, it’s a Baroque version of the “Jaws” theme. The music changes to a more hopeful sound, and when the soloist sings “glory,” there’s lots of glory in those notes!