Advent Day 18

THE READINGS

Isa. 9:8-17 · 2 Pet. 2:1-10a

Psalm 119:49-72

Remember your word to your servant,

in which you have made me hope.

This is my comfort in my distress,

that your promise gives me life.

The arrogant utterly deride me,

but I do not turn away from your law.

When I think of your ordinances from of old,

I take comfort, O Lord.

Hot indignation seizes me because of the

wicked, those who forsake your law.

Your statutes have been my songs

wherever I make my home.

I remember your name in the night, O Lord,

and keep your law.

This blessing has fallen to me,

for I have kept your precepts.

The Lord is my portion;

I promise to keep your words.

I implore your favor with all my heart;

be gracious to me according to your

promise.

When I think of your ways,

I turn my feet to your decrees;

I hurry and do not delay

to keep your commandments.

Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,

I do not forget your law.

At midnight I rise to praise you,

because of your righteous ordinances.

I am a companion of all who fear you,

of those who keep your precepts.

The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast

love; teach me your statutes.

You have dealt well with your servant,

O Lord, according to your word.

Teach me good judgment and knowledge,

for I believe in your commandments.

Before I was humbled I went astray,

but now I keep your word.

You are good and do good;

teach me your statutes.

The arrogant smear me with lies,

but with my whole heart I keep your

precepts.

Their hearts are fat and gross,

but I delight in your law.

It is good for me that I was humbled,

so that I might learn your statutes.

The law of your mouth is better to me

than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

MEDITATION

The first time I used Photoshop was for a graphic design class in college. I somehow missed the lesson on how to use this complex and powerful program. So when I sat down to do my first assignment I was flummoxed; I had no concept of what Photoshop was even supposed to do, let alone how to use it. The program has a thousand features, but I built my final project using only resizing, contrast, and text. Without proper instruction, this amazing tool was little better than a pair of scissors and a pen in my hands.

That, I think, is how the author of Psalm 119 feels about human life. God created us as selves with incredible potential – to cultivate the world around us, create art, explore our universe, and love and serve our God and our neighbors. But if we don’t know the proper way to be selves, our lives’ potential will be constantly frustrated by poor choices and bad habits.

The psalmist’s solution to save us from ourselves is that we learn God’s commandments and walk in His ways. That is the promise and the hope that the psalmist pleads for – “teach me your statutes!” If I could only learn to keep your law, I would have fullness of life and peace in your presence. But how can I get there, when the power of sin in my life and in the world seems so intractable?

I think it is striking that this long meditation on the law begins with “Blessed are those whose way is blameless” (v. 1a) and ends with “I have gone astray like a lost sheep” (v. 176a). God’s law points the way to life, and yet it is a way we cannot follow. This tension is reflected in the overarching narrative of the entire Old Testament, building our expectations for the appearing of the Son of God.

The advent of Jesus reveals a way of life that is not hopelessly enslaved to the desires of our flesh. His is a pattern of humanity that is impervious to the slow degradation that selfish desires wreak upon our psyches and relationships.

So in Advent we cry with the psalmist, “teach me your statutes!” And we wait with John the Baptist for the one who will come to “baptize [us] with the Holy Spirit.”

Psalm 119 is like the stakes that guide the growth of a young fruit tree so that it will bear good fruit in its season. As we meditate through it in faith, moved by the Holy Spirit, it slowly trains us to depend on God’s mercy, hope in his promise, and desire to become more like Christ in everything we do.

- Jeffrey Still

PRAYER

Oh Lord, we know that the obedience that we accomplish through Christ is not won through mighty acts of will power. As your servant, Thomas Merton, once wrote, “Real self-conquest is the conquest of ourselves not by ourselves but by the Holy Spirit. Self-conquest is really self-surrender.” We pray that you would give us the courage to surrender – that you would empower us to be powerless for your sake, so that we might be made perfect by your power working in us and walk in your ways to the glory of your name. Amen.

Jon Ziegler