category: Advent

2023 Advent Devotion: Day 6

Advent 2023 cover

Friday, December 8

Jeremiah 1:4-10; Acts 11:19-26

Who does not like to hear a good word, especially if it is personal? Someone said that everyone wants to hear, “You are valued and loved.” I agree. Nothing like words that say good things about us. I was surprised when walking into a prayer retreat center recently. In the main lobby there was a sculpture of someone impersonating the Good Shepherd, who was holding a vulnerable sheep with love and care.

Above the sculpture the words, “Welcome to,” and below it, “Grace Upon Grace.” I saw myself as this sheep. What a good word. This season of Advent is all about good words for each of us.

The prophet Jeremiah and Barnabas, the two main characters from our readings, had a mission to fulfill. Jeremiah received a call to proclaim God’s good word, but he appeared reluctant. After all, Old Testament prophets were all about truth-telling and grace-giving, and not all wanted the truth-telling component. Ancient hearers, like post-moderns today, were only open to grace-giving. In part, we could rationalize; so many voices proclaim bad things about us, and often these are spoken from within our inner circles. The prophet, however, was told to proclaim God’s infinite, unchanging love, with hopes of softening the hardened hearts. No brokenness or darkness was to stand in the way of the goodness of God, if only one dared to receive the good word! Or, as described in the text, Jeremiah’s proclamation would “pluck up . . . pull down . . . destroy . . . overthrow . . . build . . . plant (v. 10). For building and planting toxicity must go. Fruit bearing comes with pruning, Jesus said (John 15).

Barnabas, on the other hand, was sent from the Jerusalem church to investigate what was going on in Antioch. A revival among non-Jews? How come? After the death of Stephen (Acts 7) many believers scattered. People like Philip, Peter, and the converted gentile Cornelius proclaimed the good word of Jesus everywhere, and many surrendered their lives. Anonymous missionaries from Cyprus and Cyrene arrived at Antioch and proclaimed the good word of Jesus to non-Jews. When Barnabas got there, he was amazed. These “gentiles” really were on fire! Quickly he saw a need for Christian education. This kind of education plucks and pulls down so that ears can hear the good word of Jesus Christ deeply and bear fruit. Christian education is too large of a task. We all know how it takes a village to form someone. So, Barnabas traveled to Tarsus and brought Saul, whom he had mentored for years. Nothing like a living testimony to spread the good news. In a year, the Christian education movement in Antioch led by Barnabas and Saul exploded. It was there, in Antioch, for the first time that converts to Jesus Christ were called Christians.

In this Advent season, are we hearing a good word about ourselves? From whom? May it be “Grace Upon Grace” and cause us to let go of anything that stands in the way of a true, transformed life, one which is embraced by the Good Shepherd. Others will say, “There goes a Christian who is loved with an everlasting love!”

Sophia Steibel
Professor of Christian Education and Spiritual Formation

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2023 Advent Devotion: Day 5

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2023 Advent Devotion: Day 7

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