Years ago, one of our former pastors would invite people in the congregation to help write an Advent devotional book that we could use together as a church family. He mapped out the Scripture readings and let us write whatever came to mind. Entries were written by teenagers, retirees, and everyone in between.
I found a couple of these booklets while cleaning out some things in my office. Flipping through and seeing the names of those who shared their thoughts was a sweet walk down memory lane.
She was one of “my girls” in youth group and now she’s married and a mom herself. They moved away so I haven’t seen them in years, but we keep up with each other on Facebook. She was such a beautiful example of what a Christian woman should be; now she’s singing with the angels in heaven.
With Christmas only a few days away, here’s the devotional I wrote for one of those booklets.
Scripture reading: Matthew 23: 1-12 (NIV)
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
This story is one of several when Jesus “called out” church leaders or other supposedly important people on their hypocrisy and lack of understanding. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were highly educated men who didn’t have a clue. I’m sure their cheeks burned and their indignation ran high at Jesus’ words.
The Pharisees not be called instructors? Servants were the greatest of all? They needed to humble themselves in order to be great?
Didn’t Jesus realize who He was talking to? Who He was talking about?
Of course He did. Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and teachers of the law then, but to each of us now.
Being humbled isn’t any more fun for us than it was the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, though we’ve all been there. The situation that puts us in our place often takes us by surprise and leaves us scratching our heads until we realize just what happened – and why. Once we think about it, we may realize that we deserved to be humbled, whether we want to admit it or not.
The only man who never deserved to be humbled was Jesus, yet He was willing to be humbled enough for all mankind. He left His throne beside God to become one of us, to humble Himself to the point of becoming fully human and surrounding Himself with the sins of the earth.
The last verse of today’s Scripture passage says that “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus was certainly exalted after His time of humility on earth, when He returned to His rightful place in heaven with God. Because of the sacrifice He made – beginning on that quiet night of His birth we’re preparing to celebrate – we too can be exalted with Him someday.
And that’s the best gift of all during Christmas.
Thank you, Lord, for sending Jesus to live among us so we could learn more about you and know that someday we’ll be with you in heaven. As we celebrate Christmas this year, give us a new appreciation for how great a sacrifice Jesus made to be part of your plan. Amen.