When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
We need light to see things. Since our eyes are able to adjust to semi-darkness, we may only notice how limited our vision has been once we turn on a light. The same is true of sin. If we recognize our missteps early and make corrections, it is easier to stay on track. However, if we keep moving in the wrong direction, we will end up somewhere we do not want to be, somewhere dark and gloomy. Hope dawns when we see the Light and move toward Him.
The prophets brought predictions of doom with promises of restoration to show people the difference between how things were and how they should be. They had to crack open hard hearts so people would want to return to God and His ways. To wake people up, God asked the prophets to do some crazy things. For example, He told Isaiah to walk around half-naked and barefoot for three years. Isaiah became a living object lesson to show the southern kingdom of Judah the futility of allying with Egypt. God wanted Judah to put their hope in Him, not in political strategies. Isaiah’s semi-nakedness was a sign that Assyria would defeat Egypt and parade the Egyptian captives around barefoot with their backsides exposed. The foolishness of relying on Egypt for protection would be apparent for all to see.
The prophet John the Baptist was the opening act for Jesus. He went around preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” His job was to show people they were on the wrong path and ignite a desire for change. However, not everyone reacted well. When John the Baptist rebuked King Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, Herod responded by throwing John in jail.
Today’s passage begins with the news that John the Baptist was in prison. With John sidelined, it was time for Jesus to launch his teaching ministry. He went to Galilee to begin, and in doing so, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 9:1-2. He demonstrated He is the Messiah, the great light dawning over the darkness, a beacon to all those walking in darkness. He began teaching the same message as John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
For many of us, the word repent carries a lot of baggage. We associate it with shame and degradation rather than guilt and conviction. Guilt can be a healthy recognition that we have done wrong. The remorse we feel motivates us to change and keeps us from repeating our errors. While painful and humbling, it differs from wallowing in shame and feelings of worthlessness. God will not despise a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). He will not add condemnation to an already remorseful soul. God’s character is such that He will always respond to authentic remorse with forgiveness and a fresh start, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Another difficulty we have with repentance is that we confuse God’s anger over the situation with His character. God is not perpetually angry, but He is rightly upset with things. The call to repent is an invitation to reconciliation. It is an appeal for a shift in loyalty and change in behavior that brings us back to God.
Our natural inclination is to hide our shortcomings. However, denial backfires because shame grows in the dark. The more it grows, the farther we turn away from God. It seems counter-intuitive, but we can find relief through contrition. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Confession helps us release negative feelings and opens the door to healing.
It takes work to re-frame our view of repentance from shame-inducing to soul-restoring, but it is worth the journey. Daily check-ins help keep our souls healthy. Try reviewing your day with God. First, ask Him to show you things you did well. Then, examine ways you fell short. Thank God for your victories, and turn your failures over to Him, asking for forgiveness and the power to do better.
Over time, you will see that bringing your shortcomings into the light reduces shame. Recalibrating each day keeps us victorious and hopeful. As we enter the Christmas season, let us turn our hearts toward Jesus, the light of the world. For whoever follows Him will never walk in darkness but will have eternal life.
The first candle of Advent is the Hope candle, which is most often referred to as the Prophecy or Prophet’s candle. This candle reminds us of the prophets in the Old Testament who spoke of the Savior to come.
God, you are so good, and you love us so much. Thank you for sending Jesus, the Light of the World, to us so that we can be close to You. As we prepare to light this candle, let Your Holy Spirit calm our inner waters and instill us with Your loving peace. Open our hearts to experience Your delight with us and the gift of hope that Jesus offers us as we navigate our days. Let this precious time of waiting for His coming nourish and strengthen our faith and our love for You.
“You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in you.” Psalm 119:114
God, Thank you for the hope you have given us. As we look at the world around us, it seems that pain, brokenness, and hardship are everywhere, and yet, you have provided us with hope that transcends the experiences we are navigating. You have given us your presence as a refuge; thank you for strengthening us through your Word, building into us through the body of believers, and for connecting personally with us through prayer and meditating on your Word. Continue to draw us close to yourself and help us turn to the refuge of your presence. As we navigate the complexities of life, would you be to us as a shield, guarding our hearts and our minds from the attacks of the enemy. Through our faith in you, we can journey through what is ahead with confidence, knowing that though we experience hardship and turmoil, Your promises are constant, and you are true to your Word. This is the hope we have in you, Lord. Today, may you shelter us with your presence and strengthen us with your hope. Amen.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
God, we praise you today for the consistency of your character. Thank you for being dependable and constant. As the world around us changes so quickly, it is easy to lose focus and get caught up in the whirlwind of life; but this does not happen to you, Lord. Who you are never changes; your character is consistent. You are good. You are faithful. You are love. You never change, and that allows us to grasp the hope you have set before us with confidence, knowing we will not be disappointed. The hope we have in you is embodied in your son, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate and whose return we anticipate. Teach us, Lord, to be consistent in our hope just as you are consistent in providing it to us. Thank you for being faithful, for giving us promises, and for loving us so dearly. Amen.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people…” Ephesians 1:18
God, today we pause to remember what you have invited us into; the glorious inheritance of being your holy people. Thank you, Lord, that in this moment, we are experiencing a portion of that inheritance even now; our ability to connect with you and experience your presence with us. As your people, we always have access to you, and we do not want to take that for granted! Thank you for revealing yourself to us through Jesus so that we can know you today even while we anticipate our full inheritance and perfect connection with you in the future. As we are marking the season of Advent, the anticipation of Jesus being born into the world, we acknowledge the tension this creates within us. We are grateful for your gifts to us now, and we long for the promises you have given us to come to pass. Give us the ability to grasp onto your hope in the midst of this tension. Allow our spiritual eyes to be open to this hope. May we come to know, understand, and live out of this hope today. Amen.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31
God, you have given yourself so generously to us; and we praise you for being a God of abundance. Although our strength fails, your strength never does. Thank you for renewing and refreshing us in our bodies and in our spirits as we remember our dependence on you. You are our sustainer; without you, we would be overcome by the chaos around us. But in your kindness and mercy, you have given us rhythms of rest, remembrance, and renewal, which refresh our hope in you. We praise you, Lord, for your goodness toward us. Today, encourage us with these gifts of hope and teach us to depend on you more and more. May our hope be anchored in your faithfulness, and in that hope, may we bring your abundance into the world around us. Amen.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
God, we acknowledge the hope you have given us and we celebrate the coming of your son as the fulfillment of so many promises to us. Let us experience the fruit of your Spirit as we trust and follow you; grant us peace as we sit in the comfort of your presence and lead us to joy even as we experience hardship in our lives. And through our own submission to your path before us, would our lives be a light to those around us, bringing hope to those who have none. We are grateful to be a part of the work you are doing in the world, and we are humble that you use us to bring the hope of Jesus Christ to those around us: our neighbors, our coworkers, our families, and our friends. Give us the courage to follow your path, to trust in Him who is able to do more than we can even think to ask for. We love you, God. Amen.
Check out this easy way to make adorable little yarn-wrapped Christmas trees. They are simple and perfect for a centerpiece or side table decor. Before you get started, you’ll need the following materials:
For details on how to make them, click here.