The following is a daily devotional from the Advent Devotional Series from CBF Arkansas. Find the full Advent Devotional for 2015 here.
By Shane McNary
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. (Isaiah 40:1-11)
When Lubo invited us to hike with several members of the Presov Baptist Church, he assured us with words of comfort, “Oh, this is an easy hike. Anyone can do it. It is no problem at all.” Truth is, one of us almost died…because had the hike been any more arduous, any longer, then I was going to kill Lubo!
The Tatra Mountains in north-central Slovakia are a natural beauty. They are awe-inspiring. What does it mean for the Tatras when “the uneven ground will become level”? This is one passage I do not want to take literally. In the renewed world to come, I might even hike the Tatras again with Lubo and enjoy tasting wild blueberries as we pause to witness the beauty of one of the several waterfalls along the trail.
I wrote this piece from the Budapest airport where I was on my way to a Central Asian country that also has beautiful mountains as well as low valleys. I travelled there to gather first-hand testimony about how fragile communities of faith are able to survive in a land where they have very little religious freedom. Even in the planning for our delegation’s visit, the local pastor preferred to communicate through a third party instead of write us directly out of fear of their government. Their journey towards a place where they are able to openly express their faith is longer and even more arduous than most of us will ever know. My task as a representative of CBF and of the Baptist World Alliance is to advocate with and for those who face real persecution.
Even in Slovakia, we have heard the cries of “Persecution!” coming through stories from the United States. We, like you, have also seen persecution as Christians and members of other minority faiths were slaughtered by evil men in the Middle East and North Africa. Those who know real persecution cry out for comfort, for the uneven ground to become level.
In a world where inconvenience is misunderstood to be persecution, how can we be reminded of brothers and sisters in Christ who face real persecution today?
As we look forward to the promises of God being fulfilled, how can we be faithful witnesses even when our journey of faith feels long and arduous?
Creator God, who formed the high mountains and carved out the deepest valleys, help us to know that not all find the journey of faith an easy journey. Some face real persecution and have given their lives in witness to Christ. During his season of Advent, help us to lean into the promises of Christ, which draws us towards a hopeful tomorrow. In the Resurrected Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Shane McNary and his wife, Dianne, serve as CBF field personnel in Slovakia.