You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isa. 40:9-11

Dear heavenly Father, the season Advent is upon us, the cherished season when we remember and celebrate the coming of Jesus—the promised Messiah and deliverer, your beloved Son—our gracious Savior. Grant that it will prove to be much more than Advent-as-usual.

Surprise us, Father. Let us engage with the story of Jesus’ birth as though for the very first time. Rescue us from the sentimental and predictable. Let the story so impact us that we ourselves will lift up our voices and be freed from all fear. Bring familiar Scriptures alive in fresh ways. Reshape how we do Christmas this year by the power of the gospel.

Already this morning I’ve been arrested with Isaiah’s picture of your “Advent arms.” The promise of the Messiah carries with it the promise of the one embrace we all need. In Jesus, you come near to us as the sovereign Lord, with your sleeves rolled up as the great ruler. Your arm rules over all history, all nations, all kings, all circumstances. Nothing can alter, subvert, or change the story you are telling through Jesus. Nothing can divert or delay the kingdom you are advancing through Jesus. You are God, and there is no other.

But in Jesus, you also come near to us as the most compassionate Shepherd, gathering and carrying your lambs in your arms. The image and hope are staggering. To be tended as vulnerable, dependent sheep, to be held close to your heart, to be gently led—what more could we possibly desire? And to realize that our Shepherd is none other than the Lamb of God—the One who has come to take away the sin of the world—including my sin. Hallelujah, many times over!

These aren’t mere metaphors, Father. Metaphors cannot save us, only inspire us. You really are this kind of God and you really are this kind. The coming of Jesus puts all nations on notice: there is only one true King and he is here. And the coming of Jesus puts all your people face down in adoring love, for Jesus is a most wonderful, merciful Savior, Immanuel—the God who is with us and the God who is for us. So very Amen I pray, with Advent wonder, in Jesus’ matchless name.