Joy Despite Everything :: Joy of Advent

John 11.27
I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.

Reflection: Joy Despite Everything :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

When we wait in Advent we know the date on the calendar when Christmas comes. We know the day we will blow out the candles the final time. We know the number of shopping days left. We know how long until we will take the decorations down.

But in our lives, many times we wait in faith without a date on the calendar. There are many times we wait in hospital rooms. Wait on a phone call. Wait to see if our miracle will arrive.

And many times we stand over a casket instead of sitting around a table. We make an unemployment claim instead of a promotion. We box up our things and move in with our parents when our miracle passes us by.

Advent grows darker as the year wanes. And Martha greets us at the darkest point of her life. When faith has failed. When her wick smolders. When the smell of death wafts, unwanted through her mind.

Martha shows us how to wait. Martha shows us how to have faith, and then when your faith is crushed into pieces, how to hold out your shattered faith to Jesus. Not demanding. Not asking. Just saying, “My faith is broken. But I’m not letting go. I still believe. In spite of everything.”

Martha, Martha.
She was concerned about many things.
But she came to be concerned only with one thing.

Martha who believed in faith that her brother would be healed.
Martha who sent word to Jesus.
Martha who received back the messenger and wondered why Jesus wasn’t with him.

Martha who waited…

Martha who tended her brother in his sickness.
Martha who occasionally gazed down the road.
Martha who watched him suffer…and die.
Martha who remained strong
Who made arrangements.
Who cared for her sister.
Who buried her brother—the brother she had believed Jesus would save.
Martha who watched her sister melt down in emotion.
Martha who saw Jesus coming.
Martha who was prepared to meet him.
Martha who lost her miracle and still blessed the tardy miracle-maker
Martha who stood before a man who failed her and proclaimed him to be the Son of God.
Martha who dared announce the Messiah in the suburbs of Jerusalem, in the shadow of Christ’s most powerful religious enemies.

Martha, Martha…
Teach us to wait in faith.
Teach us to believe.

From John:
This weekend, on Sunday, we light the last candle for Advent. Monday we have the pleasure of Jada Swanson writing our Christmas Eve post to close out our Advent series. It has been a great joy and challenge to write new Advent content this year. We have a lot to look forward to in the new year, and I hope your Advent has been restful, revelatory, and has awakened you to prepare for renewed connection with God in the New Year.

Prayer: Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our soul waits for the Lord, He is our help and our shield.  — Psalm 33:20

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 8 (Listen – 3:33)
John 11 (Listen – 6:37)

This Weekend’s Readings
Zechariah 9 (Listen – 3:01), John 12 (Listen – 6:26)
Zechariah 10 (Listen – 2:11), John 13 (Listen – 5:06)

Additional Reading
Read More about Light and Dark and Joy :: Joy of Advent
Darkness is not dark to our God. That means that God is not blind to our sins, but it also means that we do not walk in darkness alone. We walk with the God who knows the darkness as well as he knows the light.

Read More about The Fragrance of Faith :: Readers’ Choice
May we make extravagant, prophetic, and lasting gifts to Christ and to the spreading of this gospel, like a fragrance, throughout the world.

Support our Work
At The Park Forum, we produce over 100,000 words of free devotional content every year.
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who fund our ministry.
End of Year giving and monthly giving each play a large part in keeping The Park Forum ad-free and helping us to be able to continue producing fresh content.
Support the spiritual development of thousands of readers by making a donation today or joining our monthly donors.

Joy to the Full :: Joy of Advent

John 10.10
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Reflection: Joy to the Full :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

It is tempting to scramble all the scriptural sheep similes and parables into a mutton metaphor stew. But they don’t necessarily all apply to each other or mean the same thing. In today’s reading of the good shepherd parable we see signs of Christ’s advent and the gifts that he brings as the good shepherd.

Christ tells us that his advent as the good shepherd has a purpose—life to the full. Some translations say “abundant life” and some a “full and satisfying life.” Our problem is that our culture yawns at satisfying. Satisfactory is next to failing. But the secret to joy is in being satisfied, living “to the full.”

This isn’t to say the abundant life Christ promises is going to shortchange us. As we said at the beginning of Advent, we don’t need to lower our expectations, we need to raise our expectations above material things.

Christ the good shepherd comes with the abundant satisfaction that his sheep need. Rest. Food. Protection. Guidance. The gifts of the good shepherd are associated with recognizing the presence of the shepherd and Christ gives us two ways to recognize him.

The first is the manner of his coming. He comes in through the door. He IS the door. He enters our lives in a way that no one else can with a power no one else has and a purpose no one else can fulfill. When he comes in through the gate, it is his purpose for us to go in and out the gate with him.

This is not a reference to death or Heaven, but to companionship, and to being led to pasture in the scripture. When we walk through the scriptures together as a community, it is not our writers we follow. It is the Holy Spirit, our good shepherd.

The second is by his voice. In Advent and throughout our lives, we walk by scripture and prayer. The scriptures tune our ears to recognize Christ’s voice. Prayer teaches how to listen for it.

What are we waiting for?
In Advent we wait as sheep in the darkness. We have only one task. Know the shepherd’s voice. Follow it. Listen for the one who comes in the door, leading us with his tender voice into the Word and into the world.

Prayer: Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.  — Psalm 85:9

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 7 (Listen – 1:57)
John 10 (Listen – 4:44)

Additional Reading
Read More about Expectation Affects Anticipation :: Hope of Advent
When it comes to our expectations of Advent, we don’t need to manage them by lowering them. We need to raise them above temporal, earthly, material matters. We already know that what we receive will be beyond what we can ask for or imagine.

Read More about One Thing Needed
These female disciples each are immature in their own way when we first meet them. But in their final appearances in scripture, they abandon all for Christ, risking financial security, risking reputation, risking their lives to honor him. They show us, perhaps more clearly than other disciples, what it means to find in Christ, our “one thing.”

Support our Work
At The Park Forum, we produce over 100,000 words of free devotional content every year.
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who fund our ministry.
End of Year giving and monthly giving each play a large part in keeping The Park Forum ad-free and helping us to be able to continue producing fresh content.
Support the spiritual development of thousands of readers by making a donation today or joining our monthly donors.

Light and Dark and Joy :: Joy of Advent

John 9.4-5
As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

Reflection: Light and Dark and Joy :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

Like Advent’s candles, Advent’s joy shines most beautifully in the dark.

At times we over-spiritualize darkness, dressing it in a black hat as a mustache-twisting villain. There are some good reasons for confusion. The Bible often analogizes darkness as evil, even though darkness itself is not evil. Darkness is not sin, although the Bible speaks of us using darkness to hide our sin, and that we stumble in sin because of spiritual darkness or blindness.

When the disciples and religious leaders saw the man born blind, they saw only sin. Jesus saw God’s glory.

Darkness is not dark to our God. That means that God is not blind to our sins, but it also means that we do not walk in darkness alone. We walk with the God who knows the darkness as well as he knows the light.

Darkness is part of the cosmos that God created and called “good.” At creation, God created sources of light and set boundaries for shadows. He set the orbits of intersecting heavenly bodies, the timing of eclipses, of comets, and supernovas, giving us tools of light and darkness to help us mark the seasons and times of life. The celestial event that guided the Magi was set in motion eons ago by the very one whose birth it proclaimed.

We, like our universe and our Savior, were conceived and grew in darkness. Our first heartbeat and our first thoughts are in darkness. Our first movements are in darkness. Our first relationship begins in darkness. We come out of the darkness, by God’s grace, as children of the light. Our first glimpse of light is after our birth and before our first breath of air.

Before healing the man born blind, Christ proclaimed that he was the light of the world. Like the blind man, we wait in darkness in order that we may see the light and show it to others. In our hearts, the light is present always. It is our task to birth that light into the world.

We speak often of Advent as a time of darkness, and it is. But it is only dark because we are waiting for a light which we are sure will come. The Advent darkness we wait in is working with the light, helping us to have joy in anticipation and faith in what we cannot yet see.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me. The Lord will make good his purpose for me; O Lord, your love endures forever; do not abandon the works of your hands.  — Psalm 138:7-8

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 6 (Listen – 2:08)
John 9 (Listen – 4:56)

Additional Reading
Read More Blossoming of Joy in Adversity :: Joy of Advent
What are we waiting for?
Advent’s path to joy passes through trials, arrests, suffering, and the cross. Let us follow Christ.

Read More A Prayer of Hope :: Hope of Advent
During Advent we trim our lamps and supply ourselves with oil that we may be ready when Christ comes. Lord, as the world grows darker, the hope we have in Christ, burns brighter.

Support our Work
At The Park Forum, we produce over 100,000 words of free devotional content every year.
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who fund our ministry.
End of Year giving and monthly giving each play a large part in keeping The Park Forum ad-free and helping us to be able to continue producing fresh content.
Support the spiritual development of thousands of readers by making a donation today or joining our monthly donors.

Blossoming of Joy in Adversity :: Joy of Advent

John 8.12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Reflection: Blossoming of Joy in Adversity :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

We find examples of joy under persecution and difficulty in Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, and many others in scripture. But examples are also blossoming amidst persecution around the world.

Last week, simultaneous, coordinated raids were conducted across a large city. Doors to multiple homes and businesses were forced open. Government agents rushed to arrest as many targets as possible before warnings could go out to others. Many members and elders of a large church organization were taken away to secret locations. As of this writing, none have been released.

It sounds dramatic to Westerners, but in many parts of the world, that’s just a normal Tuesday.

From hiding, before his eventual arrest, one of those elders wrote an encouraging letter of joy to the remaining church members.

Beloved brothers and sisters, do you have joy? Are you rejoicing in the fact that you are suffering with Christ because of this church? Do you know that we are blessed? The Lord is bestowing on us poor people today treasures of glory from heaven! The Lord himself is bestowing on us weak people comfort from heaven! The Lord Jesus is shining on us blind people his great light. Those of us brothers and sisters standing on the front lines of the gospel war will earn great spiritual riches!

Thank the Lord for being with us in this trial. Thank the Lord for cultivating us according to his true Word! Thank the Lord for training us through these days of hardship! Thank the Lord for sculpting us through today’s persecution! May the Lord give us great joy and true hope and make us strong through reliance on him…
May the whole world know that we are joyfully willing to receive this persecution for the sake of our faith.

Beloved brothers and sisters, I am writing this letter in “hiding.” May you all be filled with joy in the gospel of Christ. May you welcome, filled with hope, the even heavier cross and more difficult lives that lie ahead of you. — Li Yingqiang, Elder of Early Rain Covenant Church

Joy is not like happiness. It does not fade with worsening circumstances.
Joy is the necessary fuel that is produced in the midst of, and carries us through, pain.
Joy burns differently and is inextinguishable.
Joy is what Christ saw ahead of him when he looked past the suffering of the cross to the future.
Joy is ours when we also look past our sufferings.

What are we waiting for?
Advent’s path to joy passes through trials, arrests, suffering, and the cross. Let us follow Christ.

Prayer: The Greeting
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed.  — Psalm 71:23

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 5 (Listen – 1:35)
John 8 (Listen – 7:33)

Additional Reading
Read More about Prayer for the Church from Indonesia :: Worldwide 
Make us mindful, that others of your Church today
eat the bread in secret, for fear of persecution,
and drink the cup in whispers, for fear of death.
For them, our sisters and brothers, we pray
that your spirit will watch over them with a mighty arm
that your joy may be complete in them
and that their hope in you may be realized in power and grace.

Read More about Jeremiah, the Unpatriotic Prophet
The most patriotic thing Christians can do is see the problems of our nation and speak the gospel to them. Let them throw us in a cistern like Jeremiah. Let them burn our words rather than listen to them. May we be faithful to Christ and his kingdom alone.

Support our Work
End of year giving is hugely important for our ministry. Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers by visiting our secure giving portal to make a one-time donation or join our monthly supporters.

We Need a Little Christmas :: Joy of Advent

John 7.37-38
Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

Reflection: We Need a Little Christmas :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

The musical, Mame, is a classic of American theater and film. The show’s most enduring mark on our culture is probably the song “We Need a Little Christmas.”

In the show, Mame has the notion to put up the Christmas decorations early in order to lift everyone’s mood. In the original broadway cast recording her nephew can be heard objecting, “But Auntie Mame, it’s one week past Thanksgiving Day now!”

That’s right. Putting up the Christmas decorations one week past Thanksgiving was once something only an exaggerated, eccentric, bon-vivant, party girl, like crazy Auntie Mame would think of. How times have changed.

In 2018, the media has been incessantly telling us that “scientists” say putting up decorations early makes us happier and more content. All this journalistic (and consumeristic) gold has been spun out of one study that found that people were seen as more sociable if they decorated for Christmas early, and one psychologist’s statement that early decorating brought feelings of “happiness.”

As we begin this week of Advent that focuses on joy, it is helpful to distinguish joy from the happiness, whether scientifically verified or not, that is derived from putting up decor.

There’s nothing wrong with a temporary mood-booster, as long as you tell the truth about what it is—temporary and emotional. Go ahead. Decorate in October if you just can’t stand not to. Mame would be proud.

But the joy of Christ is no mood-booster—it is a life changer. And it is always accessible to us no matter what season of life we are in or what decorations are hanging on our walls.

We do need a little Christmas joy.
Joy is not dependant on a season of peace and goodwill.
Joy thrives under persecution and suffering.

Joy does not rely on tinsel, lights, and delightful surroundings.
Joy shines brightest when surrounded by hopelessness and fear.

Joy does not require us to dress the part, or deck the halls, or trim the tree.
Joy comes to criminals naked on a cross, hung like gruesome decorations on a tree of suffering.

Jesus brought joy to us not by avoiding suffering, but by seeing past it and willingly walking through it for us. We will find joy when we follow him.

What are we waiting for?
When we walk with Christ, there is joy before suffering, joy in the midst of it, and joy on the other side of it.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
On this day the Lord has acted, we will rejoice and be glad in it  — Psalm 118:24

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 4 (Listen – 1:53)
John 7 (Listen – 5:53)

Additional Reading
Read More about Finding Joy :: Readers’ Choice
If you get hung up on pleasure you’re doomed. If you pursue joy, you’ll find everlasting happiness. — George Lucas.

Read More about Love in His Name :: Love of Advent
In that Name there is hope and joy and rest
In his Name we are blest.

Support our Work
End of year giving is hugely important for our ministry. Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers by visiting our secure giving portal to make a one-time donation or join our monthly supporters.

Spur a spiritual rhythm of refreshment right in your inbox
By joining this email list you are giving us permission to send you devotional emails each weekday and to communicate occasionally regarding other aspects of the ministry.
100% Privacy. We don't spam.