Unto Us, He Comes — Hope of Advent

Scripture Focus: Micah 5.2-5
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 
though you are small among the clans of Judah, 
out of you will come for me 
one who will be ruler over Israel, 
whose origins are from of old, 
from ancient times.” 
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned 
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, 
and the rest of his brothers return 
to join the Israelites. 
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock 
in the strength of the Lord, 
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. 
And they will live securely, for then his greatness 
will reach to the ends of the earth. 
5 And he will be our peace 

Reflection: Unto Us, He Comes — Hope of Advent
By John Tillman

Confronted by Magi seeking one “born king of the Jews,” Herod commands scholars and experts to give him an answer about the location of the birth of the Messiah. The scholar’s respond by referencing today’s passage. Herod passes this information on to the Magi.

We don’t know exactly where the Magi were from. Scripture simply says, “the East.” Symbolically, the Magi represent the entire unbelieving Gentile world but most scholars think they were probably Zorastrian priests of Persia and Media (Modern day Iran). The term “magi” would have applied to Daniel in his service to the kings of Babylon and Persia. This priestly class were advisors and counselors of kings.

If scholars are correct about the Magi’s origin, it may be the gleams of knowledge they had about this “king of the Jews” trickled down to them from the writings or influence of exiled Jews such as Daniel or Esther. 

Regardless of what light they had when they started their journey, God revealed more and more to them until they beheld the light of Christ directly, face to face. 

Advent is a time when all the world is seeking, waiting, for light. The sinking of the world into dark and the return of the light after the darkest point are common to all humanity.

The Bible tells us that God makes himself known to all people through the creation he has made. (Psalm 19.1-6) Paul goes so far as to say this revelation is sufficient to leave them “without excuse” in rejecting God. (Romans 1.19-20) To those who seek the light, more light is given. 

We celebrate Christmas at this season not for historical reasons but for pedagogical reasons. The movements of the heavens tell a Heavenly story in which Christ comes in at our darkest point to turn the world back to the light.

Micah, in telling us where Christ comes from, also tells us who he comes to:
He comes to the small, discounted for their weakness, bringing strength.
He comes to those who have been dominated, lifting their heads and standing with them.
He comes to the abandoned, bringing reconciliation.
He comes to the exiled, pointing the way to a new home.
He comes to the leaderless, bringing guidance.
He comes to the insecure, bringing protection.
He comes to the victims and perpetrators of war and conflict, bringing them peace.

Unto us, he comes.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

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

Today’s Readings
Micah 5 (Listen – 2:21)
Luke 14 (Listen – 4:36)

Read more about Anticipating His Advent
Because we as humans are temporal beings in an ever-decaying world, we have a hard time waiting.

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
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Prophets We Want, Prophets We Need

Scripture Focus: Micah 2.6, 11
6 “Do not prophesy,” their prophets say. 
“Do not prophesy about these things; 
disgrace will not overtake us.” 

11 If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 
‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ 
that would be just the prophet for this people! 

Luke 11.29-32
29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.

Reflection: Prophets We Want, Prophets We Need
By John Tillman

In his commentary on Micah, James Limburg described the people’s objections to Micah as grounded in “a theology which assured them of the Lord’s perpetual blessing, of his long-suffering and patience, and of his mighty acts on behalf of his people.”

Micah’s opponents had a theological concept that God’s nature and promises trapped him into perpetually improving their circumstances. In other words, God loved them too much for anything bad to happen. This misreading of the scriptures provided them a bulletproof feeling of invulnerability. To them, it was scandalous and inappropriate to proclaim guilt or catastrophic consequences. 

Certainly, the Lord’s nature is long-suffering and patient. God’s first description of himself in the Bible is that he is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Exodus 33.19-23, 34.5-7) But God will also have justice. In this same passage, he declares that he will not leave the guilty unpunished. 

Certainly, the Lord made promises regarding Abraham’s descendants. But as John the Baptist later warned, “out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Luke 3.7-9) Any person or group thinking God’s plans would be thwarted if they experienced suffering, defeat, imprisonment, or even death is foolish and prideful.

Modern Christians, welcome messages of blessing or victory or power, but, like Micah’s objectors, reject convicting messages. We are sometimes guilty of falsely claiming biblical promises (such as the Abrahamic promises or promises regarding our righteousness in Christ) as a cloak of invulnerability against suffering or guilt. Some today are scandalized by “prophets” who speak like Micah and Amos, especially if they speak on similar topics. 

“Don’t say such things!” 
“Don’t talk about justice.” 
“Don’t hold us responsible for prior generations.” (God regularly holds entire nations responsible for the deeds of prior generations. — Amos 1; Joel 3.19; Ezekiel 25, 35)

Pointing out unrighteousness or the need for justice should not be scandalous.

We wrongly interpret God’s promises to us through Christ if we only see them as guarantees of blessings in this life. We are ignoring Christ’s lived example if we do not think it likely that suffering, mistreatment, or even death might be part of God’s plan or purpose for our lives.

If the only prophets we listen to promise “plenty of wine and beer,” and the “signs” we want from God are all blessings for ourselves, we may be in the same boat as Micah’s hearers.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. — Psalm 69.6– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Micah 2 (Listen – 2:11)
Luke 11 (Listen – 7:33)

This Weekend’s Readings
Micah 3 (Listen – 1:51) Luke 12 (Listen – 7:42)
Micah 4 (Listen – 2:33) Luke 13 (Listen – 5:02)

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Rather than an indebted God, we serve a faithful God. He does not treat us as we deserve.

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John the Baptist describes a Christ who stands ready with both axe and fire.

The Maddest Prophet, The Saddest Prophet

Scripture Focus: Jonah 4.1-4, 9-11 
1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 

9 …“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” 
10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” 

Reflection: The Maddest Prophet, The Saddest Prophet
By John Tillman

In some ways, Jonah is the maddest prophet. He is madder than the angriest and most vitriolic of scripture’s prophets. However, his anger is directed at God because of God’s mercy. 

In some ways, Jonah is also the saddest prophet. He is sadder than even Jeremiah the weeping prophet. Unlike Jeremiah, Jonah is alone in his emotional trap of hate. He doesn’t experience any of the hope God has to offer, because the only hope he is interested in is the destruction of his enemies.

He doesn’t want a savior. He wants a weapon. God will not be made into a tool for us to destroy our enemies.

The Maddest, Saddest Prophet
God’s word, Jonah didn’t care for
The people he hated, therefore
He started out with a detour
Down the road to the seashore
Sailors didn’t know they were in for
Finding what God had in store
He had mercy.

In the storm, Jonah’s waking
To a mess of his making
On a flight of his taking
In a ship that was shaking
Sailors knees they were quaking
Very soon they’d be sinking
They were desperate.

Jonah’s crimes he confessed
Sailors reacted, distressed
To save him they do their best
Nautical skill and finesse
But couldn’t escape unless…
Jonah’s God they addressed,
“Please forgive us.”

They toss him in. Jonah’s sinking
Gulped down by a fish, stinking
Of God’s temple, he’s thinking
God’s mission he is accepting
Rebellion he is rejecting
Out of the depths, he is getting

He sets out upon his trek
His obedience is correct
The message he won’t neglect
But doesn’t want its effect
to blossom. He wants a wreck.
God’s love he doesn’t respect
He is bitter.

He should have railed against sin
For Nineveh’s violence to end
But he knew God might give in
If repentance were to begin
He thought mercy might kick in
He thought God’s love was a sin
He was angry

It didn’t sit right with him
Forgiveness was just for him
Not for the Assyrians
That’s why he sailed on the wind
He thought God’s purpose to bend
Hoped they would die in their sin
He was vengeful.

He hates that wrath was undone
He longed to see destruction
He didn’t want grace to come
He’s mad that God’s will is done
God leaves him there in the sun
He doesn’t get a “well done”
He is alone.

May we promote repentance
Rather than long for vengeance
May we be love and joy-filled
Not revengeful and rage-filled
May we reshape our preference
Increasing love and acceptance.
For the gospel

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime. — Psalm 30.1-5
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jonah 4 (Listen – 1:56)
Luke 9 (Listen – 8:05)

Thursday’s Readings
Micah 1 (Listen – 2:46)
Luke 10 (Listen – 5:40)

Read more about Too Much to Hold
Like Jonah sunk, beneath the earth
A dark and hopeless pit
Into that pit our savior slides
His mission: open it

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Vengeance breeds hatred, and hatred fuels vengeance. This pattern is not new, but it is accelerating.

To Wicked Kings, Foreign and Domestic

Scripture Focus: Jonah 3.6-10
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: 
  “By the decree of the king and his nobles: 
  Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. 

Reflection: To Wicked Kings, Foreign and Domestic
By John Tillman

Jonah took God’s messages to wicked kings, foreign and domestic. 

Most people know that Jonah was sent to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Few remember that Jonah also delivered a message regarding the wicked king of Israel, Jeroboam II.

Jeroboam II is described as “doing evil” and not “turning away” from sin, but despite his wickedness and lack of repentance, God still chose to use him to expand Israel’s borders. Despite Jeroboam’s unrepentant wickedness, Jonah delivered this good word to Jeroboam. (2 Kings 14.23-27)

Amaziah, who threatened Amos when he brought messages of judgment against Jeroboam, is not described as objecting to Jonah’s positive messages. Likewise, scripture does not note any objections from Jonah regarding delivering good news to his own national leaders. However, the entire narrative of the book of Jonah is driven by his desire to keep from sharing God’s message with the enemies of his nation. 

Nineveh was not just any wicked city, it was the capital of Assyria, the greatest existential political threat to Israel and a country actively oppressing and threatening Israel, even during the reign of an otherwise successful king such as Jeroboam II. Jonah was not unwise to fear them. They would eventually be the nation that destroyed Israel for her refusal to repent.

In the fish, Jonah pleaded for his own life and thanked God for hearing his repentance, but he wished for God to ignore the pleading and repentance of his enemies. Jonah intended to weaponize God’s wrath by withholding God’s offer of salvation through repentance. 

We, unlike Jonah, must hold out hope even to our enemies. We must call for repentance from all people. We can share God’s love with any political threat, whether a foreign nation or a fringe party within our own nation.

God used a fish to save Jonah from drowning in the depths of the sea. But because of Jonah’s unrepentant hatred for those God wished to save, God abandoned Jonah to bake in the desert sun, alone.

We must abandon Jonah’s sinful wish to weaponize God’s wrath. God will not be our tool of destruction. When this is all we want from him, he will remove even the shade of his comforting presence from us and we, like Jonah, will be left alone in the heat of the desert.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

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

Today’s Readings
Jonah 3 (Listen – 1:31)
Luke 8 (Listen – 8:09)

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Jesus is, indeed, “greater than Jonah,” as he claims in Matthew 12.

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Put ourselves in Amaziah’s shoes. Amos is badmouthing the king who supports us. He’s …obviously on some errand from our political enemies.

From the Belly of the Beast

Scripture Focus: Jonah 2.7-9
“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.

From John: In this week focused on thankfulness, many find themselves isolated from loved ones rather than gathered to give thanks for and with each other. When isolated, in the belly of one of the beasts of this world, may we turn to prayer and find it more powerful in the dark than it ever was in the light.

Reflection: From the Belly of the Beast
By John Tillman

Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.

Origen, writing of prayer, speaks of Jonah’s faith that, even though swallowed, as it were, by death, he could be heard by God:

Jonah, because he did not despair of being heard from the belly of the monster that had swallowed him, was able to quit the monster’s belly and complete his interrupted prophet’s mission to the Ninevites. How many things could each of us recount should he choose to recall with gratitude the benefits conferred upon him and to offer praise to God for them!

Let him, moreover, who has learned by experience what manner of monster that which swallowed Jonah typified, if he should ever come to be in the belly of the monster, pray in penitence.

Analogies to the prophet aside, we may not be in the beast’s belly because of wrongdoing, but because our world is filled with beasts. But regardless of how we came to be there, our prayer may be sharpened, amplified, and have a greater effect on our hearts. Origen continues:

We know that often fugitives from God’s commands who have been swallowed by death, which at the first prevailed against them, have been saved by reason of repentance from so great an evil, because they did not despair of being able to be saved though already overpowered in the belly of death: for death prevailed and swallowed, and again God took away every tear from every face.

If you have not been there yet, sooner or later we all experience the belly of the beast—sinking in the darkest hole of our lives, in deepest, grave-like depression. In the belly of the beast and in the grip of death, we can, as Jonah did, find in prayer what we could not find with our feet on solid ground.

As Origen says, “Souls that have long been barren but have become conscious of their intellects’ sterility and the barrenness of their mind, through persevering prayer have conceived of the Holy Spirit and given birth to thoughts and words of salvation full of contemplated truth.”

May we find God’s love. May we find courage. May we find purpose. May we find God, waiting there for us. Ready to wipe our tears and carry us onward.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” — Psalm 16.1

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

Today’s Readings
Jonah 2 (Listen – 1:20)
Luke 7 (Listen – 7:14)

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There is much in our world for us to mourn, Lord. May we not neglect weeping in prayer.