Come Out of Babylon

Scripture Focus: 2 Chronicles 32.31
31 But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart. 

Revelation 18.4-7
4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say: 
         “ ‘Come out of her, my people,’
         so that you will not share in her sins, 
         so that you will not receive any of her plagues; 
      5 for her sins are piled up to heaven, 
         and God has remembered her crimes. 
      6 Give back to her as she has given; 
         pay her back double for what she has done. 
         Pour her a double portion from her own cup. 
      7 Give her as much torment and grief 
         as the glory and luxury she gave herself. 

Reflection: Come Out of Babylon
By John Tillman

During Christmastide, leading up to Epiphany, we consider the revelation of Jesus to the Gentile nations as the light of the world.

Part of the Revelation of Christ’s Kingdom is the revelation of the sinful darkness of the kingdoms we live in. Part of why Christ comes is to rescue. Wickedness will be stripped and torn down. But whoever is willing to be saved, can be pulled out, picked up, raptured from the clutching darkness of the world. 

Babylon thought itself to be a light to the world and today’s empires think the same. Do we, as Christians from around the world, think of our own nations in this way? 

Many of us seem to. Many Christians are more enthusiastic evangelists for political or economic systems than the gospel. For some Christians, political parties have become our true religion. Some think of our nation as “The Kingdom of God” instead of God’s worldwide church. This is what Babylon does. It replaces the worship of God with the worship of nation, tribe, and self.  

Over and over, Babylon shows up as a test. God’s people fail and they fail and they fail. If we think we might fare differently, we are already too prideful.

Hezekiah was one of the greatest kings of Judah. His downfall began by pridefully entertaining powerful visitors from Babylon, even showing them the Temple and its decorations. All that he showed them, including his own children, would soon be stolen, destroyed, or enslaved by Babylon.

In Revelation, John records a call from Heaven for God’s people to “come out” of Babylon. This mirrors the call to Lot’s family to come out of Sodom. Even knowing that destruction was coming, Lot’s family clung with longing to the city they were a part of. They had to be taken, grasped, pulled by the hand to leave. Lot’s daughters had to leave behind their promised husbands, who laughed off Lot’s invitation to salvation. (Genesis 19.14-16)

“Come out of her,” Christ cries. “Don’t look back longingly,” warns the angel of the Lord…

Babylon is a test of the heart. We can become entangled in Babylon and engaged to Sodom. How wedded to Sodom and Babylon are we?

No nation should have a grip on our heart greater than the gracious kingdom of our Christ.
Come quickly, O Christ. Grasp our hands, Lord, and lead us out.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be seated on your lofty throne, O Most High; O Lord, judge the nations. — Psalm 7.8

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 32 (Listen – 5:58) 
Revelation 18 (Listen – 4:48)

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May we leave sin and doubt in the desert, crossing the Jordan toward God’s calling to be his city on a hill.

Peace from Despair — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Revelation 15:3-4
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
    Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
    and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Reflection: Peace from Despair — Peace of Advent
By Erin Newton

“…And the soul felt its worth.” We close our eyes and let out that long-held breath. He is here. God is here. At last. God is with us. 

The impact of this line from, “O Holy Night,” reveals how often we feel worthless. It resonates with us because we have all felt that deep pang of emptiness. The exhausting weight of all our unanswered questions or unresolved hopes suddenly feels lifted as Jesus enters our world. Israel felt this first at his birth. We experience this ourselves. Our soul feels its worth in salvation. Our soul feels its worth when we remember that he dwells with us and works in our midst every day. 

What is the worth of our souls? Jesus’ birth meant relinquishing the limitless aspect to his divine attributes. It meant putting on flesh and entering a world where pain, persecution, and death were everyday occurrences. It meant things theologians continue to debate. But what it means to us is that we are worth every inconvenience, all suffering, each moment of constrained power. 

The song in Revelation 15 sounds like an amalgamation of various psalms. It is the blending of countless voices repeating to the Savior the wonderful memories of all he has done. It is the recognition that he alone is holy. Perhaps it reveals that other ways of living have been tried. Each age, each culture had its own way of trying to live without him. But all pale in comparison to his greatness and holiness. All other pursuits have left our souls empty and we despair. 

The peace of Advent is the peace from despair. Our peace is anchored to him. When life feels worthless, he brings our soul the restorative feeling of worth. It is the thrill of hope. Our weary world rejoices. 

This Christmas, I hope and pray that your soul has been refreshed as we have walked together to reflect on Advent. If the days have been filled with joy and serenity, I hope these reflections have stirred up praise to our Savior. If your days are still dark and cold, know that if your soul is tethered with our Lord, gold can still be found in moonlight. But if you still struggle with despair, not knowing who this Child is, you can find peace in him. There is no more looking, he is here.

From John: I love that Erin allowed us to spend a little more time reflecting on one of the greatest carols, “O Holy Night.” The version we linked yesterday, by Sara Groves, was chosen for its uniqueness. But since this carol is Jon Polk’s favorite, here we will link to a performance of “O Holy Night” from Saint Andrew’s Church in Hong Kong. Jon serves with this church and sings bass in this ensemble. From all of us at The Park Forum, we wish you the hope, love, joy, and peace of Christmas.

Music: “O Holy Night,” recording, Saint Andrew’s Church, Hong Kong, 2020

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Everyone will stand in awe and declare God’s deeds; they will recognize his works. — Psalm 64.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 29 (Listen – 6:49)
Revelation 15 (Listen – 1:29)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 30 (Listen – 4:56) Revelation 16 (Listen – 3:17)
2 Chronicles 31 (Listen – 4:20) Revelation 17 (Listen – 3:19)

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Jesus brings a new kind of peace…a peace that allows us to take risks by loving both our neighbor and our enemy…

Peace from Labor — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Revelation 14.13
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

Reflection: Peace from Labor — Peace of Advent
By Erin Newton

My kids have been impatiently waiting to open gifts. As a mischievous parent, I wrap small gifts inside large boxes. The kids imagine typically impossible items inside: cars, animals, rockets, etc. Part of the joke is their look of disappointment when they open the box to find a vast amount of empty space inside. In reality, the small gift is always very valuable.

This week has been a focus on how Jesus’ birth as a baby not only changed the course of history, but it upset the Jews’ expectations.

Within the vision of saints’ suffering in Revelation, there comes to us a new beatitude. We are familiar with Jesus’ words that it was blessed to be poor, mournful, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure, peaceful and persecuted. But the grand finale of blessedness is revealed: the blessedness of martyrdom. For those who die for the Lord are at peace from all labor.

If we take a moment to imagine the tension in which the New Testament opens, it is not an atmosphere of positivity. There is no “all-American determination” that they will somehow pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There is certainly no hope that the next leader of Rome is going to provide means to make life more comfortable. The people were often already poor, hungry, and mournful. Jesus is born as one of them.

It is easy to expect Jesus to be something he is not. Or maybe we expect him to act for us in a way that has been answered “no” for now. Even though Jesus calls it blessed, being poor or persecuted or hungry is exhausting. How can we have peace in that? We fight the good fight, finish the race, and rest from all labor.

Jesus changes our world in ways that we sometimes cannot see or understand. We can forfeit peace and strive to change what is happening or we can recognize that even the infant Savior works in ways unseen. The hymn, “What Child is This?” speaks to the unexpected form of our Savior. Good Christians, fear, for sinners here / the silent Word is pleading. His labor of love never ceases, we rest in Him.

The day will come when all our toil and labor will cease. The peace of advent is knowing how blessed it is to toil and labor each day for his glory until he calls us home.

Music: “What Child Is This,” recording, Josh Garrels, 2016

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. — Isaiah 9.1

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 27-28 (Listen – 7:27)
Revelation 14 (Listen – 3:51)

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Actively waiting for the return of Jesus begins with the work of faith.

Peace of Endurance — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Revelation 13:10
…This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.

Reflection: Peace of Endurance — Peace of Advent
By Erin Newton 

The apocalyptic vision in Revelation continues with a picture of the suffering of God’s people.  It is a painful scene of oppression and injustice. Believers are called upon to accept the hard paths they are on, even to captivity or death. It is with endurance, patience, and faithfulness that they are commanded to face their circumstances.

As mentioned earlier this week, the Roman Empire had been through a series of wars in which Israel also suffered the pain and consequences of a dysfunctional society. They are ruled by a psychotic leader who seeks to kill any opposition to his throne even if the threats are toddlers.

The death of Herod was a momentary glimmer of hope for the safety of Jesus. However, as corrupt political systems go, one bad leader was replaced with another. Archelaus must have had a reputation like his father to prompt Joseph to fear returning to Judea. The family settled in another town further from their original home to patiently wait for the unfolding of God’s plan.

Bound to the rules, regulations, and rage-filled killing sprees, the Jews lived in a world that was corrupt and oppressive. Roman regulations sowed division within the Jewish population when some joined Rome, collecting taxes from friends and family. Into a world of corruption, the Savior was born.  His tiny body was bound by the slow progress of time. In time, he would grow into adulthood and begin teaching the crowds or healing the sick.

We, too, live within a corrupt world where God’s people quickly turn on one another for profit or exercise of power.  Our hearts groan as we endure the suffering and hardship. Like the hymns of Advent remind us, we eagerly and longingly await the Savior. We see that he, too, was born within a corrupt system.

The peace of Advent is the peace of endurance.  We long for God to remove oppression but we know that Jesus has walked this way too. There is great comfort in remembering that Jesus laid aside the divine right to be free from pain and suffering. Instead, he chose to be born in a helpless frame in a corrupt system and wait for decades to grow. As the great hymn says, His law is love and his gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break
for the slave is our brother
And in His name
all oppression shall cease.

Music: “O Holy Night,” recording, Sara Groves, 2008

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I cry out to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” — Psalm 142.5

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 26 (Listen – 4:00)
Revelation 13 (Listen – 3:20)

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Read more about Consolation and Patience — Joy of Advent
Like those “under the altar” we are comforted in our waiting and suffering. We seek and receive consolation from God himself.

Peace from Uncertainty — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Revelation 12:4

Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.

Reflection: Peace from Uncertainty — Peace of Advent

By Erin Newton

Dragons have been part of ancient stories but are rarely mentioned during Advent. Revelation 12 tells of the expected birth of a Savior and the threat of the dragon. This is an echo of the ancient stories familiar to the Old Testament readers.

Ancient Near Eastern culture had stories of gods battling a dragon where the fate of the god was always uncertain. The dragon was powerful, and the strength of the god wavered. It is against this mythic background that we read about God in Job taming Leviathan as a pet. There is no struggle, no uncertainty.

The dragon in Revelation waits to devour the child. The same menacing threat is made by Herod. “…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2.13).

Despite the suspense created by the threat to the Savior’s life from a draconian ruler like Herod, we have been taught throughout the Old Testament not to fear these moments of uncertainty. This is no Canaanite tale of a weak god against the sea-serpent. This is Emmanuel. The God who puts the dragon on the leash is still in control of the world despite his human flesh.

There are so many questions in the story of Jesus’ birth. How will God enable Mary to carry a child as a virgin? That’s impossible. Where will they stay during the hours of labor and childbirth? There’s no option. How can this child save the world if they cannot escape Herod’s edict? The way seems shut.

Through all these uncertainties, answers came. A science-defying miracle of virgin conception. A sufficient, though humble, manger for birth. A spoken word and guidance to safety in a foreign land. How God chose to answer the questions surrounding Jesus’ birth are unexpected and inconceivable.

I am no stranger to anxiety and live with the constant battle of questioning how God will work through each threatening uncertainty. The peace of Advent is peace from uncertainty. The questions will always come but the story reminds us that nothing has ever been outside of his control. The baby is still our Savior. The dragon is under control even when circumstances tempt us to despair.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Hear my cry, O God, and listen to my prayer.
I call upon you from the ends of the earth with heaviness in my heart; set me upon the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
I will dwell in your house forever; I will take refuge under the cover of your wings.
For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have granted me the heritage of those who fear your Name. — Psalm 61.1-5

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Read more about Unto Us, He Comes — Hope of Advent
He comes to the victims and perpetrators of war and conflict, bringing them peace.
Unto us, he comes.