Devotion and Joy — Joy of Advent

Scripture Focus: Ezra 7:10
10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Luke 1:42-44
42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

Reflection: Devotion and Joy — Joy of Advent
By Erin Newton

The blessing of God continued as the second round of exiles returned to Jerusalem. Leading them was Ezra, a trained priest and scribe. Ezra was well-versed in the Law and trusted to deliver more gold and silver to the Israelites. Under his leadership, they carried their gifts to present before God.

Ezra was not only born into the lineage of the High Priest but devoted himself to learning about God. He committed time and effort. In an age when literacy rates were low, Ezra was among a privileged class who could read and write. His heritage granted him the ability to do what others could not.

This gift of circumstance was shared among his community. As instructed by the king, he taught others about the laws of God.

Each year at Advent, neglected Bibles are opened. Artwork depicting the manger scene covers a few shop windows or appears in yard decorations around town. As a scientific anomaly, the virgin birth is the most well-known aspect of the story. Is that all there is to know?

The story of Jesus is not just about his miraculous conception and mediocre place of birth. Everything about Jesus defies common sense. He is weak when people expect him to be strong. He is friendly when the religious think he should shun. He dies when the disciples expect him to wage war.

The complexity of who God is and how he intervenes in human history has been a subject of study long before Luke wrote his gospel or Ezra returned to Jerusalem.

I imagine Ezra, as he sat in Babylon, studying about the Red Sea crossing. Maybe with the letter from Artaxerxes in one hand and the song of the sea (Exodus 15) in the other, he was about to embark on a similar journey. Both blessed by foreign kings, he too would bring gold and silver to worship God. A joyous journey ahead.

Luke also devoted himself to the study of God. He begins his Gospel with the story of John in utero. Separated by wombs, John leapt for joy at the mere proximity of Jesus.

These stories are known by those who spend time learning about God. It is a story worth more than a highlight reel on major holidays. 

The joy of Advent is knowing him. Devote yourself to know more than his birth. Leap for joy as you draw near.

Divine Hours Prayer: The 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

Today’s Readings
Ezra 7 (Listen 4:39
Revelation 6 (Listen 3:12)

Read more about Supporting Our Work
God works through the Bible to change Christians and change the world. Help us provide free biblical content throughout the year to this end.

Read more about Consolation and Patience — Joy of Advent
The very reason for Christ’s delay is that more may be saved. The greater number of people we bring with us, the greater our joy will be.

The Exodus and The Return

Scripture Focus: Ezra 7.21-23

Now I, King Artaxerxes, decree that all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates are to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you—up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should his wrath fall on the realm of the king and of his sons?

Reflection: The Exodus and The Return

By John Tillman

There are two different examples in scripture of God setting his people free from oppressive captivity and parallels in the New Testament to go along with them.

In the Exodus narrative, freedom comes by rebellion, resistance, and cataclysmic confrontation. The people engage in deceitful (Exodus 1.15-21 and Exodus 5.3) resistance to the empire of Egypt that is their oppressor. In this narrative, the government is the enemy of God and the people triumph over and defeat the government oppressors in a violent confrontation in which God fights for them.

The New Testament version of this is the return of Christ described in Revelation and other prophetic writings. In this appearing, or second Advent, Christ comes as a liberating force, suddenly overthrowing the governments of the world which oppose Christ’s kingdom. Christ, the warrior on the white horse will, with his words, set us all free in a moment.

In the return from Babylon, freedom comes slowly over generations and is accomplished by faithful obedience. The people never engage in resistance or deceit. Others, working against them, use deceit and subterfuge but they never succeed. The empires act as their ally and protector.* 

*It is a mistake to assume the governments Ezra dealt with (or any government) is operating out of sincere belief as we would define it. The empires and kings Ezra references are operating in self-interest, honoring Yahweh as one of many gods in a pantheistic stew. It is only because of  Israel’s sinfulness and rebellion that it needed a foreign, idol-worshiping king to help it rebuild. When the church needs the power of government to help it change the world, it is a marker not of God’s favor, but of the church’s sinfulness and failure.

In the New Testament, we see a similar kind of growth in the way the early church proceeds to live under the corrupt rule of both the religious rulers and the brutal empire of Rome. This is the mode of freedom in Christ that we are still operating under today.

As we live under corrupt governments we must remember to live wisely and prudently. (Matthew 10.16) Those who are not against us are for us. (Mark 9.38-40) But we must also not abandon our integrity to fawn for the support of any king. For those who are not with us are against us. (Luke 11.23) The testimony of Ezra tells us that kings come and go, but it is the Lord who is our only hope and protector.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. — Psalm 118.28

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

Read more about Light Shines in the Darkness
The Temple Solomon built was destroyed by God because it lost sight of holiness. The second Temple Ezra built would be condemned by Christ for losing sight of mercy.

Read more about The Mingled Prayers of Exiles
Lord, we pray today as the exiles prayed, with mingled sorrow and joy.