Humility and Joy — Joy of Advent

Scripture Focus: Ezra 8:22-23
22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

Luke 1:46-48
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.

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

Before the group of families began the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, Ezra called them to prayer and fasting. They sought God’s protection for the perilous road ahead.

Ezra knew that he could trust God. He had studied all the great acts of God in history. He knew God watched over him and prepared the way. But he also knew of the stories of danger and tragedy in the past. It is one thing to know that God is trustworthy and another thing to step out into the wild world.

Ezra felt the depths of his need for God’s provision. He fasted. He prayed. He denied himself the comfort of food so he could seek God with humility.

Four and a half centuries later, a young girl would begin a journey that would change the course of the world. Mary was chosen to carry the world’s greatest gift. With each step, she walked along a path of faithfulness to her call.

Ezra’s journey was a path back to worship at the newly built temple. Mary’s journey was the unpretentious path from one trimester to another. But Mary did not travel to worship God, he tabernacled within her.

Ezra and Mary sought a spirit of humility as they spoke to God. Both were blessed by the hand of God through miraculous protection.

Humility involves emptying oneself. It requires letting go of our plans and self-confidence. It requires the ability to be misunderstood and uncomfortable.

Ezra and his companions arrived in Jerusalem overloaded with treasures and offerings. For decades in captivity, they had been unable to present sacrifices to God. Nearly 200 animals were sacrificed upon their return. A joyous return to the house of worship.

Mary faithfully carried the incarnate deity within her womb. She laid aside her own plans and became the Lord’s servant. She knew that whatever God said would come to pass and she trusted in that promise.

The joy of Advent requires humility.

The road ahead of us is difficult. There are scars of past trauma and reminders of grief yet healed. We stop every few steps and question the journey itself. Why us? Why this path? We need his eye and hand upon us. 

God’s humble servant, Mary, prayed to God in her womb, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” May we seek God this Advent with humble hearts. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
I will call upon God, and the Lord will deliver me.
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice.
He will bring me safely back…God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me. — Psalm 55.17

Today’s Readings
Ezra 8 (Listen 5:40
Revelation 7 (Listen 2:56)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezra 9 (Listen 3:19)  Revelation 8 (Listen 2:15)
Ezra 10 (Listen 6:19)  Revelation 9 (Listen 3:30)

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Read more about Saccharine Joy — Joy of Advent
Artificial sweeteners don’t destroy our ability to taste sugar or honey, but our addiction to ecstasy and luxury makes us insensitive to and unsatisfied by true joy.

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)

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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.

Doubt and Joy — Joy of Advent

Scripture Focus: Ezra 6:22
22 For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

Matthew 2:19-20
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

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

The eye of God was watching over the Israelites as they were threatened by local enemies. But I bet they were scared, anxious, and nervous. The older generation, the ones who wept at the sight of the temple foundation, carried the burdens of trauma. They remembered being forcibly taken from their land. They watched their cities be razed to the ground. The Babylonians attempted to remove their cultural identity.

The king who granted permission for them to rebuild was not the same king they appealed to now. They probably worried about how he would react. Would he honor the decision of a former king? Would he retaliate by creating a new, restrictive law? Would he ignore them?

God’s people had been through the valley of the shadow of death. They became prisoners of war when the Babylonians destroyed Judah. A foreign king terrorized their lives. Could they trust another king to be different?

Trauma sets a person on edge. It is easy to become hypervigilant and skeptical. Worst-case scenarios run through the mind. What might happen?

When Jesus was born, Herod pursued the newborn king with tyrannical fury. He didn’t hesitate to kill other children to get to Jesus. Mary and Joseph carried the weight of that moment. It was a time of anxiety and fear. What will God do?

Their relocation to Egypt was not permanent. God removed the threat through natural causes. Herod died. In a dream, God sent a messenger to tell them it was safe to go home.

Sometimes God works in miraculous ways. For the Israelites who were rebuilding the temple, the answer to their appeal to Darius was better than anyone expected. Permission to rebuild was confirmed but also expanded. God inclined the heart of Darius to fully fund the costs of construction and grant protection from any further interference. A feast of joy ensued.

God works through his creation. Sometimes the answer is time and waiting for change. God works through miracles. Sometimes the answer is a baby born of a virgin or a foreign king financing the construction of a temple he would never use.

Joy, at times, feels out of reach. We worry; we fear; we doubt. How can this all work out? Isn’t he supposed to be watching over us? The joy of Advent is wrestling with our questions and waiting for God to answer.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will exalt you, O God my King, and bless your Name forever and ever. — Psalm 145.1

Today’s Readings

Ezra 6 (Listen 4:24
Revelation 5 (Listen 2:39)

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Read more about One Worth Rejoicing In — Joy of Advent
The Lord is coming, who is our source of victory and joy. We are waiting for him and he is searching for us.

Peril and Joy — Joy of Advent

Scripture Focus: Ezra 5:5
5 But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.

Matthew 2:10-12
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

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

The foundations of the temple were laid, and a mix of joy and grief resided over the people. As soon as they set out to do the work of God, they were met with resistance. Enemies of Judah and Benjamin bribed officials to frustrate their plans (Ezra 4.4-5). They accused the Israelites of dishonoring King Artaxerxes (Ezra 4.14). The work was stalled. But God would not be hindered.

Haggai and Zechariah, two prophets, called the people to return to their work. Despite the support from the prophets, they were met with more resistance. A local governor questioned their right to rebuild. Eager to bring punishment, he took names. But the eye of their God was watching over them.

The work of God can be dangerous. It can be unpopular. Motives can be questioned. Efforts can be confounded.

When the Magi came to visit Jesus, they were filled with the joy of his advent. Joy brimmed over. Overjoyed, they were face to face with God. They worshiped Jesus and offered their gifts. But the eye of God was watching over them. They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Herod, enraged with power and jealousy, soon called for the murder of every infant boy in Bethlehem.

But the eye of God was watching over them. Another warning was given and Joseph and Mary fled with infant Jesus to Egypt.

The Magi could have returned to Herod and faced his interrogation. Mary and Joseph could have stayed in Bethlehem and faced the executioner. The Israelites were face to face with authorities who wanted to stop the temple rebuilding and didn’t hesitate to take names.

The road to worshiping God can be dangerous. Being faithful to God’s call is like following a path with hills and valleys and perils. Our brothers and sisters around the world face greater threats than some of us will ever know. All because they seek to worship God.

The joy of Advent is knowing the eye of God watches over us. Jesus, our God made flesh, looked upon the Magi that night. The same God who had watched over the Israelites in Jerusalem. The same God who sent a messenger to warn Joseph. The same God who sees you now.

As we reflect upon Advent this year, consider how he watches over us. “The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121.8).

Divine Hours 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

Today’s Readings
Ezra 5 (Listen 3:02
Revelation 4 (Listen 2:09)

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The testimony of Ezra tells us that kings come and go, but it is the Lord who is our only hope and protector.

Grief and Joy — Joy of Advent

Scripture Focus: Ezra 3:11b-13
11b And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. 13 No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Matthew 2:16-18
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

From John: Advent has parallels in many parts of scripture. We look forward this week to Erin’s reflections comparing the return of the exiles in Ezra to the truths of Christ’s coming at Christmas and to his second Advent which we also look forward to at this time of year.

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

What if Christmas is not the greatest time of the year? What if there is nothing merry?

The holidays are marked by stress, depression, and anxiety. For Christians, it is a perplexing mix: joy for Jesus’ birth and the painful reality that December 25 does not end all sorrow.

As we read through Ezra, the Israelites return to the Promised Land. Exile was over. The temple, however, was in ruins. God’s dwelling place was a pile of rubbish.

The people set out to rebuild the temple, albeit in a more humble and meager size. When the foundations were laid, the response was mixed. The younger crowds rejoiced with praise and jubilation. The older crowds wept with grief.

For these older travelers, the journey has been traumatic and painful. In decades gone by, they had filled their hearts with dreams of a happy future. Solomon’s Temple, the first temple now in ruins, was majestic and praiseworthy. But all those dreams were cut down. Their lives had become beacons of pain and loss.

Yes, this new temple was worth celebrating but even this happy moment was a reminder of their grief.

Advent, too, holds both pain and joy.  Like those who would come to a pile of rubbish to worship God, the Magi visited the incarnate deity in a humble home. It was a time of celebrating and worshiping the newborn king.

Words of praise and joy were likely heard that night when the Magi came to visit. This new foundation had been laid. Not just a place to meet with God. But now it would be God with us!

Mary would cherish the honor and privilege of raising Jesus and caring for his mortal body. But other mothers would weep. Although Jesus had come, the world was still pierced with darkness. Herod’s pride would cause the death of innocent children and the grief of their parents.

We know that the season of Advent is a time to rejoice. We try to be happy. Holidays sometimes include a newly empty seat at the table. Sometimes the phone is silent because of severed relationships. Sometimes the financial burden of the holidays makes for a meager and sparse Christmas.

Advent is not the time to put away your grief. The joy of Advent has space for pain and sorrow. May we let the sound of joy and grief collide into one voice to our God.

Divine Hours 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

Today’s Readings
Ezra 4 (Listen 4:27
Revelation 3 (Listen 3:53)

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