The Lowly and the Lofty — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 3.5
5 The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.

Luke 2.8-15
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Reflection: The Lowly and the Lofty — Peace of Advent
By John Tillman

Nehemiah’s list of the community’s work is not just a list of laborers. It lists those who put their faith into action. Their faith shaped stone and lifted beams. Their faith smoothed mortar and set gates on their hinges.

Hidden in the list are stories. In one place, Hassenaah works with his sons to set the beams and bolts of the Fish Gate. (Nehemiah 3.3) In another place, Shallum (a ruler of Jerusalem) works with his daughters to repair a section of the wall. (Nehemiah 3.12) The project is a family affair and no one is excluded except those who exclude themselves. Such were the nobles of Tekoa.

Workers and supervisors came from Tekoa, but the nobles abstain. They “would not put their shoulders to the work.” This wasn’t laziness or a disdain for labor. It was their hearts, not their shoulders, that weren’t up to the task. It was a failure of faith not a failure of physicality.

Tekoa, near Jerusalem, was a notable place. It was known for strength. One of David’s mighty men was from Tekoa. (2 Samuel 23.8, 26) It was known for wisdom. The “wise woman” of Tekoa spoke before King David. (2 Samuel 14.1-3) However, the most famous resident of Tekoa was the prophet Amos, who called himself one of the “shepherds of Tekoa.” (Amos 1.1) And from the hillsides of Tekoa, the town of Bethlehem can be seen only six miles away. The shepherds who came to the manger of Jesus, may have traveled from the fields between Tekoa and Bethlehem. (Luke 2.15)

The lowly and the lofty were called by Nehemiah to work on the wall. The nobles of Tekoa abstained. The lowly and the lofty were called to kneel before the child in the manger and to put their shoulders to the work of his cross-shaped kingdom.

To the shepherds, God came by a miraculous vision of angels. To King Herod and the Magi, God’s message came through scholarship, prophecy, or privilege. The shepherds and the Magi responded in humility. (Luke 2.16-20; Matthew 2.11) Herod responded with pride and violence. (Matthew 2.16)

Whether lofty or lowly, we each must respond to the call to peace and peacemaking this Advent. How has God’s message come to you? Will you put your shoulder to the work or abstain? Will you put your faith into action to shape stone, lift beams, and set gates on their hinges so that through Jesus, the gate, (John 10.6-9) people may enter God’s city of peace?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling; 
That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my god. — Psalm 43.3-4

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 3 (Listen 5:43)  
Revelation 12 (Listen 2:58)

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The questions will always come but the story reminds us that nothing has ever been outside of his control.

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.

Carol of the Bells — Carols of Advent Hope

Scripture Focus: Hebrews 13:15-16
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Luke 2:10-11
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Psalm 150:3-6
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
4 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.

Image: Today’s image is a picture of Blagoveshchensky Cathedral in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Reflection: Carol of the Bells — Carols of Advent Hope
By Jon Polk

Perhaps recognized less for its lyrics and more for its chime-like melody in three-quarter time, the rhythmic “Carol of the Bells” provides the perfect accompaniment for the holiday season.

Hark how the bells,
sweet silver bells,
all seem to say,
throw cares away
Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer,
to young and old,
meek and the bold.

While now indelibly connected with Christmas, the origins of this carol trace back to a Ukrainian folk song written for New Year celebrations.

The conductor of the Ukrainian Republic Choir commissioned Mykola Leontovych to write a new piece based on traditional folk songs. Leontovych was a composer, conductor and music teacher, but he was also educated as a priest in a Ukrainian seminary and composed the first liturgy in the modern Ukrainian language.

Leontovych wrote “Shchedryk” (“Bountiful Evening”) in 1914 and it was first performed in 1916 by students from Kyiv University. The song, also known by the English title “The Little Swallow,” tells the tale of a swallow who flies into a home, singing a prediction of a bountiful and wonderful year ahead for the family inside.

Bountiful evening, bountiful evening, a New Year’s carol;
A little swallow flew into the household
and started to twitter,
to summon the master:
“Come out, come out, O master,

Your goods [livestock] are great,
you will have a lot of money, by selling them.
If not money, then chaff from all the grain you will harvest
you have a dark-eyebrowed beautiful wife.”

As you can tell, although “Shchedryk” and “Carol of the Bells” may share the same melody, their lyrics are not at all the same.

Leontovych’s song was written during a time of intense political and social turmoil in Ukraine during World War I. In fact, Leontovych himself was killed by a Russian agent in 1921 and he is considered a martyr by the Eastern Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The swallow was a herald of springtime and its presence in the song would have given listeners hope for better days ahead in the New Year. 

When “Shchedryk” was performed by the Ukrainian National Choir in the United States in 1919, American choir conductor Peter Wilhousky, himself of Ukrainian descent, thought the song sounded like handbells ringing. Wilhousky eventually wrote new lyrics and performed his version, focused on Christmas, with the NBC radio orchestra during the Great Depression. Once again, the carol lifted the spirits of listeners during a challenging and difficult time.

Advent calls us, for this moment, to set our cares aside and remember the hope we have in Christ, who carries us through difficult seasons in life. May our hearts be stirred to worship the One who truly brings us hope.

Listen: Carol of the Bells by Fleming & John
Listen: Shchedryk (Ukrainian and English Translation) by Eileen
Read: English Lyrics from LyricsForChristmas.com
Read: Ukrainian Lyrics (with translation) from Wikipedia.org

From John: As the conflict in Ukraine enters its tenth month, please continue to pray. A fellow seminarian Jon and I served with was in Ukraine just before war broke out. Although she is back in the states, the ministry team she served continues their work from Poland, doing what they can to spare and save lives, to provide for refugees, and to spread the gospel as they minister. Pray for their safety as they frequently enter the country to assist those evacuating or to deliver supplies. Pray for the end of the conflict and that people can return to rebuild their lives, cities, and churches.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise up against them.
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 17.7-8

Today’s Readings
Esther 3 (Listen 3:12)
Hebrews 13 (Listen 3:31)

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The pastors and churches they support in Eastern Ukraine are in real, tangible danger…harsh realities surround them.

Good King Wenceslas—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, on December 8, 2021, based on 3 John 3-6 and Luke 6:38
It was selected by reader, EN: 
“Hymns and carols have always been close to my heart. This was a wonderful reflection.”


Scripture Focus: 3 John 3-6
3 It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.

Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Reflection: Good King Wenceslas—Readers’ Choice
By Jon Polk

In 921, the Duke of Bohemia (in modern Czech Republic) died when his son Wenceslas was only 13 years old, too young to rule. Wenceslas’ late grandfather converted to Christianity under the influence of Byzantine missionaries and his grandmother had seen to his education, so she was made regent in his stead.

At age 18, Wenceslas was made Duke of Bohemia and his reign was characterized by his Christian heritage. He became known for acts of charity and almsgiving, winning the admiration of his subjects.

Historian Cosmas of Prague wrote about Wenceslas in 1119:

His deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; rising every night from his noble bed, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.

Wenceslas’ legacy helped shape the medieval concept of the righteous king, whose power is based on great piety in addition to regal authority.

Written by English hymn writer John Mason Neale in 1853, the carol “Good King Wenceslas” recounts one incident of love and generosity by the good king.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gathering winter fuel

The king orders his servants to gather food, drink and firewood and summons his page to help him deliver the goods to the poor peasant. 

Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather

As the weather worsens, the page insists he can go no further; the king suggests that the page simply follow boldly in his footsteps. Upon doing so, the page discovers that he is warmed by the sod where snow had melted under his master’s footprints.

The Christmas season often prompts many people to engage in acts of charity and kindness. There are toy drives, meals served in soup kitchens and generous donations made to notable causes, all our expressions of God’s love.

Unfortunately, however, our generosity usually ends on December 26th.

While the carol recounts only one incident at Christmastime, Wenceslas was remembered for a life of generosity and love for those in need.

We follow a Righteous King who lived his whole life as a servant. He invites us to simply walk boldly in his footsteps, serving others not only for a few weeks during the Christmas season, but consistently throughout the year.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Listen: Good King Wenceslas by Downhere
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. — Matthew 5.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 4(Listen 3:42)
Romans 2(Listen 4:13)

Readers’ Choice is Here!
Thanks for sharing your recommended posts from the last 12 months. We have loved hearing from you!

Read more about He Became a Servant — Love of Advent
Jesus is our perfect and complete picture of what God is like. He is still among us as one who serves and we are to be like him.