The Prodigal Woman

Scripture Focus: Hosea 2.7-8
7 She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
     she will look for them but not find them.
 Then she will say,
     ‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
     for then I was better off than now.’
 8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one
     who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
 who lavished on her the silver and gold—
     which they used for Baal.

Luke 15.17-18
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 

Reflection: The Prodigal Woman
By Erin Newton

As a writer, I struggle with doubt: “How can I say anything that is new?” The teacher in Ecclesiastes would say, “Yeah. There is nothing new under the sun.” Despite this reality, the Bible often reminds me that some good truths are worth repeating.

Many times in the Old Testament we see themes and stories that find a similar counterpart in the New Testament. We see similar tales of watery depths stilled at creation (Genesis 1.2, 9-10) and at the hush of the waves from the voice of Jesus (Luke 8.24-25). There are temptations in the deserts of Egypt and Israel (Exodus 16.1-3; Matthew 4.1-4). In fact, Jesus often responds to questions, “You’ve heard it said…” implying that some truths are worth telling again.

The prophets’ messages were not random, ground-breaking new realities for the people. They spoke messages that reminded people of the truth they already knew. The call to repentance is an ancient word that still speaks today.

The prophet Hosea uses the image of a wayward spouse to speak about the unfaithfulness of Israel. His message compares the divine-human relationship to a marriage. What is expected in such a relationship? Loyalty, love, commitment, and exclusivity. 

Through this analogy, Israel is revealed as disloyal, unloving, uncommitted, and corrupt. The object of her wayward affection is Baal, the god of her neighbors—a deity depicted as a violent storm god engaged in wars for power. She is compelled by her lust and forgets where her substance and beauty come from.

“Well, good thing I would never be a harlot! Never would I worship an idol!” We convince ourselves that we are too sophisticated to be compared to a scandalous woman involved in idolatry.

But Jesus takes the same message and reconfigures the image. No longer is it a spousal relationship. It is father and son. It is not a woman financially dependent on a man but a son who is already destined to receive a future inheritance. It is not Baal who tempts but greed.

This story hits a little closer to home. It sounds like our own testimonies.

Both the woman and the son follow their passions instead of the Provider. Yet both are received within the arms of the one who has always loved them.

God always loved Israel. The father never stopped loving his son. Christ forever loves you.
There is always room to tell this same story—our story—one more time. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
My soul thirsts for the strong, living God and all that is within me cries out to him. 

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

​Today’s Readings
Hosea 2 (Listen 3:48
Matthew 7 (Listen 3:31)

Read more about A Chiaroscuro Parable
Like a Rembrandt chiaroscuro painting, with exaggerated lights and darks, Hosea shows the darkness of sin and the bright, hopeful gleams of God’s love

Read more about Trouble and Hope
How does trouble turn into hope? How does the punishment of disobedience become a beacon of mercy in the wilderness?

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks — Carols of Advent Joy

Scripture Focus: Psalm 132:10-12
10 For the sake of your servant David,
    do not reject your anointed one.
11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
    a sure oath he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
    I will place on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
    and the statutes I teach them,
then their sons will sit
    on your throne for ever and ever.”

Luke 2:20
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Reflection: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks — Carols of Advent Joy
By Jon Polk

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks may hold the distinction as the only Christmas carol written by a British Poet Laureate.

Nahum Tate was born in Dublin, Ireland. Tate was the son of an Irish pastor, Faithful Teate, and both of his grandfathers were also ministers. Despite a history of clergy in his family, Nahum instead pursued a literary career. 

Tate attended Trinity College, Dublin, and graduated in 1672. Within a few years, he moved to London and began making a living as a writer. 

Tate wrote and published a collection of poems but primarily focused his writing on stage plays. After writing a few original plays, he turned his attention to creating adaptations of Shakespeare’s works. His rewrite of the tragedy, King Lear, concluded with a happy ending and was so successful that it became the preferred performance version for over a hundred years.

Due to his significant contributions to the arts, Nahum Tate was named Poet Laureate of England in 1692, a title he held for twenty-two years.

Prior to 1700, church music in English consisted exclusively of Psalms. In 1696, Tate collaborated with Nicholas Brady to update the traditional settings of the Psalter, producing the New Version of the Psalms of David.

Around the same time, Tate wrote the lyrics for While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks, a Christmas carol based on the angel’s proclamation in Luke 2.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
all seated on the ground,
an angel of the Lord came down,
and glory shone around.

When Tate and Brady published a Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms in 1700, they included sixteen hymns not based on Psalm texts. While Shepherds Watched was the only Christmas hymn in the collection, thereby making it officially the first Christmas carol approved for usage in the Anglican Church. Prior to that, most carols had roots in folk music and were considered too secular for church services.

The fact that the lyrics were drawn directly from the scriptural account in Luke worked in the hymn’s favor and helped it gain acceptance for congregational singing.

The heavenly babe you there shall find
to human view displayed,
all simply wrapped in swaddling clothes
and in a manger laid.

Tate’s carol is one of the first known hymnic descriptions of this glorious event. Of the sixteen new hymns in the Supplement, it is the only one still sung today. It is a blessed and simple reminder of the moment when the divine birth announcement was delivered quite unexpectedly to humble peasants.

All glory be to God on high,
and to the earth be peace;
to those on whom his favor rests
goodwill shall never cease.

Listen: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Andrew Peterson
Read: Lyrics from

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

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 25  (Listen 5:12)
Psalms 132-134 (Listen 2:42)

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Hark! The Herald Angels Sing — Carols of Advent Joy

Scripture Focus: Psalm 130:7-8
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

Luke 2:13-14
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.”

Reflection: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing — Carols of Advent Joy
By Jon Polk

One has to wonder whether the iconic Christmas carol, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, would be as popular today if it still retained its original opening line, “Hark how all the Welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings.”

If you don’t know – and you probably don’t – welkin is an archaic English word that means the sky or the heavens, the highest celestial realm inhabited by God and angels. 

Already a theologically dense hymn, its usage would have likely been hindered by the inclusion of an unfamiliar and arcane term in the first line. Thankfully, what we have instead has now become comfortably familiar.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild;
God and sinners reconciled.”

Written by Charles Wesley in 1739, less than a year after his evangelical conversion, the song bears the marks of this eager new convert wanting to clearly express the fullness of his faith.

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings!

As students, Charles Wesley, his brother John, and friend George Whitefield were members of the infamous “Holy Club” at the University of Oxford in the 1730s. All three were founders and leaders of the early Methodist movement. It should come as no surprise that Wesley’s Christmas hymn is rich with theological proclamations.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel.

Scriptural references abound in the hymn, in particular, names or titles referring to Christ: Immanuel, Prince of Peace, Sun of Righteousness, Desire of Nations, Second Adam. Wesley presents the gospel message loud and clear, expanding on the glorious announcement to the shepherds by the angelic host.

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.

But what happened to the Welkin?

Wesley’s brother John published the carol, originally titled Hymn for Christmas-Day, in his 1739 collection, Hymns and Sacred Poems. Wesley also shared the song with George Whitefield who many years later included it in his 1754 compilation, Collections of Hymns for Social Worship.

Whitefield made a number of lyrical changes to the song before publication. Fortunately, one of the most notable modifications was to remove the reference to “Hark how all the Welkin rings” in favor of the more accessible phrase, “Hark, the Herald Angels sing.”

Whether it is from the Welkin or the Herald Angels, the good news of Jesus’ birth rings out with joy for all people.

With angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Listen: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing by Norman Hutchins
Read: Lyrics from

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds. — Psalm 36.5

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 24  (Listen 5:07)
Psalms 129-131 (Listen 1:45)

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What Child is This? — Carols of Advent Joy

Scripture Focus: Psalm 123:1
1 I lift up my eyes to you,
    to you who sit enthroned in heaven.

Luke 2:15-18
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.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Reflection: What Child is This? — Carols of Advent Joy
By Jon Polk

The melody of Greensleeves is instantly recognizable, but few know the lyrics of the original song by that title. Most associate the tune with the beloved Christmas carol, What Child is This?

The son of a surgeon from Bristol, England, William Chatterton Dix spent most of his life as a manager of the Maritime Insurance Company in Glasgow, Scotland. 

In 1865, at the age of 29, Dix suffered from an unexpected, severe illness that nearly took his life. The sickness left him confined to bed for months suffering from serious depression. During his recovery, he experienced a profound spiritual revival. Reading the Bible constantly, he channeled his renewed faith into writing poetry and hymns for the church.

Dix’s most well-known hymn is the carol, What Child is This?, written during that period of illness and depression. The song wrestles with the mystery of the Incarnation and paints a classic portrait of the Nativity.

What Child is this who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

The questions presume to be those of the shepherds as they consider the true nature of the baby the angels celebrate. They wonder about the humble circumstances surrounding his birth.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?

Dix based the song on a poem he had written earlier, titled The Manger Throne, in which he describes the excitement over the birth of this King born in a lowly estate.

Never fell melodies half so sweet
          As those which are filling the skies,
And never a palace shone half so fair
          As the manger bed where our Saviour lies

With a symbolic nod to the story of the Magi, the questions of the shepherds are answered, and we are reminded that our King has come to rescue both kings and peasants, wise men and shepherds alike.

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

This King, born in a Manger Throne, has come to bring us life, the humble station of his birth reflecting the humiliation of his own death on our behalf.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;

The King of the Universe, born in a filthy cattle trough, worshiped by dirty shepherds. A stark contrast which portends our own transformations when we follow him, much like the spiritual awakening of a humble Anglican businessman inspired him to dedicate his creative talents to hymns which remind the church to continually reflect upon the question, what child is this?

Listen: What Child is This? by Russ Taff
Lyrics from

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 21  (Listen 3:25
Psalms 123-125 (Listen 1:52)

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Mary’s Story — Love of Advent

Scripture Focus: Matthew 1.1, 16
1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

Luke 1.28
28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Reflection: Mary’s Story — Love of Advent
By Erin Newton

These are the matriarchs of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. This is Mary’s story.

Unlike the other matriarchs of Jesus’s lineage, Mary is the focus of a multitude of hymns and prayers. She is the feature of paintings with token blue robes and a golden halo. As the mother of Jesus, she adorns nearly every nativity scene and features prominently in Advent messages.

The angel calls her “highly favored” and Elizabeth heralds her as “blessed among women.” Mary is well-known, famous to be precise. She is the foremost saint in the Catholic church. We know her story well.

Mary is the easiest character to place in the genealogy. Her story doesn’t center around abuse or widowhood. Yet we know she suffered for the task placed upon her. Her husband was not evil like Er, or sickly like Mahlon or Kilion, or murdered like Uriah. But Joseph was tempted to leave her child fatherless.

Her status as an unwed, pregnant young woman was met with skepticism and doubts. She was outcast in some ways—like Ruth, Rahab, Tamar, and Bathsheba. But Joseph stayed by her side, more like a Boaz than a David. No hand was laid upon her body, more loving than Judah or the men of Jericho.

Mary was a Jew. She did not have to struggle with a foreign culture. She could stay among family and provide safe haven for the Messiah inside.

Mary’s greatest asset to the world was her faithfulness. As men had chosen women before for their bodies; Mary was divinely chosen for her faith. Advent paints a rare and shockingly different picture of love.

Her story is unique, being the only divine conception that ever existed. But in some ways, she’s rather typical and expected. Her past is not powerfully redeemed. Her heritage was not amazingly rewritten.

She is well-known and respected. Her presence demands honor and dignity. Her burdens, disadvantages, and crises are seen as a badge of honor for the one who carries God in her womb.

She is the mother of Jesus. Mary, a woman of faith is chosen and honored as one of five women named in Jesus’s family.

In the love of Jesus belong the ordinarily faithful.

God can dramatically transform, and God can dramatically indwell. No matter our story, we belong within the love of Jesus. Advent invites us to a place of belonging.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness,… make your way straight before me. — Psalm 5.8

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 17  (Listen 2:48)
Psalms 119.121-144 (Listen 15:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 18  (Listen 5:51Psalms 119.145-176 (Listen 15:14)
2 Chronicles 19-20  (Listen 8:09Psalms 120-122 (Listen 2:12)

Read more about Pause To Read
On Pause to Read, a podcast by The Park Forum, we read a devotional from the past year and encourage listeners to pause to read the scripture before continuing to listen to the devotional.

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