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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Repair What Is At Your Door

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 3.12
Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters. 

Reflection: Repair What Is At Your Door
By John Tillman

The third chapter of Nehemiah is like the slowly scrolling credits of a film with detailed information flowing by about the many people, families, groups, and individuals who rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem. Hidden in biblical lists such as this are innumerable, amazing details. 

Many sections of the wall were built by those whose homes were just inside. This was not only convenient but practical. One is unlikely to cut corners when the wall being built is directly protecting one’s own home.

Along with the priests, individuals, and other groups listed as rebuilding the wall are the daughters of Shallum. Shallum was an important leader in the community and came from an important family. He was a ruler over half of the district of Jerusalem. His father, Hallohesh, was one of the leaders who would sign a document, committing to keep the law of the Lord. (Nehemiah 10.14)

Some commentators have suggested that these women were likely wealthy heiresses or widows and merely aided with financial support. This proposal seems to lean greatly on details that have no scriptural support. Surely, such wealth among a population of exiles would be mentioned by such a detail-oriented recorder?

The recorder (probably Ezra, compiling records such as this one with Nehemiah’s personal accounts) draws no special attention to the women. Nor does he offer any explanation for their inclusion, such as “for he had no sons,” or any other qualifying, mitigating circumstance. 

The writer gives no exclusion of work they failed to do, nor does he give any inclusion of special work they did beyond others, nor does he give any isolation of tasks they were limited to. We are left to conclude then, that they were simply co-laboring with their father as a part of the wide and varied community of God’s people doing God’s work. Neither Nehemiah or Ezra the scribe felt a need to defend these women for joining in the work of God that was occurring at their doorsteps. 

Rather than attempt to defend them, may we simply join them. May we all do in God’s name, whatever good our hands find to do.
What broken and neglected people, places, and things are outside the doorstep of your church?
What is outside YOUR doorstep that needs to be rebuilt?

May God’s church—men, women, youth, children, leaders, laborers, the wealthy, and the poor—join in the work of God that he is calling you to in your community.

Divine Hours Prayer: Concluding Prayer of the Church
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

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

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 3 (Listen -5:43)
Acts 13 (Listen -7:36)

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The essential idea of the Cross is a life lost to be found again in those around.