Prayers of Joy :: Joy of Advent

*Advent is a wonderful time for new readers to join us. At this time of year, we are covering familiar biblical content and people are open to spiritual pursuits. Also at this time, people desperately need the balance of spiritual practice that The Park Forum provides. In this season, consider sharing our devotionals with others and inviting them to join our community. Share this post with others to help them subscribe.

Scripture Focus: Revelation 11.15
“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.”

Reflection: Prayers of Joy :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

As we conclude the third week of Advent and move to the fourth and final Sunday of this season of anticipation, we prepare our hearts with the joyful prayers of Revelation which follow the seventh trumpet. The joy we experience now through the Holy Spirit has its culmination here. The joy of Advent is true joy and has been held in hearts across the centuries.

Prayers of Joy
We thank you, Lord, for the true joy, ours in Advent.

Advent’s joy exists despite and within all circumstances. 
It is joy in plenty and pleasure, but also in pain and want. 

It is the joy of Zechariah and Elizabeth
 Who suffered years of hopelessness before a spark of joy came to them
It is the joy in Zechariah’s prophecy
 Seeing an end to earthly suffering
It is the joy Mary sang of
 The lowly lifted and the proud humiliated
It is the joy the shepherds could see
 A child born to Mary and to them and to us
 A child born to fulfill God’s promise to Eve.  

This is the great joy of the good news shepherds were sent to seek.
It is the joy John the Baptist knew
 His ministry faded and suffered, yet Christ’s grew
It is the joy of Jesus
 Healing and feeding masses who did not understand
 Masses who followed with wrong motives
It is the joy of Christ on the cross
 Despising the shame
 Eyes set on the joy before him.
It is the joy of the resurrection
 First witnessed by Mary Magdalene
 The first to tell the gospel to others

This joyful good news, this impossible gospel, passed on to us today is the only source of true and lasting joy that will last into eternity.

We join the prayer of heavenly elders, who fall in worship, saying:

“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.”

Come, Lord Jesus! 
Enter our hearts now.
Enter our world through our hands and speech.
And finally, at the day of our Father’s choosing, enter our skies
And rest your feet on Earth, with your restoring justice.

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
    and have begun to reign.”

Come reign in us, Lord, so that you can reign through us.

Amen.

*Handel’s Messiah, Full Symphony Performance (Recording of Live Broadcast), (2:32) Sydney Philharmonic Symphony and Choirs

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Now his mother and his brothers arrived, and standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, “Look, your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” He replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.” — Mark 3.31-35

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 24 (Listen -5:07)
Revelation 11 (Listen -3:24)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 25 (Listen -5:12) Revelation 12 (Listen -2:58)
2 Chronicles 26 (Listen -4:00) Revelation 13 (Listen -3:20)

Thank You, Donors!
Thanks to our donors, in 2019 we will publish approximately 100,000 words of free, and ad-free, devotional content. Without donor support, continuing this ministry would be impossible. As the end of the year approaches, consider whether the Holy Spirit might be prompting you to help support our 2020 content with an end-of-year gift or by becoming a monthly donor. Follow this link to our giving page.

Read more about Joy Despite Everything :: Joy of Advent
Martha shows us how to wait…when your faith is crushed into pieces, how to hold out your shattered faith to Jesus.

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Eating the Book :: Joy of Advent

*Advent is a wonderful time for new readers to join us. At this time of year, we are covering familiar biblical content and people are open to spiritual pursuits. Also at this time, people desperately need the balance of spiritual practice that The Park Forum provides. In this season, consider sharing our devotionals with others and inviting them to join our community. Share this post with others to help them subscribe.

Scripture Focus: Revelation 10.8-11

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”

So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’”I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”

Reflection: Eating the Book :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

One of the simplest practices that can make Advent a time of transformative joy is regular Bible reading. But there is more to do with God’s Word than simply reading it. 

Jesus presents himself to us as both Word of God and as the Bread of Life. This connects to the prayer he taught his disciples to pray, seeking “daily bread.” The Bible is not just another book to simply read— it is the required daily diet for spiritual growth. Without it, we atrophy and grow weak. 

In Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson discusses spiritual reading, called by the ancient church, lectio divina. Peterson draws his title and thesis from the command in Revelation’s tenth chapter:

“The most striking biblical metaphor for reading was St. John eating a book…Jeremiah and Ezekiel before him had also eaten books— a good diet, it would seem, for anyone who cares about reading words rightly.”

After recounting the passage, Peterson summarizes:

“He eats the book—not just reads it—he got it into his nerve endings, his reflexes, his imagination. The book he ate was Holy Scripture. Assimilated into his worship and prayer, his imagining and writing, the book he ate was metabolized into the book he wrote, the first great poem in the Christian tradition and the concluding book of the Bible, the Revelation.”

Eating the Bible may be uncomfortable. It means digesting parts we’d rather not swallow. John eats, though he knows it will cause intestinal discomfort. Peterson notes that Oxford don, Austin Farrer, referred to spiritual reading as a “forbidding discipline.” He then lists many ways it is forbidding to us:

“Forbidding because it requires that we read with our entire life, not just employing the synapses in our brain…Forbidding because it requires all of us, our muscles and ligaments, our eyes and ears, our obedience and adoration, our imaginations and our prayers.” 

May we read the scriptures in such a way that, “they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love.”

Bible reading, as Peterson describes it,  “is an immense gift, but only if the words are assimilated, taken into the soul— eaten, chewed, gnawed, received in unhurried delight.”

May our time in Advent teach us the joy of savoring the reading of God’s Word through the new year.

May we, as a community and in our churches “eat this book.”

*Quotations from Eat This Book, by Eugene H. Peterson

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the prophet of Isaiah: “Look, I am going to send my messenger in front of you to prepare your way before you. A voice of one that cries in the desert: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. John the Baptist was in the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. — Mark 1.1-4

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


Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 22-23 (Listen -6:51)
Revelation 10 (Listen -1:59)

Thank You, Donors!
Thanks to our donors, in 2019 we will publish approximately 100,000 words of free, and ad-free, devotional content. Without donor support, continuing this ministry would be impossible. As the end of the year approaches, consider whether the Holy Spirit might be prompting you to help support our 2020 content with an end-of-year gift or by becoming a monthly donor. Follow this link to our giving page.

Read more about Joy to the Full :: Joy of Advent
In Advent and throughout our lives, we walk by scripture and prayer. The scriptures tune our ears to recognize Christ’s voice. Prayer teaches how to listen for it

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Joyful Light of Repentance :: Joy of Advent

*Advent is a wonderful time for new readers to join us. At this time of year, we are covering familiar biblical content and people are open to spiritual pursuits. Also at this time, people desperately need the balance of spiritual practice that The Park Forum provides. In this season, consider sharing our devotionals with others and inviting them to join our community. Share this post with others to help them subscribe.

Scripture Focus: Revelation 9.20
The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. 

Isaiah 9.2-3
The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.

Reflection: Joyful Light of Repentance :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

Advent celebrates and anticipates Christ, the morning star, who dawns in our hearts. When we have become accustomed to the dark, his light can be shocking. Exposure of our shortcomings can bring shame but joy comes in repentance. The longer we delay letting go of our sinful idols and practices, the deeper we flee from the light into the darkness of our sins, the greater the suffering they will cause to us—and to others. 

Living in darkness has strange effects on humans. Those living at far Northern or Southern latitudes experience a small slice of this when daytime hours dwindle to only the barest hint of twilight and the night lasts for weeks and weeks. Instances of depression and mental illness are common during these times and people living in these places must find ways to adapt.

From many different experiments, we have also learned that living in complete darkness for even short stretches of time causes the human brain a great many problems. We lose all track of time. Our sleep cycles go awry. We may sleep for more than a day, thinking it was only a quick nap. Eventually reality begins to disintegrate as hallucinations both visual, auditory, and physical begin to take over.

The spiritual darkness we live in can have a similar effect on our souls. Repentance means turning toward the light and turning our backs on the hallucinations caused in our darkened minds by our darkened world.

Repentance can be controversial. Many feel that a loving God would not require us to change, but leave us as we are. After all, are we not made in his image? Can the potter blame the pot for the way he formed it? However, the image of the potter in scripture is of one who repairs and reshapes a marred pot, not one who makes a marred pot and then leaves it that way. A loving God is not a “leaving” God. He is a “leading” God, working to reshape and repair those marred and twisted by time spent in darkness. 

When Christ’s light dawns on us as we dwell in darkness, we have a choice. We can scuttle toward the dark, treasuring our sin. Or we can stand, letting the light heal our minds and strengthen our sight so that we can walk out of the darkness we once called home, into the joyful light of repentance.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord; let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever. — Psalm 145.22

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 21 (Listen -3:25)
Revelation 9 (Listen -3:30)

Thank You, Donors!
Thanks to our donors, in 2019 we will publish approximately 100,000 words of free, and ad-free, devotional content. Without donor support, continuing this ministry would be impossible. As the end of the year approaches, consider whether the Holy Spirit might be prompting you to help support our 2020 content with an end-of-year gift or by becoming a monthly donor. Follow this link to our giving page.

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We come out of the darkness, by God’s grace, as children of the light.

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Joy and Justice :: Joy of Advent

*Advent is a wonderful time for new readers to join us. At this time of year, we are covering familiar biblical content and people are open to spiritual pursuits. Also at this time, people desperately need the balance of spiritual practice that The Park Forum provides. In this season, consider sharing our devotionals with others and inviting them to join our community. Share this post with others to help them subscribe.

Scripture Focus: Revelation 8.4-5
The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

Reflection: Joy and Justice :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

Revelation promises an Advent of justice. A child of mercy and grace has come. That same child will come again as a king, bringing justice and righteousness to the earth. Our tears and prayers now are more than simply sighed over by God. God is not a condescending comforter, who pats us on the back, saying, “there, there,” while doing nothing about those who perpetrate violence and harm. Our prayers and cries for justice will be a part of his burning censer of righteous judgment that will be poured out. 

The justice we long for will come yet, as we wait, we represent the justice and righteousness of Christ on Earth. 

Some eschatology, or “theology of last things,” forsakes our responsibility to work and be concerned for the Earth of today. This line of thought claims that there is no need to uphold environmental concerns and care for the Earth, for God will make a new one, and there is no need to work for justice on the Earth, for final justice at the end of time is all that matters and is up to God.

This kind of separation of the spiritual and the physical is not a Christian or a biblical idea. It was the Greeks who believed that matter was evil and spirit was pure. Jews believed in the unity of soul and body. The first-century Christian sexual ethic was based on spirit-body unity and the idea that what we do with our bodies matters. Greeks felt any sexual acts were permissible because the body was base matter and did not affect the spirit. The Gnostic false teachers that Paul and John spent so much time refuting were one iteration of how these Greek ideas crept into Christianity over time.

This separation of body and spirit shows up in the theology of slaveholders who believed that they were doing God’s work to bring their slaves to spiritual freedom by introducing Christianity, even while denying slaves any other freedoms.

We are not being unfaithful to the gospel when we work for justice. We are embodying the gospel when we live it out to improve the lives of our fellow children of God and we are being ambassadors of the King of Kings when we speak uncomfortable truths to the kings of the earth.

In Advent, we need not be passive as we wait for the light of justice. Just because the sunrise is coming, does not mean we should not light candles against the dark. 

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Because you have kept my commandment to persevere, I will keep you safe in the time of trial which is coming for the whole world, to put the people of the world to the test. I am coming soon: hold firmly to what you already have, and let no one take your victor’s crown away from you. Anyone who proves victorious I will make into a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and it will stay there forever; I will inscribe on it the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which is coming down from my God in Heaven, and my own new name as well. Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. — Revelation 3.10-13

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 19-20 (Listen -8:09)
Revelation 8 (Listen -2:15)

Thank You, Donors!
Thanks to our donors, in 2019 we will publish approximately 100,000 words of free, and ad-free, devotional content. Without donor support, continuing this ministry would be impossible. As the end of the year approaches, consider whether the Holy Spirit might be prompting you to help support our 2020 content with an end-of-year gift or by becoming a monthly donor. Follow this link to our giving page.

Read more about Blossoming of Joy in Adversity :: Joy of Advent
“Are you rejoicing in the fact that you are suffering with Christ because of this church?” — Li Yingqiang, Elder of Early Rain Covenant Church

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Our purpose at The Park Forum is to produce words that may bring godly grief over brokenness, but produce joy and love in repentance.

Revelation of Love :: Love of Advent

*Advent is a wonderful time for new readers to join us. At this time of year, we are covering familiar biblical content and people are open to spiritual pursuits. Also at this time, people desperately need the balance of spiritual practice that The Park Forum provides. In this season, consider sharing our devotionals with others and inviting them to join our community. Share this post with someone to help them subscribe.

Scripture Focus: Revelation 4.1
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here…”

Reflection: Revelation of Love :: Love of Advent
By John Tillman

Revelation turns attention to Christ’s second Advent for which the season of Advent is designed to prepare us. In Revelation, we see through John’s eyes into Heaven and into a future that is both made already and in the making. 

Too often, I remember being terrified by ministers and laypeople teaching or preaching Revelation from the viewpoint of fear. These well-meaning souls leaned into the horrors of being left behind and doubled down on the troubling imagery of the tribulation, hoping, I think, to scare us spiritually straight. The fear of God, properly taught and understood is biblical and is part of learning about God. But fear-based teaching is doomed to fail. Fear, as a dominant motivation leads only to bad places. Decisions dominated by fear lead to selfish evil. Churches dominated by fear sanctify hatred. Governments dominated by fear commit atrocities. 

Ultimately, fear is not what Revelation is about. It is about love. Jesus starts his Revelation of the future to John by saying, “Come up here,” and those three words are a summary of the message of the book. The story of Revelation is a promise that none of God’s children will be left behind. All God’s children will come home. (”All God’s children” except those who refuse to. As C.S. Lewis said and we have often quoted, “the doors of Hell are locked on the inside.”)

No matter the evil forces, evil governments, spiritual powers, or societal pressures that grasp at us or stand in our way, we who answer Christ’s call will go home to Heaven. Revelation is the story of all of the obstacles to our homecoming being systematically unlocked, opened up, or destroyed—including the ones we built ourselves. Christ’s apocalyptic second Advent is about releasing God’s love and about releasing us to be received by God’s love.

Through Revelation, we can imagine three Advents. The first is that of the babe in the manger. It is quiet, humble, marked with beauty, and harried by danger. The second is that of the all-conquering king. It is loud, triumphant, marked with power, and restoration of justice. The third is not Christ’s advent but ours. It is our advent to the Kingdom of God as his lost children returned. It is celebratory and joyous and marked with tears, embraces, and laughter.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Of the Baptizer, scripture says: “A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to wonder whether John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptize you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than me, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ And he proclaimed the good news to the people with many other exhortations too.” — Luke 3.15-18

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

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 14-15 (Listen -5:49)
Revelation 4 (Listen -2:09)

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 16 (Listen -2:51) Revelation 5 (Listen -2:39)
2 Chronicles 17 (Listen -2:48) Revelation 6 (Listen -3:12)

Thank You, Donors!
Thanks to our donors, in 2019 we will publish approximately 100,000 words of free, and ad-free, devotional content. Without donor support, continuing this ministry would be impossible. As the end of the year approaches, consider whether the Holy Spirit might be prompting you to help support our 2020 content with an end-of-year gift or by becoming a monthly donor. Follow this link to our giving page.

Read more about Do We Know Him? :: Love of Advent
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