From a Curse to a Blessing

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 8.12-13
12 “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people. 13 Just as you, Judah and Israel, have been a curse among the nations, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.” 

Reflection: From a Curse to a Blessing

By John Tillman

God promised to bless the nations through Abraham. (Genesis 12.1-3; 22.17-18) The purpose of Israel and Judah was to be a blessing to the whole world. But they became a curse. God said to Adam and Eve in the garden, “Cursed is the ground because of you.” (Genesis 3.17) His words to Israel and Judah as they went into exile in Assyria and Babylon were similar. 

Their sin cursed the ground. Their selfishness, greed, and idolatry poisoned the land. The blood of the poor ran in the streets because of greed. Orphans and widows found no justice or help. Governments sought alliances and greater worldly power rather than seeking the Lord. (Jeremiah 2.34, 2 Kings 21.16, Ezekiel 9.8-10; Hosea 6.8-9)

The practices of human empires overwhelmed leaders’ character and they led the people to death and destruction. The mildew of the world grew on the vines and the whole field had to be burned to prevent its spread.

God’s nature as a cultivator, a gardener, is seen in this passage. He has cleansed the ground and given it rest from the abuses of the previous generation. Prior generations looked at a gold-covered Temple and presumed God’s presence would never allow them to be harmed. This generation was attuned to God’s returning presence and prioritized the building of a Temple. The complacency of the past has been replaced with thrilling anticipation and appreciation for God’s presence.

This people’s faith is a seed ready to be planted. God promises that a healthy vine will grow, and fruit will swell the branches. The blessings of this produce will be shared not only with God’s people but with all the nations.

Zechariah challenged the people to prioritize the Temple, to speak the truth to each other, and to ensure justice for the oppressed in their courts. They are warned against planning evil against one another and against swearing falsely.

These are not just principles for rebuilding ancient Jerusalem. They are for us. Here in our cities and countries, we must prioritize Jesus, who is our Temple, our access to God. We must be people devoted to truth and upholders of justice. In all we do, we must work good in the world for others and speak truthfully not just about the gospel but about everything else.

These principles will serve us well as we build little outposts (or branches) of the Kingdom of God right where we live and work.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4

Today’s Readings

Zechariah 8 (Listen – 3:33)
Matthew 5 (Listen – 6:03)

Read more about Defilement, Deconstruction, and Reconstruction
If the mold spread, the first step was to remove only the affected stones. But if the mold returned, the entire house had to be deconstructed

Read more about The Branch and the Branches
Christ’s righteousness flows into us and we are able to create holy space, shade under the limbs of God’s tree.

Joy Despite Everything :: Joy of Advent

John 11.27
I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.

Reflection: Joy Despite Everything :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

When we wait in Advent we know the date on the calendar when Christmas comes. We know the day we will blow out the candles the final time. We know the number of shopping days left. We know how long until we will take the decorations down.

But in our lives, many times we wait in faith without a date on the calendar. There are many times we wait in hospital rooms. Wait on a phone call. Wait to see if our miracle will arrive.

And many times we stand over a casket instead of sitting around a table. We make an unemployment claim instead of a promotion. We box up our things and move in with our parents when our miracle passes us by.

Advent grows darker as the year wanes. And Martha greets us at the darkest point of her life. When faith has failed. When her wick smolders. When the smell of death wafts, unwanted through her mind.

Martha shows us how to wait. Martha shows us how to have faith, and then when your faith is crushed into pieces, how to hold out your shattered faith to Jesus. Not demanding. Not asking. Just saying, “My faith is broken. But I’m not letting go. I still believe. In spite of everything.”

Martha, Martha.
She was concerned about many things.
But she came to be concerned only with one thing.

Martha who believed in faith that her brother would be healed.
Martha who sent word to Jesus.
Martha who received back the messenger and wondered why Jesus wasn’t with him.

Martha who waited…

Martha who tended her brother in his sickness.
Martha who occasionally gazed down the road.
Martha who watched him suffer…and die.
Martha who remained strong
Who made arrangements.
Who cared for her sister.
Who buried her brother—the brother she had believed Jesus would save.
Martha who watched her sister melt down in emotion.
Martha who saw Jesus coming.
Martha who was prepared to meet him.
Martha who lost her miracle and still blessed the tardy miracle-maker
Martha who stood before a man who failed her and proclaimed him to be the Son of God.
Martha who dared announce the Messiah in the suburbs of Jerusalem, in the shadow of Christ’s most powerful religious enemies.

Martha, Martha…
Teach us to wait in faith.
Teach us to believe.

From John:
This weekend, on Sunday, we light the last candle for Advent. Monday we have the pleasure of Jada Swanson writing our Christmas Eve post to close out our Advent series. It has been a great joy and challenge to write new Advent content this year. We have a lot to look forward to in the new year, and I hope your Advent has been restful, revelatory, and has awakened you to prepare for renewed connection with God in the New Year.

Prayer: Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our soul waits for the Lord, He is our help and our shield.  — Psalm 33:20

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 8 (Listen – 3:33)
John 11 (Listen – 6:37)

This Weekend’s Readings
Zechariah 9 (Listen – 3:01), John 12 (Listen – 6:26)
Zechariah 10 (Listen – 2:11), John 13 (Listen – 5:06)

Additional Reading
Read More about Light and Dark and Joy :: Joy of Advent
Darkness is not dark to our God. That means that God is not blind to our sins, but it also means that we do not walk in darkness alone. We walk with the God who knows the darkness as well as he knows the light.

Read More about The Fragrance of Faith :: Readers’ Choice
May we make extravagant, prophetic, and lasting gifts to Christ and to the spreading of this gospel, like a fragrance, throughout the world.

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