As contemporary people, I believe that many of us aren’t sure what to make of the role of kings in our lives. For many people, kings are only historical persons, and even in countries where monarchs exist, they are often more figureheads than legislative authorities. This makes it difficult for us to deeply resonate with the idea of Christ as King, although we can certainly see many glimmers in our lives of what that kingship might mean. Personally, I tend to think first of bowing before the King, and trying to live my life in fidelity to Christ as my King.
But Psalm 72 emphasizes a completely different aspect of kingship — the flourishing of justice and peace in a country ruled by a monarch after God’s own heart. The psalmist petitions God to strengthen the king for the express purpose of bringing righteousness and justice to the land. As that happens, even the land itself will bring forth the means for just and prosperous lives for all. This ripple effect moving out from the king’s decrees is likened to steady, life-giving rains, which stands in direct contrast to the images that mark many other Scripture passages of drought and desolation resulting from ungodly monarchs. And of course, if a human monarch can cause this degree of life-giving change, our King Jesus can bring that in its fullness. The wonder of Advent, of course, is that we celebrate the ongoing arrival of this new vitality, even in the dark seasons of our lives. With the psalmist we pray, “blessed be God’s glorious name forever; may God’s glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen!”
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (NRSV)
Prayer for Guidance and Support for the King
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name for ever;
may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.
When I was younger, Christmas time was my favorite part of the year. As soon as the tree went up at my grandmother’s, I knew that more of my favorite traditions were to come: Aunt Geraldine’s sugar cookies; hide-and-seek in the crevices of my grandparents’ old, creaky home in Richmond, Ind.; living room floors covered in colorful, wadded-up wrapping paper. It all made sense to me; those little pieces of Christmas all fit together so nicely.
The prophet Isaiah told stories of a future when things will fit together nicely that don’t go together now. He said “the wolf shall live with the lamb” and “the calf and the lion together” and all these would be lead by “a little child.” The world will be pleasantly full of paradoxes. What a mystery of a place to live!
Eventually, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s paradoxical prophecy, arriving as fully human and fully God. He was perfect, but bent down to a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) and washed the feet of his followers (John 13:1-20). “The kingdom of God is at hand,” he said (Matt. 10:7), yet it is still coming (Luke 17:20-37). The things that don’t seem to fit were those that Jesus put together.
My favorite Christmas tradition happens at midnight every Christmas Eve. To the sound of church bells, my family gathers with my grandparents’ congregation in an old, historic Lutheran cathedral. The lights go off, and the tall room is illuminated by candles as we sing “Silent Night” a cappella in German and English. Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht! Alles schläft, einsam wacht. The tune moves through the pews and the flames dance at the sound. Light meets darkness, and all is calm.
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 11:1-10 (NRSV)
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
THIS WEEK’S THEME: God’s kingdom is here
God’s kingdom is here. As I thought about this theme and read the lectionary Scriptures this week — the coming of Jesus’ birth, the story of John the Baptist, the Old Testament Scripture foretelling the birth of a Savior — the beautiful simplicity of the statement kept jumping out at me. God’s kingdom is already here, in place, right now. So, what are we doing about it? How are we celebrating?
The kingdom of God has often been described as radical, an “upside-down kingdom.” The more I learn about the message of the New Testament, the more I believe that God’s kingdom truly is radical. Where else can we find someone telling us to throw self-interest behind and love our enemies, do good to those who harm us? It’s incredible, really.
So, I challenge you today to pause for a bit. Think about it for a moment. God’s kingdom is here. And ask: What does that mean for you right now, as we enter into the Advent season? What can you do today, be it small or large, to further God’s radical, “upside-down kingdom”?
No one knows the day or the hour when it will strike. For me, it was September 28, 2013 around 2 p.m. No warning. No reason. But on that day, at that hour, I developed an illness, and it has been a battle. My semester at school has panned out very differently than I had planned. My illness radically changed every aspect of my life for the past two months. No warning. No reason.
There is this sense of injustice when negative events happen in our life without warning. We want reasons. We desperately seek explanations for those events because suffering without purpose seems cruel. This seems especially true during the Advent season, when we spend our time rejoicing, when we spend our time reflecting on the word of God. Tainting this traditionally blessed time just seems cruel.
Three weeks ago, my illness took a turn for the worse. Three weeks ago, I had all but lost hope in ever feeling normal again. We are told that we cannot know the hour or “on what day your Lord will come.” Two weeks ago, I began to recover.
Both my illness and my recovery came without warning, but I no longer believe it was without purpose. There are good friends who I would not have met. There were close friends that I would have never understood otherwise. There were changes in my friend’s life that may have never occurred. There were personal revelations I’m not sure I would have come to.
We are asked to prepare for the Lord, to “be ready” for the day the Lord comes. Faith is our best preparation. Faith that God will deliver us from evil. Faith that God is always near. Faith that God has a greater plan. We may not be given any warning, but we are given faith that there is a reason. We may not know the day or the hour, but we can have faith in the outcome.
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV)
The Necessity for Watchfulness
But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Bananas ripen. Baby giraffes are born. Chimpanzees eat tiny, tasty bugs off each others’ backs. A flamingo dies. Water drops down from pregnant clouds, and, eventually, evaporates back up. The ocean—big and blue and full—waves and waves. Wind circulates across the earth’s surface, searching and knowing.
From the mating song of a cardinal bird to the crevices and craters on our earth’s moon, God knows everything. His love is greater than we can fathom and far beyond what we deserve. Yet God freely lavishes God’s love on creation, on us. God is found in overripe fruit and awkward infant giraffes, but God is also found in us, in the miracle of ear canals and eyeballs. The awe, the wonder, the mystery of being made in God’s image is astounding. The majesty of God coming to be with us in our own form is what we anticipate to celebrate on Christmas.
Have you encountered this God of the mountains, the valleys, the animals and the storms—the God of the universe? The God of it all who, in all God’s glory, still wants a personal relationship with you.
Now is the time, brothers and sisters. In the midst of bellowing whales, buff ants, eroding boulders and bright stars, human beings have a place. Now is the time to open our eyes and see God all around us in creation and in our lives. He asks us to wake up from our slumber and to activate our faith. To put on the armor of light; not only this, but to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Now is the time to be fully alive.
Come, revel with me in the glorious mystery that is the beauty of creation, light of the world, the hope of God with us.
SCRIPTURE: Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)
An Urgent Appeal
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12
the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13
let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14
Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
I remember singing this Psalm of David, clothed in a blue robe, swaying to the beat with the rest of the choir as we entered the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. I am grateful for the rich diversity of musical styles I was able to experience growing up in my home church. The diversity of styles came about in part because we were diverse in other ways – racially and economically were probably the most evident. We also had people who lived right in the city, and people from the suburbs and surrounding rural areas. With people from so many backgrounds, it would be strange if we didn’t have a diversity of worship music.
The youth choir began when I was a teenager, and we sang gospel music. Although representative of our church’s African American membership, the choir was by no means limited to that group. We loved singing gospel music together so much that, as young (and then older) adults we stayed in the choir. The name shifted from “youth” to “gospel” choir, and eventually became (and still is) an intergenerational group.
That home church with the diversity of people and music is where I came to know and love God. Through worship, and especially through singing, I learned the stories of God’s people, God’s love and God’s call to be peacemakers. Here I learned to sing in the company of others, “I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord!”
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 122 (NRSV)
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
1 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
2 Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
4 To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
8 For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Teachers are visionaries. At their best, teachers inspire their students to dream of and work to create a better world. There is a famous scene in the movie “Dead Poets Society” (1989) when the odd out-of-bounds teacher Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams, has all the boys stand on their chairs to get a different perspective on the world. In the process, he turns teenage boys into lovers of poetry, dreamers of a new way of living as a “band of brothers” in a community of passionate learners.
I am struck by how Isaiah’s Advent vision describes God as a teacher standing on Mt. Zion. And like the Master Teacher that God is, God’s lecture is magnetic. The nations stream to class, like a river flowing upward against gravity to the highest of mountains. It’s as if God has all the nations stand on their chairs to imagine a different possible future. The instruction, the Word of the Lord, goes forth with such sway that the nation-students do the unimaginable: they beat their instruments of war into farming implements, no longer willing to go to war against one another. They leave their mountain-classroom singing what would become the great African American spiritual inspired by this Advent vision, “Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside… I ain’t gonna study war no more!”
In this war-weary world, let us stand on chairs, if we must, to catch a glimpse of Isaiah’s vision of nations who one day willingly turn their war colleges into colleges of peace; nations who one day choose to study war no more. Now that would be worthy of an Advent anthem, “Gloria en excelsis, Deo!”
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 2:1-5 (NRSV)
2 In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
THIS WEEK’S THEME: We may walk in God’s paths
Welcome to Goshen College’s online devotionals for the 2013 Advent season! Our theme this year, taken from the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada worship resources found in Leader magazine, is “O the Mystery of God’s Dwelling.” Every Monday an author will introduce the sub-theme, and on the following weekdays authors will reflect on a specific Scripture passage. The theme for this week, Advent 1, is “We may walk in God’s paths.”
“O the mystery of God’s dwelling” expresses a sense of awe and wonder. Will we hold these words as a reverential expression for God’s act of incarnation? Will we mutter them with a sense of frustration and confusion trying to fully make sense of God entering the human world? The Advent Scriptures present us with a plethora of images of judgment, pain, suffering, idolatry and oppression in both the natural and the human worlds, as well as the parallel images of restoration, redemption, salvation, wholeness and peace.
When you consider the literal and metaphorical paths you have walked in life, what comes to mind? I go back to the woods of my childhood farm. There were different paths traversed for various reasons. Some were made by our tractor, others by human feet, and still others by deer that regularly bounded through. Most of the paths were contained within our property boundaries that I knew well. As long as I stayed on them I was sure to circle back to a place of familiarity. But other paths went beyond our property to unknown destinations. What was on the other side? Where would it take me? Were those lands more of the same or different? Should I go there? What will happen if I do?
I have had both joyful surprises and unexpected annoyances on the paths of life. But sometimes the paths I trekked delivered tragic realities for which I wondered if there could have been another way, or why this happened. Like the Psalmist, I questioned and exclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest,” (Psalm 22).
O God, wander with me in the paths of life. Help me recognize your presence when mystery is my close companion.
As churches prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth, Goshen College offers an online spiritual resource to help believers make time and space in their hearts and minds to welcome Advent, even in the midst of busy schedules and hectic lives.
Beginning Nov. 25 (the Monday prior to the first Sunday in Advent) and culminating on Christmas Day, Goshen College students, faculty and staff will provide weekday reflections based on lectionary Scripture passages. Many writers will reflect on the Advent theme: “O the Mystery of God’s Dwelling,” taken from Mennonite Church USA worship resources.
The devotions will reflect honestly on the Scriptures and offer words of assurances of faith. The spiritual offerings will include poetry, personal stories, reflections and prayers, all intended to more closely examine the call to change and follow Christ.
Since 2001, Goshen College annually celebrates special seasons of the church calendar, particularly Advent and Lent, with online devotions.