Fervent Prayers

First Week of Advent Wednesday—Luke 1:8-12; Psalm 31

No matter where you live, you probably move through life governed by seasons, whether those seasons be driven by nature, annual holidays, work or school schedules, etc. For first century Jews, the temple, with its daily offerings and feasts, created a rhythm for life. Also, if a person wanted to meet with God, he would go to the Temple. Therefore, it is fitting that the climatic rescue of the story the Bible tells begins with events that occur in the Jewish temple. Here, Luke introduces us to two more characters in the unfolding Christmas story: a Jewish multitude and an angel by the name of Gabriel. 

The incense offering symbolized and expressed the prayers of the Jews, which by this time would have undoubtedly included a petition for the Messiah. Twice-daily the incense offering ritual happened this way...when the priest entered the Holy Place with the incense, the people left the temple, waited outside, silently praying. After placing the incense on the fire, the priest bowed reverently toward the Holy of Holies, retreating slowly backwards. Upon emerging from the temple, the priest would stand before the people and offer a verbal blessing over them. 

Everyday…twice a day. Regardless of weather conditions. No matter who sat on Rome’s throne. Despite dismal circumstances. The multitudes (not just the appointed priests) gathered at the temple and prayed in hope, in waiting, with certain expectation that God would fulfill His promises. Our need is the same (the intervening rule of God). Our prayer is the same (PLEASE COME!). Yet, all too often, our perseverance is lacking. (Forgive us, Lord.)

Tomorrow’s devotion focuses on Gabriel’s message, but just one quick observation for now. Why do so many folks picture angels as ethereal, docile creatures when (nearly) every Biblical recording of an angelic encounter leaves the observer "gripped with fear," and/or falling "flat on the ground"? The Christmas story, when fully understood in its context, is not a tender tale but a covert, dangerous rescue mission. As such, the Lord of Hosts—one of the names for God which literally means Commander of the Heavenly Armies—sends one of His angelic commanders to deliver a message. 

 In your waiting, have your faithful prayers waned? If so, reignite your fervent petitions. Meditate on the power of God, and His armies, to intervene in your circumstances, remembering that His intervention can come at anytime, in any place, in any way, using any one. 

All Wrong

First Week of Advent Tuesday—Luke 1:5-8; Psalm 68

 Luke opens the Christmas story not with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus but another trio of characters: Herod, king of Judea, and two Jews, Zachariah and his wife, Elizabeth. And everything seems all-wrong from the beginning. 

First, Herod is not the rightful king of the Jews, but a murderous, puppet-king of Rome, who proved he would kill even his family members to protect his crown, whether the threats are real or imagined. Herod’s tyrannical rule is a grim reminder that the Jews live under Roman occupation as an oppressed people. In Rome’s empire, a small group of elites (about 2-3% of the population) rule, owning the land and labor force and consuming 65% of its resources. Everyone else (Jews, too) lives in varying degrees of poverty. Rome’s army secures and maintains Rome’s power and rule. Failure to comply with 
Rome’s laws results in swift and ruthless military action. Politics and religion are not separate, and no one pretends that they are. Rome believes its victory and rule to be divinely sanctioned. In other words, the victory and rule of Rome proves the goddess Roma and Caesar (the son of god) superior to all other local gods, including the Jewish God, Yahweh.

 Second, our two righteous, obedient Jews from Aaron's priestly line find themselves childless and too old to hope that will change. In the Bible’s world, people viewed childlessness as a disgrace and as the result of a defect in the woman. Believing Yahweh (or the gods, depending who you worshiped) rewards the obedient and punishes the disobedient, any sort of malady was seen as result of sin. Of course, Jesus corrects this misunderstanding about the ways and heart of Yahweh during His ministry. (See John 9:1-3.) But for now, imagine the struggle and the disgrace for Zachariah and Elizabeth, for this is their reality. Finally, let’s be honest. When people think rescue-mission-participant, the young, robust, and able-bodied comes to mind not the elderly, arthritic, and culturally shamed! 

All-wrong? Seems that way. But God is, apparently, neither conventional nor deterred by obstacles. And the powers of earthly kings and their kingdoms neither pose a threat nor prove to be a formidable opponent for Yahweh. 

 Does everything seem all-wrong in your life or, maybe, in the world? Make a list of your perceived all-wrong obstacles. Then, spend some time in prayer declaring God’s superiority over each obstacle.