Keeping Advent is counter-cultural. To be sure, Advent has been integral to the culture of the Church for at least a millennium and a half. But if we used to complain about seeing Christmas displays and shopping specials before Thanksgiving, now it’s not unheard of to hear Christmas music in mid-October at Stop & Shop. Not exactly Advent-y.
In a society where Black Friday deals (and now pre-Black Friday deals) seem to outpace a few moments of meaningful reflection, how can we be faithful in preparing our hearts for Jesus? “Our King and Savior now draws near,” declares the Book of Common Prayer. We, the people of God, are expected to respond—want to respond—“Come, let us adore him!”
This King draws near when we don’t expect him, maybe when we weren’t even watching. But God’s mercy is like that—unexpected. Unpredictable. And meted out to all the wrong people.
Jonah certainly thought of God’s mercy that way. Though a prophet—whose vocation was to proclaim God’s message of deliverance—he resisted God’s call, because he was angered at the Lord’s grace toward the evil empire of Nineveh. How much more offended might he have been at the scandal of the Incarnation, and at the universal, saving power of the Cross?
Jonah is an obvious counter-example as we seek to pursue a faithful response to God’s mercy. On further examination, however, we find ourselves more like Jonah than we want to admit.
At the church where I minister, we’re keeping Advent together, a season of expectation and inward preparation. Each of four Advent Sundays I am preaching from a chapter of Jonah. My hope is that we can engage Jonah’s inner turmoil as a springboard to inwardly reflect and prepare our own hearts for the coming of God’s great mercy, as revealed to us in his incarnate Son, Jesus
Our King and Savior now draws near—how shall we behold him?
The above is adapted from a letter I wrote to my congregation in advance of Advent. Keep coming back here for more posts on reading Jonah and receiving Jesus this Advent.
Zondervan has just published the first two volumes of a new Old Testament commentary series, Hearing the Message of Scripture. Here’s part of a brief description of its approach:
[W]hen dealing with specific texts, the authors of the commentaries in this series are concerned with three principal questions:
- What are the principal theological points the biblical writers are making?
- How do biblical writers make those points?
- What significance does the message of the present text have for understanding the message of the biblical book within which it is embedded and the message of the Scriptures as a whole?
The achievement of these goals requires careful attention to the way ideas are expressed in the OT, including the selection and arrangement of materials and the syntactical shaping of the text.
You can see PDF samples from Obadiah (by Daniel I. Block) here and from Jonah (by Kevin J. Youngblood) here. Zondervan’s book pages for each title are here and here. I’ve read half of the Obadiah volume so far and will post a review shortly.