Silence and Sound, Day 4

The following is an excerpt from a free advent devotional guide put together by myself and several close friends.  To download this guide, see here.

Week 1
Day 4: The Intertestamental Period
by meridith matson

Within one blank page in our Bibles, much happens in the story of the nation of Israel and within the scope of world history as well. This page between the Old and New Testaments represents a 400 year period of time known as the the Intertestamental Period. This era is known as a time of silence, where God does not speak through a prophet. This time of silence, however, was not an uneventful period in history, or an idle time in which God was not actively present in the world. There were many changes in the region of Israel that also directly impacted the people of Israel during this time.  

The rise of Alexander the Great, and his conquests within this region of the world, significantly impacted culture.  His ideals, as taught to him by the philosopher and his teacher, Aristotle, gave him a vision for unity.  During this drive for unity the Greek language, culture, and ideals were violently forced upon the world in a process known as Hellenization. After the death of Alexander the Great, the areas he conquered were divided into four sections ruled by four generals.  

Another significant period was the Maccabean Era (165-63 BC).  During this time, an elderly priest named Mattathias rebelled against Syrian officials who were trying to force the Jewish people to participate in heathen activities. As a result, a large group of faithful Jews followed him and later led the “Maccabean Revolt.”  These Jews were responsible for eventually cleansing the Temple and restoring devout Jewish worship.  In their persistence, they created the culture and norms present when Jesus shows upon the pages of the New Testament.

Upon further study, we see that though it was a time of silence God was anything but removed from His people.  In the fullness of time, when everything was culturally, politically, and religiously the way God intended them to be, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be born of a young Jewish girl.  And through this baby, change arrived: not just for those of Jewish descent, but for the entire world.

Contemplation:
Can you think of some “blank pages” in your life, times when you felt God was silent or that you had removed yourself from God’s presence? What unexpected revelations came out of that time?

 

For more on the Intertestamental Period see: http://www.thetransformedsoul.com/additional-studies/spiritual-life-studies/the-intertestamental-period-and-its-significance-upon-christianity
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Silence and Sound Advent Devotional

Faithful readers,

As promised, our contemplative Advent devotional is ready now for download.  Beginning Friday, December 1 through December 25, enjoy a reading and contemplative exercise each day.

Silence and Sound 2
Download Advent Devotaional

Silence & Sound Advent 2017 is our gift to you this Advent season. We hope that through this devotional, you are called to deeper understanding and fuller practice of the faith we share in Christ! We worked together across the world to compile these readings and thoughts as short daily readings with accompanying contemplations or actions you can pick up at any point in the day or integrate into your personal advent practice.”

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“Silence and sound are two vital themes in the Old Testament. Although this pair are often discussed as opposites, we have placed them on a spectrum–silence can sound like many different things. From the beginning, we encounter the silence of the void into which the Creator speaks, a certain silence of good creation at peace as the Creator rests; but also the silence of Adam during the Temptation, the silence of Eve as she gives the serpent too much shrift, the silence of dread that must have filled their ears, knowing the Lord God would show up. Silence gives the foundational mythos of Scripture its cadence, while sound accompanies the interventions of the Creator. God speaks, and the world is created, and so the morning stars sing for joy. Prophets prophesy and kings decree; people cry out in repentance, and then praise.

“All the way through, silence and sound punctuate this holy history of the Old Testament. The silence of pain: from the uncomfortable silence between Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah to the deathly silences Esther endured to save her people. The sound of distress: the sound of Israelites groaning under their slavery, the repentant sound of Nineveh’s decree, and the reluctant sound of Jeremiah’s prophecies. The silence of blessing: from the stupefied silence as his brothers are reconciled to Joseph to the hushed silence as the ark of the covenant is placed in the Temple. The sound of victory: the sound of the Lord God cursing the serpent, the sound of the ram’s horn and warrior’s shout crumbling Jericho, the sound of Isaiah’s response “Here am I.”

“Beyond these guiding narratives, we find silence and sound woven through the lives and the faith of believers throughout history. Silence and sound can be sources of strength when we have trained ourselves to hear them. If we will attune our ears and attend to the message, we will hear the glory of God in the sounds and silences of life. The Advent season is a reminder to us of the power of waiting and listening as well speaking out. May the voice of the Lord guide your lives and faith!”

Writers:

Bethany Stallings
Charlotte Cline-Smith
Meridith Matson
Nathan Bingaman
Scott Matson

Artist:

Ellie Stager
letterandjournal.com

Breaking silence, silently breaking

Last Friday evening I returned to Seoul after a long, hot week in Bangkok partnering with and learning from ministries deep in the trenches of the Red Light districts.  I’ve never been more thankful to flop in my own bed and simply be in silence (8 high school girls and 3 leaders all staying in one room is an experience too much for anyone – especially an introvert).  I have also never been more touched experiencing God at work in some of the darkest places on the planet.

Many stories and books lie unwritten (for now) after this intense trip, but today I write just one of them.

Jill* attends our school and is a Junior this year.  An extremely intelligent, sheltered 16-year-old with kind eyes and a compassionate smile holds a bright future in front of her.  This bright future, surely pushed on her by her ever-achieving Korean parents, consists of ivy league schools, some lucrative career she probably doesn’t want, and high academics along the way… this girl is now friends with a prostitute.

Jill confided in our team earlier during the trip that she doesn’t like to cry,
especially with people.
She only cries alone.
When told that this trip “makes you cry” she questioned, “What if I don’t cry?  Does that mean I don’t care?”

I assured her everyone’s response to injustices like trafficking and prostitution is different.  Some people respond with tears, others respond with anger and even some respond with silent breaking.

As we cleaned up the nail polish, put away the chairs and swept the room that evening, I noticed Jill was not with the rest of the team.  Our team threw a party – a party for prostitutes!  A prostitute party.  The blue hairs at church would change the subject at hearing about this kind of a party.  No one talks about prostitutes at church.  (Yet the Bible seems to be brimming with prostitutes – and what a horror to see that one of them, Rahab, even makes it into the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew’s Gospel!  This, my dear readers is for another blog.)

During the prostitute party, we laughed, oh how we laughed.  Laughter always seems to extend beyond language and cultural barriers.
The gift of laughter breaks down walls.
Laughter reminds us we are all the same, we are all human.
We played games, we worshiped together, we experienced the Spirit of God at work in the lives of these precious women.  The only difference between “us” and “them” is just perhaps that life experiences somehow forced them to make a living in this way.  To be exploited and sell their bodies to survive.

Jill became friends with a prostitute.  A bleached-blonde, 40-year-old beautiful Thai woman.  This woman waited patiently to talk to Jill.  She waited patiently to have Jill, and only Jill, paint her nails.  They laughed together trying to bridge the language gap and made a strong connection that night.  The 16-year-old Korean girl and the 40-something-year-old prostitute.

After the women left and we continued cleaning, I discovered Jill in the corner, alone, with crocodile tears streaming down her eyes.  She looked away from me as I approached her, embarrassed.  This young girl who doesn’t like to cry in front of anyone; so I simply wrapped my arms around her.

“Yesterday when we saw the women standing in front of the bars and on the streets I was numb.  I didn’t feel anything.”

“But tonight, I realized these women are people.”

 

* Names changed to protect identities, of course

There are many ministries who work to provide jobs with dignity to men and women who are in vulnerable situations, especially in Bangkok.  For more information, or if you’d like to donate any amount please visit:
http://www.dtonnaam.org/
http://www.nightlightinternational.com/about/

instead, pray

“Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray.” Philippians 4:6 (The Voice)

I love trees.  Green, vibrant leaves.  Tall, dark brown trunks.  Nestled in a quiet forest.  This is calm: staring and examining them in stillness.

Growing up in Oregon only fostered my love for trees, and I am still fascinated by the redwoods – the tall, strong redwood trees.  Standing still and ageless, lining the long, winding roads between central Oregon and the coast.  (I confess my obsession with these trees could also be because Return of the Jedi was filmed in Oregon in the redwoods.. I digress.)

When I turned ten we moved into a new house with a backyard full of cherry trees and apple trees.  I dreamed of waking up early and picking fruit each morning – of course this dream quickly dissolved when we discovered birds ate all the cherries, which were only really ripe about two weeks out of the year, and the apples were filled with worms and all sorts of other creatures that shouldn’t be consumed.  The fruit produced by these trees remained uneatable.

Anxiousness often overcomes us and we discover the fruit born of our anxious thoughts are fruits of worry and fear. Thoughts planted in our minds blossom into something – thoughts of lust, fear, greed, pride, and a whole host of other fruits that are more flesh than spirit.

Instead of anxiousness and worry, Paul tells the Philippian believers to instead pray. No formula, no article entitled: “10 Steps to Worry Less.” Just a simple solution: pray. And the fruit of this action?  Peace.  A peace that “(is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.” Philippians 4:7 (The Voice)

Paul goes on to list what the seeds of our thoughts should be: the seeds to plant that will produce the fruit of peace: “Fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praise worthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me – do it- and the peace of God will walk with you.” Philippians 4:8-9.

Seeds of beauty, truth, that which is lovely, good, virtuous and praiseworthy produce those fruits, which ultimately guards us with the peace of God.

Picturing those tall redwoods, or imagining the cherry and apple trees of my childhood, I see wormy apples and cherry pits left behind by the birds.  Uneatable fruit.  But today in my own anxiousness and worry, I pray.  Seeking to plant seeds of truth and goodness, producing not fear or multipied anxiousness, but instead peace.

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146,000 silent nights

Malachi 3:1  “’I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

These were last words God spoke.  For 400 years.

The people waited.
And they kept waiting.
400 years passed;
God was silent.
146,000 silent nights.
But all the people were watching and waiting,
and watching some more.

They were not fighting each other.
They were not worshipping other gods…
for the first time in a LONG time.

They knew God was with them as they watched and waited,
but, the promise…
from the prophet Isaiah:
For unto us a son is born
Unto us a son is given
The peace, justice, righteousness…
they knew these were coming.
They knew HE was coming.

But, do you think the people wanted to give up?
Did they get tired of waiting?
Did they think God’s promises weren’t going to come to be?

Maybe.

But the next time God spoke, it wasn’t through a judge, king or prophet.
It was in the cry of a Baby.
God would break the silent nights, with a not so silent night,
through the screaming cry of a baby.
The Son of God,
Emmanuel,
GOD WITH US.

Two people waited expectantly day and night in the temple worshipping God, waiting for the Messiah, or the Christ.

Luke 2:25-32  “There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple complex. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for Him what was customary under the law, Simeon took Him up in his arms, praised God, and said:
‘Now, Master, You can dismiss Your slave in peace, as You promised.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples— a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel.'”

Luke 2:36-38  “There was also a prophetess, Anna […] . She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and was a widow for 84 years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Simeon and Anna both were waiting,
and after waiting so long, they finally gazed into the eyes of God-
a baby.

Someone asked me last week – why do we celebrate Jesus coming at Christmas time so much? What’s so special about it?

Jesus was and still is the hope of all mankind.
Jesus was and is God – who came to earth to live as one of us,
to share in our sufferings, our struggles,
to live as we live,
and years later – this baby, now a man
would die on a cross and rise again
because of one reason:

LOVE.

God’s love for us – you and I and this entire world
is so big that he didn’t leave us alone,
He didn’t leave us to walk this life alone
He came to be with us,
He came to rescue us.

And that indeed is good news,
the good news of love
that was worth waiting for all those years.

Love.

 

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The mystery and wonder

There is something about Advent 
Filled with mystery and wonder
in the midst of busy lives filled with noise
noise that simply fills the silence
we are invited to pause, reflect and wonder once again.

Imagine how it is that God himself became man
how it is that God took on human flesh
we stand in awe of the mystery of the incarnation
can we ever humanly understand this beautiful, awful, preposterous thing?

But God dwelled.
God dwelled among his people
Tabernacled with his people
so we could have a mediator
the God-man.
Emmanuel, God with us.

The wonder of Advent is the story,
the story that each moment,
we are invited once again to join
again and again.
Because no, it’s not just a story,
its the reality of mankind:
hope.

And hope is a person: Jesus Christ.

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