URC Daily Devotion 18th February

1 LORD, plead my case when I am charged
by foes maliciously;
And fight for me, when they attack
and vent their spite on me.

2 Take up your shield! Come to my aid!
3 Speak to my soul and say,
“I’m your salvation.” With your spear
cut off my en’mies’ way.

4 May those who seek to take my life
endure disgrace and shame;
May those who plot my overthrow
turn back the way they came.

5 May they like chaff before the wind
be blown in disarray,
And by the angel of the LORD
be driven far away.

6 LORD, make their pathway insecure,
in darkness hard to find;
And let the angel of the LORD
attack them from behind.

7 Since they have spread a net for me
without a cause at all,
And for no reason dug a pit
that in it I might fall,

8 Let ruin seize them, and let them
in their own net be caught;
May they instead fall in their pit
and so to death be brought.

9 Then will my soul rejoice in God
and in his saving name.
10 “Who is a God like you, O LORD?”
my heart and soul exclaim.

“The poor you rescue from the hands
of those who are too strong;
You save the poor and weak from those
who rob and do them wrong.”

11 Malicious witnesses rise up
and falsely slander me;
I have no knowledge of the things
they ask accusingly.

12 They pay back evil for my good
and leave my soul forlorn.
13 Yet, at their illness, I would fast
and, clad in sackcloth, mourn.

And when my prayers were not heard,
14 I mourned as one bereaved
Of mother, brother, closest friend;
I bowed my head and grieved.

15 But when I slipped, they gathered round
and gloated with delight;
They came upon me unawares
to vent on me their spite.

Unceasingly they slandered me;
16 they mocked maliciously,
Like those who have no fear of God,
and gnashed their teeth at me.

17 O Lord, how long will you look on?
Defend me from their strife;
From these marauding lions’ teeth
protect my precious life.

18 Then where the great assembly meets
to you I will give praise;
Among the crowds of worshippers
in thanks my voice I’ll raise.

19 Let him not gloat who, without cause,
is my fierce enemy,
Nor those who hate me unprovoked
stare spitefully at me.

20 They do not speak in peaceful words,
but cunning schemes have planned,
Accusing those who live at peace
and quiet in the land.

21 Triumphantly they shout and say,
“His wickedness we see!”
22 LORD, you have seen; hold not your peace.
Lord, be not far from me.

23 Awake, and rise to my defence!
Contend for me, my God.
24 Do not let them gloat over me;
in justice judge, O LORD.

25 Let them not think within their hearts,
“At last! just what we want!”
Nor let them say, “We’ve swallowed him”—
let that not be their taunt.

26 May all who gloat at my distress
know shame and loss of face;
May all who triumph over me
be covered with disgrace.

27 May those who long to see me cleared
shout out with joy and sing:
“The LORD be praised, who loves to see
his servant prospering.”

28 I will extol your righteousness;
I’ll praise you with my tongue.
I will proclaim your greatness, LORD,
and praise you all day long.

URC Daily Devotion 17th February

Eliphaz feels obliged to speak, to reprove Job for his lament and initially his words are a gentle rebuke to a friend. He then voices one of the doctrines of traditional wisdom, as though this will comfort Job: that an innocent person has never suffered a premature death.

It is hard to imagine that anyone today could believe this, let alone voice such ideas to a friend who is saying they want to die. But sometimes we fail to think about the impact our words will have and, more dangerously, fail to consider whether received wisdom, or long held beliefs, are actually true. As Eliphaz continues his speech he is obliged to concede that Job has never appeared to be a wicked person and deserving of his fate. However he still can’t bring himself to reject the idea that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.

It might seem that if God exercised justice in such a neat binary way the world would be a better place; but it only takes a moment’s thought to realise that people are neither completely righteous nor totally wicked. It is also evident that corrupt practice can certainly bring material rewards, status and power, while good people are often downtrodden and living in poverty. Life is messy and we often discover unintended negative consequences follow an initial decision that seemed like a good idea.

If we claim to understand how God’s justice works we are deceiving ourselves. Personally I also find the idea of God’s justice being delayed until an ‘end time’ when some will be saved and others condemned equally unsatisfactory, because I believe that the incarnation demonstrates that God cares about this world and the importance of justice in the here and now. Exactly what justice means and how it is exercised demand serious, ongoing, consideration, because circumstances and context have a bearing on it.

Eliphaz rubs salt into Job’s wounds by suggesting that he should be happy to receive God’s discipline (5:17); and he simply doesn’t appreciate how his own blinkered dogmatism is adding to Job’s pain. Let’s take care that we don’t do the same.

URC Daily Devotion 16th February

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.  Job said:

‘Let the day perish on which I was born,
   and the night that said,
   “A man-child is conceived.”
Let that day be darkness!
   May God above not seek it,
   or light shine on it.
Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.
   Let clouds settle upon it;
   let the blackness of the day terrify it.
That night—let thick darkness seize it!
   let it not rejoice among the days of the year;
   let it not come into the number of the months.
Yes, let that night be barren;
   let no joyful cry be heard  in it.
Let those curse it who curse the Sea,
   those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan.
Let the stars of its dawn be dark;
   let it hope for light, but have none;
   may it not see the eyelids of the morning—
because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb,
   and hide trouble from my eyes.

‘Why did I not die at birth,
   come forth from the womb and expire?
Why were there knees to receive me,
   or breasts for me to suck?
Now I would be lying down and quiet;
   I would be asleep; then I would be at rest
with kings and counsellors of the earth
   who rebuild ruins for themselves,
or with princes who have gold,
   who fill their houses with silver.
Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child,
   like an infant that never sees the light?
There the wicked cease from troubling,
   and there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners are at ease together;
   they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.
The small and the great are there,
   and the slaves are free from their masters.

‘Why is light given to one in misery,
   and life to the bitter in soul,
who long for death, but it does not come,
   and dig for it more than for hidden treasures;
who rejoice exceedingly,
   and are glad when they find the grave?
Why is light given to one who cannot see the way,
   whom God has fenced in?
For my sighing comes like my bread,
   and my groanings are poured out like water.
Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me,
   and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
   I have no rest; but trouble comes.’

URC Daily Devotions 15th February

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord.  The Lord said to Satan,‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’  The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.’  Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’  The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.’

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads.  They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

For Job life gets even tougher as he contracts a nasty skin disease which covers him from head to toe. He has no idea where it’s come from and he’s certain he doesn’t deserve it. In the ancient world diseases and any kind of suffering were understood as divine punishment for sin; and this book wants to challenge that theology. Again, as readers, we are assured that God knows Job remains ‘blameless’.

Job feels like rubbish and goes to sit among the rubbish away from other people. But still Job doesn’t rail against God, or sin in any way, even when his wife encourages him to ‘curse God, and die’. He refuses to deny the sovereignty of God and God’s freedom to act in ways that we cannot understand. He refuses to let go of faith and to live as one alienated from God.

Personally I wish the text expressed Job’s reproof to his wife as the speech of ‘any foolish person’, rather than ‘any foolish woman’; but it stems from a community and a time where patriarchy prevailed. Gender is not the issue here but the folly of rejecting God whenever life doesn’t go the way we would wish. Job speaks truly when he declares that God is the source of everything, good and bad alike, a truth also expressed in Isaiah 45:7.

Then Job’s three friends come to offer him pastoral support for they have heard about his troubles. They are shocked at his appearance and consult together about how to respond and the amazing thing is that they don’t go away, fearful that they might catch the same disease. They don’t nominate one of them to be their spokesperson leaving the other two free to depart. They don’t offer words of comfort, or go straight in with questions to Job about his situation. They simply weep and sit alongside him in silence, sharing his misery for a whole week.

It can be so tempting to stay away from someone who is suffering when we feel inadequate and don’t know what to say or do. Often, though, our presence and readiness to share someone else’s grief is the best response we can make and exactly what is needed as a real expression of love.

Holy God,
you are the source of all that is
and I praise you
for all the experiences of life.
Help me to remain faithful,
whatever befalls me.

Thank you for my friends,
especially those who have stuck by me
in the tough times
and revealed your love to me.
Help me to be a loving friend to others,
willing to give of my time
and my presence
in response to their need.

Help me to know
when to keep my mouth shut
and to recognise
that I don’t have all the answers,
nor the wisdom to understand
what the real questions are.
Sustain me by your love
and let that love flow through me
to any who are in need today. Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Emmanuel URC in Cambridge.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion Ash Wednesday

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.  There were born to him seven sons and three daughters.  He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.  His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them.  And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt-offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ This is what Job always did.

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan  answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’  The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.’  Then Satan  answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing?  Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them,  and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’  While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.’  While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’  While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.’

Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped.  He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

As Lent begins we think of Jesus, at the start of his ministry, being tempted in the wilderness by ‘the devil’ or ‘Satan’; the description depends upon which Gospel and which Bible translation we read. It is easy to think of such a figure as acting in opposition to God; but here at the start of Job we find the same character – the satan – clearly presented as one of the heavenly beings serving God, who does nothing without divine sanction. The Hebrew noun translates as ‘adversary’ or ‘accuser’ and should not be understood as a proper name in this book. The figure functions a bit like the prosecuting counsel in a law court, the one who presents the evidence in support of an accusation that has been made.

In this chapter, we as the readers, are being told that God believes Job to be a completely ‘blameless and upright man’. However the conversation with the satan raises the question as to whether Job’s integrity is sincere, or motivated solely by the prospect of further blessings from God being received for good behaviour. Is he truly selfless and altruistic, or would Job act differently if life turned sour on him, or disaster struck? So God instructs the satan to put Job to the test.

It is important to recognise that this chapter doesn’t describe actual events but is a literary device designed to get us thinking about our behaviour and motivations; and about the theological problem of evil. God is not capricious and I do not believe in a God who deliberately inflicts (or sanctions) any kind of suffering on a human being.

Job passes his first test with flying colours; but I’m left wondering how I would feel if I lost everything that was precious to me. Material possessions are one thing and perhaps I need to learn to value these less highly; but the sudden loss of loved ones would be a very different matter. I hope my response would be to turn towards God with honesty, in grief, anger, turmoil, trusting that in God alone would I ultimately find the answers and the loving support I needed – but would I respond like that?

Jesus was willing to embark on a period of self-examination in the wilderness; and as his disciples it is appropriate for us to grapple with some of these difficult questions as we journey through Lent.

Gracious God,
may I be truly thankful
for all the blessings that are mine
and never expectant of receiving more.
Help me to surrender all that I have
to be used in your service.
Make me ready to engage in self-examination
as I follow Jesus on the road to the Cross. Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister in Cambridge.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Lent with Job

Dear <<First Name>>

Lent starts tomorrow – traditionally a six week period of preparation for Easter marked, before the Reformation, by fasting from meat and dairy products – Orthodox Christians still do this.  Many of us try and give something up for Lent, others try and take something up as a positive outworking of spirituality.  

During the first 28 days of Lent (not including Sundays) we will be looking at the Book of Job which is not a book many of us are familiar with.  Very little of it appears in the Lectionary for Sunday readings which is shame as this Book tries to deal with the problem of reconciling God’s justice with the suffering of humanity.  Tennyson felt that the Book of Job was the greatest poem of ancient and modern times so we think it’s well worth exploring over the next few weeks.

As a change to our normal pattern we have a guest writer for this series: the Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington who lectured, for many years, before her retirement, at our Westminster College in Cambridge.  Her speciality is the Old Testament.

We hope that this change to our regular pattern will be refreshing as we look at this little known book in the first part of Lent.

with every good wish


Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project


Daily Devotion 12th February

Thomas Hemerford was an English Reformation martyr.  A native of Dorset, he was educated at Oxford and then studied for the priesthood at English College in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1583, and returned to England, where he was swiftly arrested. Condemned for being a priest, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn with four companions. He was beatified, the first significant stage to being declared a saint, in 1929.
I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them!’
Recently in worship I asked two of my congregations what they had to be thankful for.  In one the simple freedom to worship was mentioned and we reflected on parts of the world where this isn’t possible.  An article in this week’s Tablet indicates that the Holy See and the Peoples’ Republic of China are edging towards signing an historic agreement to both establish diplomatic relations, after a 70 year break, and to end the conflict about the appointment of bishops (both Rome and the Chinese government wish to do this).  In other parts of the world the Church is more severely persecuted and the State doesn’t seek to interfere with Church governance but to completely suppress it. 
In the West we live in very tolerant, even indifferent, times and the idea of people being persecuted for their faith seems both horrific and distant.  We have selective memories and don’t often think of Protestant Christians killed by Catholics nor Catholic Christians killed by Protestants in these isles in the Reformation era.   
Hemerford had the misfortune to be called to ministry in the middle of Elizabeth I’s reign.  In many ways Elizabeth was a religious moderate but the entwining of Catholicism and treason meant death for priests sent, after training, from the Continent to the “English Mission.”  I always marvel at the bravery of those called to minister in the face of persecution and am thankful to live in a more tolerant age and work within a denomination which sees itself as both catholic and reformed.  I pray that one day, soon, no one will be persecuted for their beliefs and that, one day, all will be reconciled in God’s all-powerful loving presence.  
Lord Jesus,
You were killed for your faith,
and many now suffer discrimination,
imprisonment, torture and death
for their faith in you.
Comfort those who live with persecution,
bring the persecutors to repentance,
that we may live in a world
where oppressed and former oppressor
can run free together.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the minister of Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs in the Synod of Scotland.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 11th February

At all times I will bless the LORD;
I’ll praise him with my voice.
Because I glory in the LORD,
let troubled souls rejoice.

Together let us praise the LORD;
exalt his name with me.
I sought the LORD; his answer came:
rom fears he set me free.

They look to him and shine with joy;
they are not put to shame.
This suffering man cried to the LORD;
from him deliverance came.

The angel of the LORD surrounds
and guards continually
All those who fear and honour him;
he sets his people free.

Come, taste and see—the LORD is good;
who trusts in him is blessed.
O fear the LORD, you saints;
with need you will not be oppressed.

Young lions may grow weak
and faint and hunger for their food,
But those who wait upon the LORD
will not lack any good.

Come here, my children!
Gather round and listen to my word;
And I will help you understand
how you may fear the LORD.

Does anyone delight in life
and long to see good days?
Then keep your tongue from evil speech,
your lips from lying ways.

Depart and turn from evil paths
and practise what is right.
Desire to know the way of peace;
pursue it with your might.

The LORD’s eyes are upon the just;
he listens to their plea.
The wicked he rejects, and blots
from earth their memory.

The righteous cry; the LORD responds
and frees them when distressed.
The LORD draws near the broken heart
and rescues the depressed.

From all the troubles of the just
the LORD will set him free.
The LORD protects his every bone;
and broken none will be.

The wicked are condemned to death,
all those who hate the just.
God saves his own; they’re not condemned,
for in the LORD they trust.

You can hear a slightly different translation (starting at v7) , but in the same metre, sung to the lovely American tune Land of Rest here.

How often have we read this Psalm and marvelled at how the words really relate to us at the time? These words are attributed to David after a real life situation from which he had been delivered. The Lord was always looking after him, as he does each one of us. The incident is related in 1 Samuel 21:10-15, where David feigns madness and is, therefore, driven out, taking refuge in the Cave of Adullam. The words speak of a God who is good to know and experience, as well as the one to whom we can go whenever we are faced with fears which we can’t handle ourselves.

Not that these are the only key moments expressed here with which we can identify. Inspired many years ago but just as relevant to us in these diverse days in which we are living. How much we need the deliverance and surrounding protection which God alone is able to bring us when we trust in Him alone.

Probably never before have the words, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” been more appropriate, as they are in this day and age. All too often we see the Christian cause brought into disrepute, ridiculed and misquoted, and often contradicted in the press and on television. What comfort is to be found in the truth that God rescues all His people from situations in which they may find themselves, and not always of their own doing. In these words we find hope that when we take refuge in God, rather than trying to plead our own corner, God gives us His joy. No wonder the Psalm starts with such praise, blessing, boasting of the Lord, magnifying His name and shared excitement! May our spirits similarly rise as we “Exalt His name together!” knowing that He is the only one in whom we can find complete safety and security.

Ever present God,
our strong defence and deliverer.
Help us in those moments
when we are overtaken by fears,
crippled by our phobias,
and trapped in our own caves of isolation,
to know that we are safe in your hands,
surrounded by a greater strength
and security than this world knows
or can supply.
In humility Lord, we come to you,
asking you to free us from the fears that shackle us,
from the situations which give us despair,
releasing us into the freedom of worshipping you
as you so richly deserve.

Today’s Writer

Verena Walder is a Lay Preacher and Elder at Tabernacle URC, Mumbles.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 10th February

Then the remnant of Jacob,
surrounded by many peoples,
shall be like dew from the Lord,
like showers on the grass,
which do not depend upon people
or wait for any mortal.
And among the nations, the remnant of Jacob,
surrounded by many peoples,
shall be like a lion among the animals of the forest,
like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
and tears in pieces, with no one to deliver.
Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,
and all your enemies shall be cut off.
On that day, says the Lord,
I will cut off your horses from among you
and will destroy your chariots;
and I will cut off the cities of your land
and throw down all your strongholds;
and I will cut off sorceries from your hand,
and you shall have no more soothsayers;
and I will cut off your images
and your pillars from among you,
and you shall bow down no more
to the work of your hands;
and I will uproot your sacred poles from among you
and destroy your towns.
And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance
on the nations that did not obey.
In an attempt to answer a question I am asked with surprising frequency, I recently typed into Google, what happens when The Queen dies? to find out whether the school I work in would be closed when HM’s death is announced.  One news article gave extensive details of the ceremony and pageantry of the first ten days following her death. What I most remember from it, though, was a single sentence: ‘“The whole world is going to be doing this,” said one news executive, holding up his phone in front of his face.’ (Knight, 2017). Sadly, that strikes me as a very real possibility as we often view the world through a tiny screen measuring only a few square inches.

Like Israel, we have many calls on our time and most of them emanate from these magic little boxes we carry everywhere. Contained within my phone are my diary, bank, correspondence, photo album, television, address book, music collection, a few books, and every piece of work or sermon I have produced in the last few years. And, of course, I use my mobile for daily Bible study and devotions. It is quite common to find that large blocks of time have passed when the phone was only picked up to quickly check a fact on the internet or reply to a text. How did this come about when my original intention, back in 2001, had been to have a mobile to make emergency calls?

Sitting now, watching people walk past with their phones, it is easy to picture us as ancient Israelites bowing down to the work of our hands.  Will we need to have our mobiles cut off from among us too?

Knight, S. 2017 ‘’London Bridge is down’: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death’, The Guardian, 17 March. Available here

Lord God,
like your children of Israel
nearly three thousand years ago,
we are enthralled by human works.
Help us to lower the barrier
formed by these idols
so that we can approach you
with a keener interest
in your wondrous creation,
your guiding Word
and your Holy Spirit.

Today’s Writer

Helen Wilson, Local Preacher, South East Northumberland Ecumenical Area.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 9th February

Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pangs have seized you like a woman in labour?

Writhe and groan, O daughter Zion, like a woman in labour; for now you shall go forth from the city and camp in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued, there the LORD will redeem you from the hands of your enemies.

Now many nations are assembled against you, saying, “Let her be profaned, and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”

But they do not know the thoughts of the LORD; they do not understand his plan, that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.

Arise and thresh, O daughter Zion, for I will make your horn iron and your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many peoples, and shall devote their gain to the LORD, their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.
Now you are walled around with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel upon the cheek.

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. If the Assyrians come into our land and tread upon our soil, we will raise against them seven shepherds and eight installed as rulers.

It feels like I’m in a time-warp.  As I write this reflection, we are only a few days away from the start of Advent and here I am reflecting on that ‘little town of Bethlehem’ – so no prizes for guessing which song has now taken residence in my brain!

Interestingly Bethlehem, small and insignificant though it was, pops up now and again in the history of God’s people.  Jacob’s wife Rachel, having died giving birth to Benjamin, was buried just outside Bethlehem (Gen 35:19).  The story of Ruth centres around  Bethlehem – Elimolech, husband of Naomi, came from Bethlehem but moved to Moab to avoid the famine. When he died, Ruth accompanied Naomi back to Bethlehem and married Boaz there. (Book of Ruth).  David was refreshed by water from the well at Bethlehem (2 Sam 23:14-16).  And then Micah drops into his prophecy that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem – and he does this some 700 or so years before the birth of Jesus.

In the Advent story, Herod’s chief priests and scribes were very aware of this prophecy – after all it may have been a tiny place but it was only a few miles from Jerusalem so they probably had it marked as a favourite on their SatNavs (Matt 2:3-6).  But they were probably pretty focussed on when the promised Messiah will put in an appearance and they probably knew the scriptures inside out anyway.  After all, God surely can’t want his people, his chosen people, to continue to live under these heathen Romans with their Gods and idols and ruthless soldiers.  He must surely be planning to sort this out pretty soon.  There’s been plenty of folk claiming to be ‘the One’, the Resistance, the Zealots have been making life difficult and lots of people have paid the price of these uprisings.  Surely the Messiah can’t be far away!

Little did they know just how close he was!

Amazing God,
As we look back over the big story,
we may be surprised
to see how your plan unfolds,
step by step.  
Our lives are filled with uncertainty,
disappointments and fear
as we look at the world in which we live.
Help us to move our attention
away from the fear-inducing elements
of our world to look instead
for signs of your handiwork,
your influence,
your love in action through us –
your imperfect yet perfect creations.  
Help us to look for the works of your Spirit
in our world and, having spotted them,
help us to rejoice and give thanks to you.  
Then we will be ready to give reason
for the hope we hold.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Sheila Coop is minister of Macedonia URC in Failsworth, Greater Manchester.

Bible Version


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