We’re 12 days into Advent, and if your calendar looks anything like mine, the Christmas season is just now kicking into high gear. In fact, sitting down in the midst of a busy morning makes understanding today’s readings even harder. Let’s be honest, it’s a bit difficult to figure out how these readings work together, and what in the world they have to do with the Advent season. They’re definitely not the kind of verses we write on note cards or put on Instagram sunrise photos. Today, they end up leaving me with a big question mark.
Take today’s Psalm, for instance. David talks repeatedly about how the righteous will prosper, and the wicked will fail. It seems like a pretty simple spiritual formula: do God’s will, and you’ll eventually succeed. That’s encouraging, but what happens when that doesn’t work with reality? What would Job say about this Psalm? Or, more importantly for today, what about the people in Smyrna and Pergamum who are suffering “even to the point of death” because of their faith (Revelation 2:10)? That sure doesn’t sound like David’s promise that the “blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care (Psalm 37:18).” What gives?
Well… the answer isn’t simple. Definitely not simple enough to explain in a small devotional blog post. But there are clues in today’s readings, especially in the Revelation passage. Jesus is speaking to churches who are facing intense persecution, the kind we can’t begin to imagine in today’s American reality. They’re disillusioned, discouraged, and probably ready to give up. In the face of that suffering, Jesus tells them to hang on, “even to the point of death.” In fact, he turns reality upside-down:
“I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” Revelation 2:9
Take that verse, and use it as a lens to read Psalm 37, and what happens? It unlocks a whole new meaning behind David’s poetry. Do the righteous really prosper? Absolutely, but not in the way you’d think. And what does it mean to be righteous? Take a look at the Matthew passage, and you’ll find another important lens.
This is exactly what makes the Daily Office so important. It forces us to remember that the Bible is so much larger than just a collection of simple snapshots or quotable verses. Scripture tells a huge story, from Genesis to Revelation, and every piece of the story ties into the whole. When we only focus on soundbytes, and forget the larger symphony, problems are inevitable. But if we just keep reading… over time, day by day, something beautiful emerges from the snapshots.
So, if you find yourself getting stuck on a daily reading, not understanding what it means, don’t give up. Keep reading, keep asking questions and don’t settle for the easy answers. Eventually, you’ll begin to hear more than just soundbytes, and enjoy the symphony.