The Rage of Being Flesh: Advent with the prophet Jonah

Icon of the prophet Jonah from the Menologion of Basil II, 11th century

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
(Jonah 4:9)

Advent devotionals do not usually start here, with the prophet Jonah angrily beneath his vine, wanting to see Ninevah destroyed and his vine restored. But I’m beginning here this year for two reasons. The first is that I am angry, much of the time, and I know that 2020 has made many people angry, so for Advent to transform us this year we might need to enter it just as we are and watch to see what God does to change us. The second is that, like Jonah, I often miss what God is really doing, and how it saves me and the world, because I am too busy raging over what I want Him to be doing instead. And so I enter this Advent as Jonah, wanting to do what God wants yet torn apart by my own rage and the way it blinds me to the truth of God-with-us.

I am also struck by the ways that anger points to Advent. It may not seem so at first, but we are so often angered by the now and not yet of life, by the glory and the goodness we feel we should be living in – that we feel is our right – and the many ways in which reality does not conform to our expectations, though we see glimmers of it everywhere. In every day there are signs of God-transfiguring glory – vines that burst out of nowhere to give us shade; grace that pulls us out of the whale’s belly and into – what? Everyday obedience. Hot sun that wearies us. And the dull, humiliating necessity of loving our enemies. The anger that simmers or explodes at these daily realities can, if viewed through the prism of Advent, be found to reveal our deepest longings and the agony that comes from them being thwarted each day. At the heart of this is the truth for which God created us and which He is redeeming in the world even now.

Are we right to be angry? No, I for one am not, most of the time. But the things that make me angry, whether righteous or not, can tell me much about how I expect the world to be, and consequently what I expect God to do for me. Some of the reasons for my anger reveal the things that I know are not right in this world and that need to be made right. Others point to that which is not right in me. All this I must bring to God in Advent, so I can speak truthfully to Him in the darkness of waiting and let His Spirit speak to me. I must sit with Jonah and God and let Him ask us both, Are you right to be angry? And then I must stop and listen to what He has to say next.

Will you join me and Jonah this Advent and listen too?

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