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Advent Devotional for Thursday, December 22
• Revelation 21:22 – 22:5
Every time I read this passage, with its description of the city of God and the river of the water of life flowing “through the middle of the street of the city,” I think of Beth She’an.
I visited Beth She’an on a tour of Israel/Palestine as a graduate student writing a dissertation in Old Testament. Beth She’an was the place where the victorious Philistines hung the headless body of the slain Israelite King Saul from the city walls after the battle at Mt. Gilboa (1 Sam 31:10). Renamed “Scythopolis” by the Greeks and later rebuilt by the Romans as part of the Decapolis, it became a prototypical Roman town, with colonnaded streets and classical architecture. The thing I remember about Beth She’an was the way the roads were paved: great rectangular stones laid on the bias, pointing angularly toward a central ridge of hipped stone that ran the length of the thoroughfare. Beneath the center stones, our guide told us, the Romans laid the city sewer, so that water carrying refuse and human waste literally ran down the center of the street. The center ridge kept horse and foot traffic out of the sewer and also controlled the stench. We visited several Roman towns while on that trip, and everywhere the old Roman streets were preserved, there, too, was the central sewer.
It’s common knowledge that John’s image in Revelation 22 of the river of life running through the middle of the street harks back to the image of the river that flows from Eden in Genesis 2:10. But I often wonder if John isn’t also deliberately referring to the sewer that ran down the main street of every town in the Roman world of his day. I wonder if John isn’t saying metaphorically that, in the New Creation whose coming we anticipate in Advent, God transforms the least and least likely into the sources of life and hope. The last become the first. Mustard seeds become huge bushes. Sewers become streams of mercy. A baby born in a stable becomes Messiah and Lord.
Shall we gather at the river?
God of transformation and surprise, teach us to perceive the unexpected architecture of your grace so that, looking around us as it is, we might peer through to the world as you intend it to be. Amen.
Associate Dean for Minsterial Formation and Advanced Studies
For the glory of God and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary is a seminary in the Presbyterian-Reformed tradition whose mission is to educate and equip individuals for the ordained Christian ministry and other forms of Christian service and leadership; to employ its resources in the service of the church; to promote and engage in critical theological thought and research; and to be a winsome and exemplary community of God's people.
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