Pausing amid the Christmas rush

All Jonah wanted was to get away from the Lord. He ran off without a destination in mind. Deep down he actually knew that running away from God was useless. But it was worth a try. Then came a forced break; for someone who needed to calm down.

Jonah, a prophet called to speak judgement, is the central stubborn protagonist in one of the first short stories in the Bible. In the ninth century before Christ, he received the order from God to go to the people in Nineveh and preach repentance to them. The wickedness of the people had gotten out of hand. Jonah was to make a final appeal to them to repent.

A hasty escape

Jonah set off in a hurry perhaps because he was aware just how little his chances were of succeeding. But instead of setting off in the direction of Nineveh in the east, he went off in the opposite direction. He boarded a boat in Joppa in Israel and crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Tarshish (modern Spain). All he wanted was to get as far away as possible—to the end of the then known world.

A violent storm and a raging sea put an end to his escape plans. The sailors cast lots to see who of the passengers was responsible for this trouble. They took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea calmed down.

Reflective silence

As Jonah was lying in the fish’s belly he had a lot of time to think. There was nowhere to run. It was very quiet. It took three days and three nights before it became clear to him who he really was, what had happened, where he belonged, and what his mission was. The fish finally spewed him onto dry land. Jonah came through this ordeal surprisingly well and was told a second time to go to Nineveh. This time he went.

It did not take Jonah four weeks—the length of the Advent period—to come to his senses. It took him just three days. He used the forced break in the fish’s belly to meditate and repent.

Three days to Christmas

A compact Advent season, a sprint to slowness … Even three days before Christmas this is still possible. Even if God today no longer intervenes with storms and big fish, He nevertheless offers us opportunities to prioritise, to reflect, and to take a short but important break.

Whether this story really happened or whether it is a tale or a legend is really irrelevant. Important is the message this story wants to drive home: God speaks and human beings listen and repent. Judgement is transformed into grace.

A time to listen and reflect

Advent is a time of expectation, but also a time to listen, meditate, and repent. Now, at the latest, we should take some time out of our busy schedules and break with our routine. After all, Christmas commemorates the greatest turning-point in human history: God coming to man in Jesus!

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Oliver Rütten
Advent, Christmas