Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13
One of the things I like about the schedule of readings we use, it’s called the Narrative Lectionary, is the continuity we get from it in the stories we hear. Our first Advent reading was from Jeremiah and it described the Jewish people under siege from the Babylonians and being taken into exile. Last week’s reading from Isaiah talk about hope for the people who were in exile as well as sharing that hope with others and now today, we hear the good news of the people being freed from exile and what they do when they return home. That’s kind of fun because the Babylonians that took the people into exile had been overthrown by the Persians and it is the Persian King Cyrus who frees the Them. Take that Babylonia! Middle Eastern history and politics then were no less confusing as they are today.
The people are returning to Jerusalem where the temple, their holy house, has been destroyed. The central place of worship and really, the center of their faith system, no longer exists other than as a pile of rubble. It’s kind of an alien concept to us because if we lost our holy house we’d just go somewhere else. We have services here, we have services at the main building, we have services wherever we can find a spot to have services. I’d hate to lose our building but that’s because of the hassle factor not because it is central to my faith. Sorting out the insurance and finding some place new would just be an aggravation that I could do without. Our faith system, our faith, is not tied to a specific place. At least it’s not supposed to be. But for the Jewish people of that time, all of their worship and all of their rituals revolved around the temple and it’s no longer there.
Now what, they must be asking themselves? The now what is that they set the altar back on it’s foundation in the midst of what amounts to the remains of a dumpster fire and they got on with worship and rebuilding the temple. They did what King David had said so many years before but still held true for them, they, “11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” They recognized the source of their salvation from exile and they gave thanks and praised God. That’s now what.
This Advent season we too recognize the source of our salvation and we give thanks and praise God. It is good to enjoy the holiday parties and spending time with family and friends. It is good to decorate the house and looking at Christmas lights. It is good to have presents under the tree. It is particularly good to have a cookie walk so that we can have all kinds of treats. All these are good and worthwhile things but only have meaning this time of year in the context of the Christ child.
You can’t really take Christ out of Christmas. Ain’t nobody on this planet that has that kind of power. We can ignore Christ at Christmas and when we do that, that’s on us. Advent is an excellent reminder that Christ is the source of our salvation. With that thought we can frame the things we do in the season of Advent around the idea that our faith and worship is centered squarely on Jesus. Not on a building. Not on a celebration. Not on a present or two. But solely on Christ, our savior.