Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, has conquered Babylon and has given the Jewish people permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. It seemed almost unfathomable. The Jews had been in Babylonian exile for 70 years. Long enough for children and grand-children to be born under harsh Babylonian rule. Many never had the chance to return home and died in exile, but now, new life was emerging for the Jewish people. They would have a fresh start in life.
They return to Jerusalem and with Cyrus the Great’s blessing, they even return with resources and livestock. It was truly a new beginning. A do-over of sorts. The people, according to their different lines of work, begin reconstructing the temple foundation. Priest were able to begin offering sacrifices again. What seemed too good to be true was actually coming into fruition and it was cause for celebration.
But it was a bittersweet celebration. Many looked at the new foundation and celebrated with shouts of joy. It was the first time some of these survivors were even able to lay sight on the temple being built, something they had only heard about from their parents and grandparents. But it wasn’t all happiness for the people. Some were in mourning. Some were crying. Some were grieving, because what they were beholding was nothing compared to the temple’s former glory. It was but a remnant of what had been lost.
And this is what happens when misplace as hope, when we place our faith in buildings. The temple was the house of God, but the temple wasn’t God. The people needed something more than stone structures. Brick and mortar would never suffice in giving the people life. Rebuilding the temple is not what would bring life. It was God in the desert that sustained people. God in the temple that gave life. But not the temple itself.
Many generations later, this is what gives Simeon seeing Jesus as a child so much hope. Simeon was filled with the hope of salvation and freedom upon seeing the Messiah. Jesus would be the true glory of Israel, not the temple. Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles. And Simeon, so overwhelmed with what he had just experienced, declares to God that he could now die in peace, that God could now dismiss him, his servant.
Every story can be broken down into a few parts. The setting, where the story takes place and why it might be important. The characters and their emotions and thoughts invested in the story. A tension that needs resolved. A resolution that brings us through the tension, and a through line (aka main idea) that carries the story through from beginning to end.
The Setting Cyrus the great has conquered Babylon and given the Israelites permission to rebuild the temple.
The Characters King Cyrus of Persia, The Prophet Jeremiah, God of Jerusalem, The People, The Alter of God built by Jeshua, Zerubbabel, and their brothers.
The Tension What is that people see when they see the temple foundation being relaid? Some are full of shouts of joy, but some are full of mourning because the temple is just a remnant of its former glory. How can there be cries of mourning after rebuilding the temple?
The Resolution The temple was never designed to bring life. It was God in the temple that brings life. But now it’s Jesus, God made flesh, that will be the glory of Israel, a light to the Gentiles, the Messiah who brings life.
The Through Line In our waiting, there are many things that we can look to for strength and life. There’s only one true source of strength and life and that’s God.
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? This story brings clarity to how and what we value. Sometimes we just want things to be the way they were so we feel stability and life in our lives. For the Jewish people this was rebuilding the temple. In Western society it is often finding the right house, making enough money, or landing the perfect job. This basic human instinct is as old as life itself. In the overarching narrative of scripture, we see humanity chasing after all sorts of things to bring meaning to life, but it’s only God who brings meaning and makes life worth living.
How does this story help us love God? God is a sending God. God sent the Messiah into the world to be a light for us. There’s nothing in the cosmos that says God has to do that. God does do that because God is love.
How does this story help us love others? This story is a reminder to show grace and mercy not only to ourselves, but others as well, when we seek things other than God to bring us meaning and life. It’s a human problem that’s as old as time itself, one that we all wrestle with.
Reflections based onEzra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13; Luke 2:25-32;