- Date: December 17, 2023
- Bible Reading: Ezra 1:1-4, 3:1-4, 10-13
- Free Resource: Building Together (Small Groups, NL)
- Unit Theme (December 3—December 25): Promises Made, Promises Kept
- The Point: We should worship God in joy or sadness when God keeps God’s promises.
In this Advent reading from Ezra, we can rejoice and weep with the Jews returning from exile and hear the echo of God’s promises from the exodus to the Messiah.
Gaudete et Flete
We have passed the midway point in the season of Advent and are now at the 3rd Sunday of Advent. In many traditions, this has a special name: Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice,” so this is the Sunday of Joy. And there is indeed joy in our readings in Ezra. The people of Israel are released from exile and can return to their land. The altar in Jerusalem is rebuilt and the foundation of the temple has begun construction. But joy is not the only emotion in attendance. While some shout for joy, others are weeping (flete).
Both emotions are appropriate for Advent and Christmastime, even if we try not to acknowledge the sadness and grief we or others might be feeling. If you haven’t already done so, this reading would be a good opportunity to encourage your faith formation participants to name the various emotions they might be feeling this season, and possibly their causes. I would also highly recommend reading this month’s For Leaders blog post “Grief and the Holidays” by Pace Warfield.
Cycles and Echoes
We have all heard the statement about the dangers of not knowing our history. But even when we know what has happened before, we can still repeat it. Human history reflects human nature, for better or for worse. The author of the Book of Ezra and the authors of the other History books were very concerned with explaining theologically how God’s people had come to be in exile from the land God gave them, and how to keep it from happening again. You can see cycles and echoes described throughout the texts. Our most recent one in the Narrative Lectionary is Jeroboam echoing the idolatry of the golden calf made by Aaron and the people at Sinai.
Echoes of David and Solomon
In our set of readings today, the first echo I can identify is from King Cyrus of Persia, who declared:
“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah.”Ezra 1:2
The “house” here is, of course, the temple, and this language brings us back to when King David wanted to build a house for God. Instead, God promised a house (dynasty) for David and that his son would build the temple. God charged Solomon with the task of building the temple, and he did.
A term associated with the promised Son of David who would sit on the throne forever is messiah. And this is what God calls Cyrus in the prophecy of Isaiah 45:1-7. The followers of Jesus hundreds of years later identified Jesus as the Messiah (or, in Greek, the Christ). This doesn’t reject the identification of Cyrus as a messiah, just not the Messiah. I don’t know if anyone ever thought that Cyrus fulfilled all of God’s promises about the Messiah.
Echoes of the Exodus
The clearest echoes here are the echoes of the exodus, the defining story of the people of Israel. The situations are clearly analogous. The people have been held captive by a mighty foreign power and kept from the land God had promised them. Now, God raises up a leader to bring the people home. In Egypt, it was Moses, an Israelite of the tribe of Levi, who accompanied the people on their journey. In Babylonia, it is Cyrus, a foreign king who gave permission for the people to return by royal decree.
During the exodus, God told the people to get gold, silver, and other valuables from their Egyptian neighbors:
“Tell the people that every man is to ask his neighbor and every woman is to ask her neighbor for objects of silver and gold.”Exodus 11:2
As the Jews returned from exile, Cyrus’ decree gave a soft command to their Babylonian neighbors to do the same:
“Let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”Ezra 1:4
Echoes of Sinai
Of course, the most important part of the exodus story (aside from the escape itself) is God giving the Torah to the people through Moses on Mount Sinai. This is echoed in Ezra with the meticulous attention to the worship instructions described in the “Torah of Moses, the man of God” (Ezra 3:2). The people even celebrate Sukkot, the festival remembering the time their ancestors spent in the wilderness.
Echoes of Advent
This story of restoration and rebuilding is a bit out of place in the season of Advent. After all, the advent (coming) we are celebrating is the advent of the Messiah in the Bethlehem stable and the second advent in the future when this same Messiah will establish a new world of justice, shalom, and love. But Jesus connects himself to the temple:
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.John 2:19-22
The return of the people to Jerusalem and Judah was the next step in the coming of the Son of David.
May we resonate with the echoes of God’s love,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “Building Together” from our Living the Word: Small Groups (NL) discussion guides, though the activity can be adapted for most ages!
Order Faith Formation Resources
The Winter quarter began on December 3, 2023, with the first Sunday of Advent! Did you only order the Fall quarter and need to complete the year? Are you still looking for easy-to-use, theologically sound, and effective resources for the Narrative Lectionary, as well as for the Revised Common Lectionary, and even classic Sunday school Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th (check our blog post for a special discount)?
Looking for a resource for intergenerational events, a whole-church series, or even something new for Sunday school? Check out our Learning Together series! These five-lesson units are available on six different topics, one of which is FREE! The other five are quite affordable with variable pricing starting at $25 for a program with 1-10 participants. Perfect for children’s and intergenerational ministries, family or churchwide events, and even a whole-church Advent series!
At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:
- Resources for the Narrative Lectionary (2023-2024): Products for all ages.
- Classic Sunday School Curriculum: Key Bible stories for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th, also great for your Christian elementary school!
- Learning Together: Five-lesson topical units for VBS, Sunday school, children, and intergenerational classes.
- Cross+Generational Confirmation
- Resource for the Revised Common Lectionary (2023-2024): Intergenerational classroom.
- Worship and Liturgy Education