As you know, I’ve been preaching this Advent on forgotten characters from the Christmas Story. This week I chose Jerusalem, and so I’d like to do something a bit different: preach a story/sermon from Jerusalem’s perspective, as it were.
I bet you didn’t even notice me, did you?
You’ve been watching the story unfold: Zechariah and his Temple service, interrupted by the angel. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy, and the birth of their son John. Mary’s angelic visit, and the birth of her son, named Jesus. Mary and her husband Joseph brought little Jesus to me and to my Temple, for the ceremonies due a first born baby boy. And of course who could forget Herod’s little temper tantrum.
Don’t look at me like that. I’ve been here for a thousand years, and I’ve seen worse than that, far worse. It isn’t a blessing to be a famous city, not when it means everyone fights over you. The sieges always end with my starving people eating their own children, and then so much death. Herod is one in a long line continuing the tradition.
But anyway. I’m in this story too, in my own small way, even if you haven’t noticed. I have the Temple within my walls, after all: Zechariah was here, and then Jesus and His parents. Herod has a palace here, too, and the wise men passed through on their way to find Jesus.
And that’s because Jesus was born for me, just as much as for you.
Maybe don’t look so skeptical. You know your history, right? I’ve been fought over since I was built, besieged and captured and burned and razed and rebuilt, over and over. Take the Babylonians–they weren’t even the last to besiege me anymore, but they are the ones that everyone remembers. They saw, rightly enough, that I was at the heart of the Israelites’ religion and government and everything else. The king lived here; the people came here to see the Temple, to worship and sacrifice there. They brought their children, their livestock, their prayers. I was the center of the world, the most beautiful place on earth to them. Some said that God lived here, in the Temple, enthroned on the cherubim of the ark of the covenant. I was beautiful.
And the Babylonians destroyed it. They came with their siege engines and their soldiers, and starved my people into submission until they lost the final battle. My king fled, and was captured; my walls were torn down, my buildings burned, my people taken away from me, the Temple destroyed. Every last holy thing from inside it was taken away or melted down, and I was less than nothing.
My people returned, of course–some always do. They rebuilt me, stone by stone, fighting all the way, but it just wasn’t the same. Maybe I was vain by then, but I used to be beautiful! At first, after the rebuilding, I was just a few plain buildings!
The prophets promised better things to come. They said that I would be beautiful again, that God would favor me again–that once again I would be the center of everything, the place people come to rejoice and worship. They promised that I would more than be returned to my former glory.
And yes, I know how prophets work. I know that they weren’t just talking about me. By promising my restoration, they are talking about all of the people, maybe even the whole world. I know that. But I so long for them to be right. I ache for things to be good again, for God to truly return. I’ve had enough of being a symbol, fought over and killed for. Herod’s temple that he rebuilt just isn’t the same; it’s not really about the temple at all, just another way for him to cement his legacy. I hear him talking.
Well, I hear everyone talking. That’s why I knew about Zechariah, and I heard about John and Jesus’ births. I heard the way the people at the temple were inspired by Jesus’ presence: they called him the salvation God has promised to the people of Israel. The angels called him the Son of God.
I don’t really get it. I mean, a little boy? He can’t even crawl yet! What’s God doing? How is this my salvation? or anyone else’s? And why would God even want to come be present as a baby? as a human being? Being a human being is no easy thing.
The angels are right, though. Look–I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen God do a lot. I don’t always notice it–I’ll be the first to admit that. There are a few prophets we all know the names of who walked my streets without me paying the slightest bit of attention. But this baby–I can see God is moving in and through him. God was definitely there, that morning in the temple, and after. I watched baby Jesus and his parents all the way out of my walls, and for that entire walk, God was there. That baby really is the Son of God–I’ve felt God’s presence enough, over the centuries, to know. Things are moving. Something is shifting in the world.
And I don’t mean in politics, or even religion. I mean in the very fabric of the world. Something has changed, and it feels permanent. All those words the prophets spoke, about my restoration and indeed the restoration of all God’s people–the abundance, the joy, the justice–all of that feels closer. More real and solid and present in the world. And, I mean–God coming as a human being to live on earth? To walk my streets someday? That is a game changer. No wonder something feels different–this has changed the world. (How could it not?)
So I guess now all there is to do is wait–wait for the prophets’ words to come true, wait for God to bring the promised justice and peace and joy, and most of all to wait for Jesus to be able to do more than babble.
I can’t wait to see what He’ll do.