Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13

These passages are found in the Narrative Lectionary, Advent 3, Year 2. (Most recently Dec 13, 2015)

Summary:  Ezra is a complex story about the relationship between the church and state; between religious freedom and persecution; between civic religion and cult.  Given what is happening in our country, this seems like a profoundly relevant passage.  Challenge -- making it connection to Christmas and Advent?  I think one can find this in chapter 3:10-13 and the idea that the foundation has been laid, but the building is not yet there.  We praise God for the foundation, but wait for the fullness of the temple.
Key words: 

רוח ("rauch" meaning "spirit"; 1:1) The NIV translates this as "heart."  It is literally "spirit."  The imagery is that God awoke the spirit of Cyrus.  This is an interestingly reflection on how God interacts with the powerful in the world.  Oh, Lord, send again your spirit to awaken our leaders!

נדבה ("nedabah" meaning "freewill offering";1:4)  This can refer to a specific type of offering, see here for info on this.  What is significant is that the people would be under no royal edict to offer this worship.  It seems strange that, first, Cyrus would allow people to go home, second, that he would allow people to rebuild the temple, and then third, would not compel people to worship there.  (Later in 3:4, there will be mandatory offerings too, but this time imposed by the Jewish religious leaders, not the Persian king.)

כאיש אחד  (a preposition, a noun and an adjective meaning "as one man" translated "together"; 3:1)  The NRSV translates this as "together" but I don't think that this gives a the sense of unity here full justice!  Perhaps this is the unity we experience as we worship on Christmas Eve!

הוסד ("whosed" from a verb meaning "to establish or found";3:11)  What I want to point out here is that though foundation is laid, it will be years before the temple is built.  Numerous obstacles will occur including a seemingly friendly offer from Samaritans that turns into a total road block.  (This is a reminder that religious freedom and worship are not always easy!) 
Perhaps in this we can connect to Advent -- we give thanks to the Lord, like the ancient Jews, because the foundation of the new world of Jesus Christ has been laid, but we have not yet seen the full tabernacle.  Just the foundation is good enough though, for praise!