You might think I’m crazy to admit this, but sometimes the first thing I do in the morning, right before praying, is look at Facebook. This morning when I checked in I was met with three things that gave me so much to pray for.
First I saw the fourth anniversary of the Newtown Elementary School Shooting. Second I saw the destruction and killing in Aleppo. Third I saw that Dylann Roof’s confession of the Charleston church shooting.
Having taken in the law, I looked for the Gospel by reading Zachariah 8:1-17. Take a moment to read it, looking for words of hope.
The word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the LORD: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the LORD of hosts? Thus says the LORD of hosts: I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Let your hands be strong — you that have recently been hearing these words from the mouths of the prophets who were present when the foundation was laid for the rebuilding of the temple, the house of the LORD of hosts. For before those days there were no wages for people or for animals, nor was there any safety from the foe for those who went out or came in, and I set them all against one other. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, says the LORD of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, the ground shall give its produce, and the skies shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.
For thus says the LORD of hosts: Just as I purposed to bring disaster upon you, when your ancestors provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, says the LORD of hosts, so again I have purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; do not be afraid. These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the LORD.
This text follows a series of visions from Zechariah and is during a period after the exile and destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Now this is how God responds to the prophet’s visions. As you can see, this is a passage filled with great promise to people who are yearning for restoration. There is great hope for the world.
Even though we are quicker to see jealously lead to anger and rage, God’s jealousy is leading to a deep passion for the people of Zion. There is hope in God being so jealous and passionate towards restoration, justice, and bonds of community.
In the news we see images from Aleppo of people standing in the streets in the midst of utter destruction and rubble. The images all look soft from the dust that clouds the air. It is a stark contrast to the prophet’s vision of a faithful city with men and women in the streets and children playing. It truly seems impossible.
Our world is full of vulnerable people and places. Children whose future will be unseen. Refugees who are seeking peace. And the faithful who seek sanctuary in the word of the Lord. We are constantly finding ourselves needing this message of hope and restoration in a broken world.
And here is my hope in this season: that we as a church and as individuals can find ourselves in the remnant people of Zion. I hope for the sowing of peace and the fruits that can be yielded for generations to come. I hope for us to not be afraid, but to have strong hands in working to build God’s vision here and now. We are the remnants that must bring a message of hope and peace to a world yearning to be restored. We must speak truths. Make peace. Love one another. And love the truth.
I hope for all of these things as we enter into a time unlike any other. Our hope seems impossible and bearing fruit seems improbable.
When we developed our theme for 2017, "Faith Not Fear", we didn’t know what lay ahead. But it is in our most vulnerable places that we need God’s word to not be afraid repeated over and over again.
"Faith not fear" is a sentiment that is full of challenge. We act very differently when acting out of fear versus faith. And it is out of faith that I hope we will all act. I hope that we can act with a clear passion for welcoming Christ into our lives and communities.
In this Advent and Christmas season I wish abundant blessings upon you and your family.
Rev. Dr. Robert Alan Rimbo
Bishop, Metropolitan New York Synod - ELCA