2 Kings 22:1-23:3
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
Every so often over the past few years, I have found myself really missing Gettysburg Seminary, where I studied before moving to Falls City in June of 2011. I could talk about a lot of different things that I miss – the amazing friends that I made there, the learning environment, the sense of history, the proximity to places like Washington, D.C. and Baltimore – but one of the things I’ve missed the most, particularly this fall, was the fact that at Gettysburg I lived in rented housing. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here too – God has placed me and our family in a wonderful community, and I’m getting to share this amazing ministry with all of you – but truthfully, there are some times that owning a house can be a real pain. You have to keep up with all those little maintenance needs that pop up all over the place, and when you don’t it can cost you a lot of time and energy and money to take care of them. More than that, though, it seems that there’s something about the relationship between the condition of our house and the general feeling we have about our lives that is much more acute than it was when we were renting from the Seminary.
I thought about that relationship quite a bit this week as I reflected on the text before us on this First Sunday of Advent. Today’s Scripture reading begins with King Josiah’s need to catch up with deferred maintenance on the house of the Lord, the temple in Jerusalem built by his predecessor Solomon. The temple had fallen into some disrepair over the centuries, owing in part to the rapid succession of kings who had found the condition of the temple a matter of more or less importance depending on their commitment to the covenant that God had made with their people. In fact, I don’t think it would be wrong to say that the physical state of the temple largely mirrored the spiritual state of the people. That seems to be the case, at least, as the reign of Josiah begins. One of his most recent predecessors, Manasseh, is described by the writer of the Book of Kings as one of the wickedest men ever to rule over Judah, and by all accounts his son Amon wasn’t much better.
By the time Josiah takes over, the house of the Lord is in need of some serious work, and this king is determined to make sure that the needed work is completed so that God’s dwelling might be preserved for the worship and service of God’s people. If I’m right about the state of the temple mirroring the state of the people’s relationship with God, then I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that the “home improvement” project going on at the temple results in the “discovery” of the book of the Law. It seems fitting, in fact, that the renewal of God’s house would lead to the renewal of the people’s covenant with the one who had chosen to dwell among them. While both of these things are obviously important, it’s pretty clear that the writer of Kings sees Josiah’s recommitment to the law to be a much more significant event. After all, the people of Israel and Judah lived in relationship with God long before there was a temple in Jerusalem, and that relationship has continued long after the destruction of the temple centuries later. All of this is possible because of the preservation of the law, this gracious body of instruction that reminds those who read it and submit themselves to it what God desires for their lives. Where that instruction is absent, it is easy to stray from the path that God has set before God’s people; where it is cherished and made a part of the life of individuals and communities, God continues to direct the people to pursue what is good and right.
As Christians, of course, we are part of that people, and the same principle that applied to those who lived in Josiah’s day is also important for us to remember. Where the word of God remains at the center of our lives, we are gifted with the ability to live the way that God desires; where we depart from it, we make it more difficult to discern God’s power and presence in our lives. What makes our situation different from Josiah’s is that we have a different relationship with the word. During Advent, we focus our minds and hearts on the coming of God’s Word into our world in the person of Jesus. Where Josiah’s life (and the lives of those around him) were changed by the discovery of the scroll that contained the Law, our lives (and the life of our world) has been changed by the advent of the Word-made-flesh, the one who spoke creation into being and then determined that he would become identified with that creation so closely that he would dwell among us in our likeness. Where Josiah’s reform consisted of restoring the instruction of God to the center of community life, our constant reformation as individuals and as a community consists of God’s decision to take up residence among us in the person of Jesus.
It is important to note, of course, that Josiah’s discovery and ours have something in common – neither of them has the effect of eliminating the experience of hardship and struggle. Despite Josiah’s best efforts – and despite the enthusiastic response made by the people at the public reading of the Law – Judah was still subjected to the humiliation of exile, the pain of being separated from the land that they called home. By the same token, the knowledge that Jesus dwells among us and promises to come again does not prevent any of us from experiencing heartache or sadness or suffering. In both cases, the presence of the law – or of the Word – helps us to make our way through times of suffering and loss with confidence in God’s goodness and love for us and for the whole creation.
These are fitting lessons for the beginning of this season of reflection and preparation. In Advent, we are more aware than ever that the world is not the way that God desires it to be, and yet we are also made aware of God’s promise to come again to make all things new and to restore everything to God’s design. As we continue to move through this season, let us pray that God will make us more aware of Christ’s presence in our midst. Let us pray that we might be freed from the stress and strain of life to focus our attention on Christ and the way that Christ calls us to live in relationship with God and with one another. Finally, let us pray that we might be inspired by Josiah to commit ourselves to the Word that forms us to be God’s people in the world, so that we might always be ready to welcome that Word in faith, hope, and love. Thanks be to God! Amen.