Text: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 6-17
For joy in God’s Word
For true celebration
For those who rebuild
THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH is a memoir of how the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt by exiles returning from their captivity. This chapter tells how, after many, many long months of toil, the people came to a moment of rest—a holiday in the true sense of that word. The people are finished, and there is a religious festival, complete with worship. And the people gather to hear the Word of God. The people listened attentively, carefully to the word—the book of the Law of Moses, the book that outlined and described the covenant with God and how that covenant was to be kept.
The people gather during the seventh month, and as they hear words that have not been spoken in that grand yet tragic city for three generations, the people begin to weep. As I said, the Law of Moses outlines how the people are to live, how they are to keep covenant—and it is clear that the people have not kept faith with God, have not tended the covenant. It is as obvious as the city around them, freshly rebuilt from stones that had been yanked down and scattered, freshly restored from the soot-stained rubble left from the fires that consumed the city that long-ago night. Who knows? Maybe the aroma of the flames, the sounds of the dying still lingers. Ezra reads, and the people tears flow, and perhaps it is fitting—for in the seventh month the law called for observance of that day we know as Yom Kippur, where the people made atonement for their sins.
Yet there is a call that goes forth: do not weep, do not mourn. The Joy of the Lord is your stronghold. Here, as they stand within the walls of the city, walls that now exist because of the hard work of previous months, the people are reminded that their efforts are caught up in God’s hard work of bringing back his exiled ones, restoring the fortunes of those who are inscribed upon his hands, embracing those who had been taunted by their captors and taught to believe that they were nobodies—they were no one’s people, no one cared if they perished from the earth.
But here they stood. They had found community, solace, strength, purpose, and now realized that God had not left them, had never abandoned them, and because they had trusted and worked in the strength of the vision and in spite of the risks they were again—they were still and always—God’s People. And the tears turned to joy. And that is fitting, for the Law called for the people to observe during the seventh month the joyous Festival of Booths, a harvest festival where people rejoiced over the bounty the Lord had provided. And as they looked around them, at the walls that towered over them, at the brothers and sisters who stood around, the people discovered that there was much to celebrate.
So it is with us. We, by God’s grace, are called by his name, and we too are his people. We belong to God, and he is our stronghold. We have much to celebrate.
May your day be grace-filled ~ Pr. Dave Brooks