It has been difficult to find time to write over the past little while with final papers coming up in the semester and balancing work with my internship. Here is a sermon with a Christmas twist that I wrote for this Monday mornings service. I wrote it from a passage I read in Nehemiah 8: Verse 1 – “And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel.”
Are passage begins, “all the people gathered as one man”, one body, one community of equals. The Israelites saw something in one another that united them regardless of what struggles they had been through and the different places they may have come from.
Many of them were from different countries as their families had been split up through the exile that Babylon had led them into 100 years before. Some may have had Babylonian parents or been injured in far off places or in their travels to come back to the land of their Israelite ancestors. Their injuries may have made them crippled or disfigured some how recognizably different from those around them. Also many in this crowd may have been women and children each with their own unique world view and understanding of who they thought their ancestors where and what it meant to be Jewish. All of these people having different skills, trades, and talents. Some would be good with their hands and using carpentry tools. Others would be intellectually skilled and able to draw and plan out hopes and dreams for what the city could look like and provide for its people.
All these people with unique qualities, differences, and challenges, and character; and it says they gathered as one body and community! Verse 2-3: “So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, won the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.”
Then Ezra as a priest and a leader recognizes the peoples need. They gathered as one body but for what reason, what purpose do they have as being a Nation dedicated to God. Ezra took the words of scripture being what we understand as the first five books of the Bible and he brought it to the people to read to them. Believe it or not this was actually a radically revolutionary move which Ezra was taking. See in the traditional aspects of the Jewish temple practice, the scripture would never leave the temple ground area. This meant that the only way in which most would be able to see and hear it being read was if they were of pure Jewish blood and free from anything that was considered a physical infirmity.
Most of the people gathered in the square that day would typically in most cases never have seen or heard the scripture being read. Ezra knew this but instead listened to the voice of God inside him and he took the word to the people instead! It says that he then read to them for about 5 to 6 hours. Can you imagine that? 5-6 hours! I think that last passage took me what 5 minutes at most. Can you imagine having to stand there for 5-6 hours while I read to you? I mean, what if church was 5-6 hours long?
These people where hungry though for something greater then physical need. Listening to God’s word was not about a religious practice which had to fit into their daily schedule. It wasn’t like saying “Let’s get this finished cause I’ve got other things to do.” No, it took physical exertion to stand there and listen but it was worth it just to catch a glimpse, a moment to feel the same presence which Moses may have felt when God was telling him to write those words down. Verse 4: “And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose.”
It is this same point that leads into the next verse that I want us to really look at. The Israelites built a platform, a stage in which Ezra and the other leaders could stand on and read. This was a stage built not for Ezra specifically and not just for the others (please don’t make me try and say their names again) but the others to expound or exegete what Ezra had read. This was a stage which was meant to elevate and raise up the words of God that Ezra was speaking.
This is a profound respect not to who was on the stage or who was speaking but rather a respect and expectation as to what was being said. The Israelites were not seeking to hear Ezra or Nehemiah, or anyone else speak. They where seeking to hear God speak. They wanted to see, to hear, and to sense the very presence of God in the midst of their worship and devotion to his words. What they wanted to experience was a moment, a brief instance, of God’s presence. An epiphany! You may not know but I am in my fifth year at Alberta Bible College and I am getting ready to graduate next April. A lot of my thoughts have been drawn to what it is that God has planned for my wife Bonnie and I after graduation and more and more I feel God’s calling to be a part of a church plant. As I was thinking about the vision God keeps bring to my heart as to what this church plant would look like, I began asking what kind of a name would reflect this vision of Christian community. And it was this word which kept coming up in my mind. This word Epiphany. In most cases the word epiphany means to have a moment of enlightenment or a great thought. But, when I looked it up it surprised me to learn that the word epiphany’s primary meaning is: an appearance of God – the manifestation of a divine being.
It comes from the Greek word “epiphaneia” and get this – It can be a root to the name Emmanuel meaning God with us! And we can find it in: Matthew 1:23 – “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel”
This Christmas we are surrounded by stages whether they are in our homes, in shopping malls, or even in our church. But the question is, who will you seek on that stage this season of Christmas? Will you seek your friends or family first? Will you seek a present or presents that you may be expecting? Or, will you seek Epiphany, Emmanuel, God’s gift to you of his presence? His Spirit of love, joy, peace, and grace? I pray we don’t forget the real treasure and meaning behind this Christmas and we as a community can come together, all of us as one body, as brothers and sisters, and together lift up God’s word made flesh in Christ Jesus and celebrate as a new people transformed to reflect his image! Amen!