The prophet Zechariah, whose book is appointed to be read in the daily lectionary this week, began to speak the Word of the Lord to the people of Jerusalem in 520 B.C. The Jews had begun to return home from their exile in Babylon. They had started to rebuild the Lord’s Temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. But the people gave more attention to improving their own homes and the Temple had been neglected. Like his contemporary, the prophet Haggai, Zechariah called the people to turn back to the Lord and complete the work on the Temple so that the worship of the Lord could be renewed. Zechariah declared God’s promise that the Lord had “returned to Jerusalem with mercy” and that His house would indeed be rebuilt (1:16).
But the Lord’s greatest promise was not merely about architecture, but it was a promise that He Himself would be there, abiding with His people. “I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the LORD, and I will be the glory in her midst” (2:5). He would be their protection outside the city, since Jerusalem had no walls of defense. And His very presence would be within the city as He once again came to dwell among them.
These promises would be only partially fulfilled in that generation. The greater fulfillment came in Jesus, when, 40 days after He his birth, He was brought into the Temple by Mary and Joseph and presented to the Lord. This was understood and proclaimed by a devout man named Simeon, to whom the Lord had revealed that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. He took the baby Jesus in his arms and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he prayed, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
As we prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s coming at Christmas, may we never forget that what truly matters in our churches is the presence of Jesus among us. Not programs, not buildings, not budgets, but the glory of the Lord in the person of Jesus. Let’s seek Him with all our hearts and let’s share Him with those who don’t yet know Him.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. John A. M. Guernsey