And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. …No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. Ezra 3
The Jews are people of history. Five hundred years before Christ, Jews stood in worship and joy as they celebrated the beginning of the restoration of the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians over a century earlier. By this time, the people had been through slavery in Egypt, liberation and wandering in the desert, warfare with powerful enemies, the kingdoms of David and Solomon—days of glory and days of ruin and defeat—followed by the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the exile to Babylon.
Imagine standing in that crowd, back in Jerusalem, shouting and weeping for joy at the greatness of God as construction of the Second Temple began. I can imagine that easily. I am descended from those people. And what I know, as do we all, is that history did not end on that joyous day.
Conquest, misery, and relapse into sin plagued the nation for another half a millennium, until finally the most powerful empire the world had ever seen conquered the land, once again destroyed the Temple, and sent the people into exile.
But something else happened. A new prophet arose with a new message. Jesus Christ told the people things they had not heard before. Among them was that he was not just a prophet, but indeed the one who comes in the name of Lord, the long-awaited Messiah. When He was killed and then rose to life three days later, all prophesies were fulfilled, and as his disciples dispersed across the world, the most amazing of all prophesies began to become true—the whole word began to worship the one true God, the God of Israel; all the world became Jewish.
For the Jews themselves, (as for everyone) history did not end. They suffered through 2000 years of persecution, including, within living memory, the most horrendous genocide in the history of a fallen and sinful world. The surviving remnant, as they had done so many times in history, rebuilt their lives, formed a new nation, and began to prosper.
I was born in the year of the establishment of the state of Israel, but my family, although Jewish, did not celebrate this event. They had lost all sense of religion or national identity, and my own Jewish identity was only brought home to me by means of the violent hatred of some of my neighbors.
And yet, in the fullness of time, I learned to think of the God of my forefathers as real, and soon after that, I came to worship the Jewish Messiah, now the savior of the entire world, including those enemies from my childhood. I came to see myself standing in a different circle, a wider circle of worshippers, people from every possible origin, all singing the praises of God and thanking Jesus Christ for His sacrifice to save them from sin.
I am still a person of history. History is not over. We will still suffer, and we will still rebuild. We will celebrate in joy and mourn in sorrow. We cannot know all the things that will face humankind, but we now know that we are all people of history, and that that history will eventually have an end. For one day there will be a final celebration, a final day of joy unending, as the Kingdom of God comes to earth, we are all reborn, and we all sing Hosanna, Hallelujah as Jesus returns in unending glory. The cycle of history will end in peace and joy. Until that day, give praise to God, from whom all blessings flow. Amen.