Good Old Days

round green fruits
They sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”  And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping.   Ezra 3:11-13  (ESV)

This is a description of the celebration at laying the foundation for rebuilding the temple after some 50,000 Jews returned from captivity in Babylon.  Just as Isaiah and Jeremiah had foretold, the Persian ruler Cyrus allowed Jewish exiles to return to their land with the temple artifacts that Nebuchadnezzar had confiscated when he destroyed Jerusalem.  But things got a little weird.  While the majority of the people expressed their joy with shouts of praise to God, those who had been deported as children and could remember the grandeur of the temple Solomon built wept aloud at this poor imitation.  You couldn’t tell celebration from sadness, we’re told.

Maybe that sounds a bit like Thanksgiving this year.  Like the old-timers in fifth century BC Jerusalem, some of us long for the good old days.  There was a time when Americans knew whom they were thanking at Thanksgiving.  The country was more Christian, more patriotic, more united.  Families were stronger.  Jobs were more secure.  Movies were more moral, and people worried less about crime.  And unlike this year, extended families once gathered around a Thanksgiving table.  There may well be some tears mingled with thanks this year.

We can learn something from the people of Ezra’s day.  When we look back at a life that seems in retrospect better than the now, thank God for the blessings we may have taken for granted.  When we look around at the challenges that confront us in the current culture, remember that we are God’s people on his mission.  When we look ahead, do so confident in the Lord’s promises and trusting in his love.  And then look up, always look up.  The God who gave us his Son to be our Savior is still in control.  The challenges we face, we do not face alone.  And the reasons for joy, for hope, for purpose in life remain the same.  As Ezra’s contemporary, Nehemiah, wrote: “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:10)

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for the blessings we have taken for granted.  Thank you for your presence amid our anxieties.  Thank you for the forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus earned for us.  Now help us to live thankfully, rejoicing simply because we are your children.  Amen.

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