Text: Haggai 1
(You’ll probably want to actually read the text before you dive into the rest, so go ahead and click on the link above to head over to the passage at Biblia.com. I’ll wait for you.)
I am going to take a wild guess here and say that of all the places in the Bible you might turn to for words to use for thanksgiving, a post exilic Minor Prophet is not the first place you might look. Of all of the doxologies, songs, and other expressions of gratefulness that the Bible has to offer, we don’t often look to the Minor Prophets.
And there is good reason for that. The Minor Prophets are not a generally cheerful lot. They are brooding. They are accusatory. They speak words of challenge and judgment, not of encouragement and praise. Thanksgiving, with its full tables, gatherings of families and friends, memories and reflections on good times and good things and good people, and the stomping over one another for those Black Friday deals now available to all of us on Thursday evening …
Wait a minute. Where did that come from? Sorry, I don’t know how that got in my manuscript.
Or maybe I do. For those of you who use Facebook, you have probably seen those pictures that people like to post with a person on one side and a block of text on the other. They are usually quite humorous, and often quite insightful. There is one about Black Friday. The picture on the right is of a woman pushing an overflowing shopping cart. The text on the left says, “BLACK FRIDAY: Because only in America do we wait in line and trample others for sale items one day after giving thanks for what we already have.”
(You can see the card here.)
It had been twenty years since Cyrus had given the decree that the Jews could return home. In the first two exciting years, there was a mighty construction boom as they erected an altar for their sacrifices and even laid out the foundation for a new temple.
Then everything halted.
Well, not everything. The construction boom continued. Houses went up. And not just houses to protect from the elements. These were houses to brag about. Not McMansions by any means, but pleasant houses that Joe could go to Ben and say, “Have you seen what Dave over there has done to his house? I have GOT to get me some of that! Tamara will have my hide if she sees that at Sarah’s before I get her some.”
You see, life was pretty good in the Persian Judean satrap. Not blissful, mind you. There were still a few who could remember Jerusalem before Nebuchadnezzar. They could still see the glory of Solomon’s Temple in their mind’s eye. But compared to exile, things were really good! They had their own land back. Jerusalem was coming together a bit at a time. Persia was a pretty benevolent master. They had stirred up a lot of trouble with the temple business in those early years, but the threats and murmurings had settled down since work had stopped. There wasn’t really a need to cause more trouble when life was just settling into a relaxed, predictable cycle.
Of course there never seemed to be quite enough flour in the jar. The wine always seemed to run out before the guests did. The flocks seemed pretty sickly. The ground was incessantly drier than the farmers hoped. And Persian taxes and the cost of goods seemed to make it difficult to ever have two coins to rub together.
The thought never struck them that they might have offended God when they stopped working on His house in order to protect their own heads. Besides, have you SEEN Dave and Sarah’s new paneling?
Here in America, we are blessed beyond measure. Oh, we complain about the economy and how hard life is. And certainly life is difficult when there are mounting bills and no job interviews. But so much is expected as a right here in America: heat or air conditioning, transportation, three meals, phone service, electricity, television and internet, a one-family home with more than one or two rooms and a reliable roof. These are assumptions here that are incredible luxuries in other parts of the world.
Think with me. Use your imagination to go back to your house. Wander through its rooms. Now stop. Whatever room you are in, look around. Look at the furniture, the window coverings, the wall hangings. Look at the tables and shelves around the room and what is on them. How much is there that you haven’t laid a hand on, except maybe to dust, in the last week? Month? Year? Decade?
And how many of you have already made out a Christmas list or mapped your route for Black Friday to add yet more stuff to your collection?
Are we really any different than the crowd in Haggai’s day, loving their paneled walls to the detriment of the work of God?
Let us give thanks this day for the many things with which God has blessed us. And let us remember that everything we have is God’s, something that He has given to us for a little while, not for ourselves, but for His own use and His own glory.
And let’s consider this Thanksgiving the greatest reason we have to be thankful. God has called us from the exile of death to the new country where there is the river of life, the new kingdom He is making ready for His bride. He has marked the path with His own tears and His own blood. He calls us to follow it and invite as many as we can to come along, too.
Let’s be thankful for that. Let us come together and make it our business to work on the house of the LORD – His new house that is His bride, the Church. Let’s make it our business not to grow our houses and our bank accounts and our nest eggs. Let us make it our business always to grow the kingdom of God that is – most thankfully – already ours.
And let us be grateful this day that we hear the words of the Lord to us that the crowd around Haggai finally heard once they started work back on the new Temple: “I am with you.”