This is the time of year when we’re taking out our warmer winter clothes. It’s also the time of year when we discover what we left in our pockets at the end of last winter!
Stale restaurant candies, old tissues, generally unpleasant things. But if we’re lucky we’ll reach in and pull out ten bucks! Doesn’t it always feel like you’ve won the lottery when that happens!
Maybe we should all leave ten dollars in our pockets next spring for when we pull out the coats next fall. Trust me, we won’t remember doing it. It’d be a nice little gift for ourselves!
It’s also the time of year when we start to pull out the decorations and again finding unexpected surprises. Maybe we find a gift we had hidden and forgot about. Maybe we find some special ornaments which bring back fond memories. Maybe we find things broken and wonder why we keep holding onto that string of lights that hasn’t worked in 10 years.
This time of year is certainly a time of discovery. After all, it’s Advent. This is a time of preparation, a time of anticipation, a time for getting ready. Much of the world is investing and focusing on the perfect Christmas of gifts, food and celebrations. As Christians, we are part of this, yes, why wouldn’t we be. But we are also preparing and anticipating something much greater.
Our reading today is most certainly not a traditional Advent reading. Today we are reading about King Josiah. Josiah becomes king at the age of 8, of course he is the son of the previous king, and another in a long line of kings. His reign lasts from 640 to 609BC.
The reading mentions the name of this mother, Jedidah, which means “beloved.” This may be a sign as to how Josiah’s reign will be judged.
And it appears to be the case, because in verse 2 we read, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” This statement would even indicate he is a greater king than David, because we are told Josiah never strayed, yet David did.
Over the last number of kings the temple has fallen into a terrible state of disrepair, mainly because the nation has moved to worshipping foreign gods. Josiah is disturbed by the state of the temple and orders its cleanup and repair. He opens the temple treasury and hires people to restore the building.
As they are in the midst of cleaning everything up, the high priest, Hilkiah, makes a discovery. He has found the Torah, that is the book of laws which no one has seen in a long time, nor has anyone really paid any attention to for probably even longer.
This is their scripture, this is the Word of God for the people. Now they have recovered it, lost deep in a closet somewhere in the temple. These scriptures are taken to the king and read before him. And as Josiah hears these words his heart breaks because he realizes how much the people have forgotten and lost as they turned from God. He realizes just how broken the nation is as they have broken their side of the promise they made with God through their ancestors. He tears his clothes and weeps.
We skipped over the next bit as the king begins to seek an understanding of what he has been read. They take the scriptures to the prophet who’s name is Huldah for a consultation. Huldah is one of 3 named female prophets in the Old Testament.
And Huldah begins to explain what is going on. She brings words of warning to the nation because of how they have abandoned God; explaining how there will be destruction and the people will feel the full wrath of God. Yet, because Josiah has heard the words of the law and tore his clothes and wept, God will spare him from seeing this destruction.
We pick up again in our reading what happened next.
Josiah calls all the elders of the nation to come to him. He brings all these leaders, priests, in fact the whole nation comes to the temple with him. And he read the words of scripture to them all. In these words they heard of the covenants made with God generation after generation and they hear the laws they have been commanded to follow, but don’t.
And as he finished, we read these words from chapter 23, verse 3 as to what he did next,
“The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.”
Josiah committed himself to the Lord, and the whole nation of Judah followed him.
Talk about your revival meeting. Wow!
And to think, here were a people who were very comfortable in their way of life. They were quite happy to be worshipping other gods, living pagan lives, doing whatever they felt was right.
What changed, and how did it happen so fast?
These priests, when they were cleaning the temple found a long lost book. A book they hadn’t seen in so long they completely forgot what was in it.
This book holds the Word of God.
Then they opened it and began to read it. And as they read it they were challenged, they were pushed, but they also learned there was something greater.
These weren’t just words in a book.
These words were the powerful words of God.
And it immediately changed their lives.
These are the same words we find in our Bibles today. Our Bibles hold the same powerful, life changing words as was read by Josiah, but they also contain so much more since they have the stories of the prophets and the New Testament with the stories of Jesus and the early church.
The Bible is also the greatest gift we can physically hold that God has given us. How do we learn about God? By reading about His work. We can only get this in the Bible.
By the time we get to King Josiah we can see the story has been building and building. Going all the way back to the start of the book of Deuteronomy when the people were to enter into the land God had promised them after they were led by Moses through the wilderness. The people rebelled and refused to enter, and they went back to the wilderness before God once again became their focus.
It’s a cycle which repeats over and over again. The people get comfortable. They rebel. They fall away from God. God rescues them in their weakness. They renew their covenant with God. And then it starts over again.
But it seems different this time. This time there’s a new element thrown into the mix. This time they have scriptures, they have the Word.
And what we see this time is that the Word has a place in the faith of the people it’s never had before, and this time the whole nation responds as one when they hear the Word.
Do they get it this time forevermore? No they don’t, but there is a very different tone. People have responded differently.
And the Word is very powerful. So powerful that when nations take over Judah, they ban it from being read. These words challenge people, especially the foreign kings, and they are afraid of these words.
Did you know that when we pick up our Bibles and read them we are performing a counter-cultural act? The Bible challenges almost everything the world sees as important and valuable.
Did you also know that kids rarely get Bibles in school any more? The Gideons still try, but because of new regulations the schools must send home permission slips asking parents if their kids are allowed to get them. Very, very few slips come back, and even fewer say “yes.”
The Word of God can’t even be found in our homes any more.
This means it’s all the more important for us as Christians to know read out Bibles. We need to let the Word penetrate us and transform us, just like it did to the people of Judah. They heard those challenging words from God and they were immediately changed from their old ways.
This is the first Sunday of Advent, and what better time to receive and embrace this gift from God by holding, reading, absorbing His Word.
People might say, “I’m a Christian, I know about God, I do good things. So I don’t need the church or to read the Bible.”
It’s more than that though. Being a Christian in the world today is about standing not necessarily against the values of the world, but standing strongly for the values of God, which means we need to know what those values are.
How do we learn about those values? The same way we learn everything else. We read. We study. We gather with others who are also learning. We start with the Bible.
If we look at the cycle of the Old Testament of people turning away from God, struggling and then coming back to God, we can certainly see that cycle today. No question.
But also there’s a shorter cycle. I call it a day. Because that’s what it is.
Every day I know I find myself in this same struggle.
I love this prayer you see pop up every once in a while:
I’ve been very good today –
no grumpy thoughts,
no smacking people in the head,
and no whining at all.
But I’m about to get out of bed now,
so I may need your help with the rest of the day.
It’s true! Being a Christian is a daily struggle. We need to renew ourselves each and every day. We need to keep returning and recommitting ourselves to God. We need to keep letting God’s Word mold us and transform us.
This is the season of preparation, anticipation and discovery.
Just as the people of Judah found the Word of God, may we too find the Word ourselves. May we be renewed and refreshed by our God in the discovery that Jesus Christ is the one who has come and will come again so that we may be free.
The day Jesus came out of the grave, two men were walking to the village of Emmaus, away from Jerusalem. And they were mourning the death of Jesus and the disappearance of his body. Jesus joined them on that walk, although they did not know it was him. While they were walking, Jesus was teaching them from scriptures.
When they arrived at the village they invited the stranger to stay with them, because it was getting late. The Gospel of Luke, chapter 24 finishes the story this way,
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30-32)
Engaging with the Word of God is a life changing experience. It introduces us to the story of Jesus Christ, not just in the New Testament, but also in the stories of the Old because they keep pointing to Jesus, the coming Messiah, the Promised One of God. All these characters we looked at this fall all have an important part in the story of Jesus.
In knowing the story of Jesus, we too can know him as Christ, our Saviour, our Lord, our Redeemer.
The Bible, the authoritative Word of God, the Book of Life.
If you need one, let me know and I will get you one. Every Christian, every potential Christian, needs one in order to be transformed by the power of its words. It is a book we cannot be without.
This Advent, let’s discover the story of God in a new way. Let’s let His Word penetrate our hearts and bring us into a new, deeper relationship with our Father in heaven, who sent His Son to show us His Way.
Be blessed my friends, this is a wonderful season we are beginning.