Preparing for the Light … with Hope
Advent 1 – Narrative Lectionary 2
November 29, 2015
Grace, Mankato, MN
2 Kings 22.1-10, 14-20; 23.1-3
Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. … 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. (2 Kings 22.1-2)
It may seem as if we have been going backwards these past few weeks. Two weeks ago we were in the book of Hosea, the first of the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. Last week it was Isaiah, the first of the Major Prophets and now we are in 2 Kings. In reality, we are moving forward chronologically. Hosea and Isaiah prophesied at the same time, about 700 – 750 years before Jesus, though Hosea was in the northern kingdom of Israel and Isaiah in the southern kingdom of Judah. Today as we hear about Josiah, we’re a hundred years later than Hosea and Isaiah.
Our text today is remarkable for two reasons: first, it describes Josiah as a good king. Though the writer of 2 Kings doesn’t come right out and say so, he indicates that Josiah is the Best. King. Ever. He’s remarkable because other than Hezekiah, the southern kingdom of Judah has been ruled by bad kings. Second, the text seems comfortable holding a theological tension: on the one hand, God is deemed just for punishing Judah for its apostasy and worshiping of other gods. On the other hand, the goodness and repentance of Josiah and the people don’t forestall the destruction as one might expect.
This theological tension in fact exists throughout the Bible: God both judges sin and evil and also forgives humanity in its brokenness. There are two more remarkable items to note about Josiah that are important for seeing our way through this text today. First, somehow Josiah manages to be a good king who walks in the way of his ancestor David in spite of coming from a long line of bad kings who did not. In fact, his son will revert to the typical behavior of “bad king.” How did Josiah do that? By the way, have you ever noticed that a “bad family” can produce a “good child” and so-called “good family” can produce a “bad child?” Second, in spite of the bad news that Josiah’s reforms won’t prevent Judah’s desolation, Josiah chooses to continue the way of faithful living in obedience to God anyway.
As I thought about Josiah’s faithfulness in the midst of darkness, I thought of the poem, “Anyway.” Though attributed to Mother Teresa, the NY Times has said that Kent M. Keith is the author. Here it is:
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
It seems this is a good lesson for us who are entering Advent as preparation for celebrating Jesus’ birth. We who have been baptized into Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection might take that saving act of God for granted. Or we might look around our world and see all of the death, darkness, racism, fear and despair and want to pull the covers over our head and hide. Or we who claim that Jesus will come again might not really believe that’s true because it’s been 2,000 years since he made that promise and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. But like Josiah, we look for Jesus’ presence anyway. Like Josiah, we live full of expectant hope anyway. And we live the baptismal life anyway because the life of faith is not about what we get, but rather about what we give.
When we “live anyway” despite the pressures to do otherwise we are living signs of hope in our world. What does it mean to live the baptismal life with hope? Among other things it means that as the world worships possessions and experiences or doesn’t worship at all, we worship the living God anyway. It means that though we don’t always understand the Bible or get intimidated by it, we read the Bible anyway. It means that though we don’t know how to pray or wonder if our prayers get heard, we pray anyway. It means that although our community isn’t perfect and we sometimes treat each other poorly, we gather in community anyway. And it means that though the pressure is strong to consume anything and everything, we give ourselves and our money away anyway. My sisters and brothers in Christ, as you prepare for the light, may you live into and live out of your baptisms as signs of hope in our dark world. Amen.