Messages of Hope (Zechariah 8:1-17)

A 14th century tapestry of the Apostle John’s vision of the New Jerusalem

The word of the Lord Almighty came to me.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.”

This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the Lord Almighty.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’ This is also what the prophets said who were present when the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord Almighty. Before that time there were no wages for people or hire for animals. No one could go about their business safely because of their enemies since I had turned everyone against their neighbor. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as I did in the past,” declares the Lord Almighty.

“The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people. Just as you, Judah and Israel, have been a curse among the nations, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Just as I had determined to bring disaster on you and showed no pity when your ancestors angered me,” says the Lord Almighty, “so now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and Judah. Do not be afraid. These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord. (New International Version)

The name “Zechariah” means “Yahweh remembers.” The Lord indeed remembers the divine covenant which was established. And God will fulfill all promises made.

The Lord is determined to do good – not really because people so much deserve it but because it is God’s character to be good, and thus, do good, even when there is little goodness on the earth to be found.

New Jerusalem by Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980)

God’s judgment is but for a moment; but the Lord’s promise, salvation, and peace shall endure forever. God’s wrath is quite real and certain, yet it is a brief extension of the Lord’s steadfast love. Rebellion and judgment are never the last words; forgiveness and grace are:

Many times he [Yahweh] delivered them [the Israelites],
    but they were rebellious in their purposes
    and were brought low through their iniquity.
Nevertheless, he regarded their distress
    when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant
    and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
He caused them to be pitied
    by all who held them captive. (Psalm 106:43-46, NRSV)

All of the Old Testament prophets end their message of impending judgment with the final note of hope. That is, it won’t always be this way. There are better days ahead. The Lord’s coming is not all wrath; it’s mercy and hope. Notice the five brief messages of hope which Zechariah gives the people:

1. Yahweh burns with jealousy for Zion

Throughout the Bible, God likens the relationship to the Israelites much like a lover – as if the Lord were married to them. God’s covenant relationship with people is at the heart of understanding the whole of Scripture. Whenever they stray from divine promises, Yahweh is offended and hurt. 

God is an emotional Being, which is why we have emotions as people created in his image. Early humanity strayed so far from God that it hurt:

The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth and that every idea their minds thought up was always completely evil. The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and he was heartbroken. (Genesis 6:5-6, CEB)

Yet, God was gracious, sparing Noah and his family. The Lord took a group of Noah’s descendants, Abraham’s family, and set godly covenant affection on them. Through the Israelites, God hoped to lead the entire world to right relations. Yet, they, too, came to fail the gracious covenant made and set their affections on others.

Like a jilted lover, God longed for Israel to remain faithful, and, at the same time, was hurt and angry. Just as the prophet Hosea did not give up on his wife, even though she was brazenly unfaithful, so God looked at Israel as a spouse and could not bear to give her up.

2. Yahweh returns to Zion  

Jerusalem will be known as a faithful city and a holy mountain. The presence of God is what makes that happen. Because even though people can be fickle, inconsistent, complacent, and unfaithful, Yahweh remains true to the divine character of steadfast and immovable love for people.

You will never again be called ‘The People God Left.’
    Your land will never again be called ‘The Land God Destroyed.’
You will be called ‘The People God Loves.’
    Your land will be called ‘God’s Bride,’
because the Lord loves you,
    and your land will be his. (Isaiah 62:4, ERV)

3. The streets of Jerusalem will be full of children playing

The elderly will be sitting there watching the kids play, full of delight at the scene. Much too often we Westerners measure both the significance and success of our cities by its industry, businesses, buildings, wealth, and culture.

Methinks we may be misguided with such measurements. Instead, I suggest, along with the prophet, that we gage our cities by their effect on both the old and the young – because long life and children are signs of blessing from God.

4. Nothing is impossible with Yahweh

Is anything too hard for God? That, my friends, is a rhetorical question. If the Lord can cause old women to bear children (Genesis 18:10-14) and large armies to evaporate (Judges 7:1-25) then there is nothing more preposterous than to always view everything from our puny human perspective. Mary gained such a vantage and believed. We, too, have such an Advent hope within us.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:31-38, NIV)

5. Yahweh renews and restores

Separation, diaspora, and disconnection will become a thing of the past. The Lord sets all things right again, brings people together, and heals, so that everything exists as it is meant to exist.

Deliverance from sin, death, and hell is the means of bringing renewal to the earth and its people. Salvation belongs to God. Righteousness and justice will characterize the future.

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. (Psalm 33:4-5, NRSV)

Hope is fully realized when people put their trust in God and do their part by having strong hands and faithful hearts. We must be truthful and gracious whenever we speak. The Lord expects us to do the right thing by one another, both personally and publicly. We are to never cook up plans to take unfair advantage of others. Instead, we need to keep our lives simple and honest.

The promise of blessing is assured by God. However, the timing of that blessing is conditioned by our response. And there is no better time than the Christian season of Advent to recall what the Lord will do, as well as what God wants us to do.

May we be people of hope and let hope live in our hearts now and always, to the glory of God. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s