Our text this morning comes from the prophet Joel. As you hear the reading, it may seem odd to hear these words during the Advent season. We more typically hear the first part of our reading on Ash Wednesday. And the second part on Pentecost Sunday.
Our reading this morning is from Joel, chapter 2.
In Genesis, God promised Abraham and his descendants that they would inhabit this land called Canaan. Canaan is sandwiched between the vast Mediterranean Ocean to the west and the desolate desert to the East. After years of being enslaved by Egypt, God frees Israel and makes a covenant with them in Exodus. Here, God promises to be with them. And that they will become a holy nation. A royal priesthood.
God gives them instructions to build a tabernacle that will represent the Garden of Eden and God’s relationship with all humanity. King Solomon will eventually build a beautiful and magnificent temple to replace the Tabernacle and will establish it in the city of Jerusalem. This temple was to remind the people that the Spirit of God filled their covenant with God. That they planted like a vineyard so that the world could taste the love of God. Through them.
This relationship with God was to be the source of the rivers of life for all nations, for all humanity.
Things went fairly well, at first. Under King David, the twelve tribes of Israel were united into one kingdom. But, then, King Solomon built the temple. And he did it by over-taxing the people and by using slave labor. The kingdom was torn apart. A civil war led to two separate nations: Israel in the north. And Judah in the south.
Immediately, Israel repeated the story of the Golden Calf from Exodus and established two golden calves to replace the temple. Judah wasn’t much better. The majority of her kings led like tyrants: oppressing the people, driven by greed, gluttony, and violence. They brought the gods of Canaan into the very temple itself.
Eventually a series of invading armies destroyed the nation. The people of Israel, in the north were completely destroyed by Assyria. The people of Judah, in the south, were carried into captivity by the Babylonians. Solomon’s beautiful temple lay in ruins. The people lived in exile - torn apart from their land, their communities, from the temple - the center of their worship, and from everything they knew.