Here’s a fun fact: The prophet Haggai’s name wasn’t actually “Haggai.” Everyone was just so embarrassed that they didn’t remember his name, so when they would call out to him they would just yell, “hey…guy!” And a prophet was born. (That’s a true fact that I just made up.)
The prophet Heyyouguy asks the people of Judah how they will get back to the way things used to be before the temple was destroyed. Since they all returned from Babylon, they have largely been concerned with constructing ornate private homes—nothing has been done to the temple. And here we are on a holy day (all of that reference to the seventh month and twenty-first day puts us squarely on the feast of booths or Sukkot) without a temple at which to worship. Heybuddy becomes a building committee in himself, questioning how those few who knew the temple in its glory, as well as the political and spiritual leaders of these recently freed people can stand by and let the temple continue to be a shell of its former self.
Remember the good old days when priests took scripture seriously without making fun of people's names? It must have been back in the 50s…you know, when all families had one father, one mother, and 2.5 children—not two and half men or five guys, some burgers and some fries; Mother donned an apron and kept the house tidy as Father would march through the door after a long day at work in a brown corduroy suit. Girls were girls and men were men. There was no unnecessary violence or unpleasantness—only lemonade stands, and peace, and quiet. At least that’s what that reality show, Leave it to Beaver, on Nick at Nite taught me. How do we get back to that place and time?
Haggai urges the people to remember the good old days of the temple's glory and offers encouragement from God, ensuring the people who lived for decades in Babylonian captivity that God was with them in that horrible time and continues to be with them. “According to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” God is continuing to keep the promise that it seemed was broken in Babylon, but maybe a promise from God is never really broken, and maybe God’s grace is more about presence through tough times—not the absence of tough times.
The prophet Heywhatsthematterwithyou (last one, I promise) harkens back to some good old days, and he even tells the people that the new temple and its splendor will be greater than the last.
What would it mean for this redemptive message to reach discouraged people today? The first group I think of are those who truly believe the ideal world existed when they were children…this includes most people who weren’t children during horrific times—but even those who were might remember that certain values or aspects of morality were greater for them and their families, despite tremendous struggle.
Haggai speaks out to these people at a time when, instead of focusing on their communal life and the betterment of their societal relationship with God and each other, they focus on personal security and lavish homes. Everyone wants to get themselves and their families on good footing before venturing up the mountain. In the meantime, their relationship with God has wavered.
The same thing happens today, which calls us to question just how good the good old days really were. Is there really a war on Christmas, or is the way we celebrated Christmas in the good old days a war on more appropriate observance of the Incarnation? Somewhat tangentally, this reminds me of one of my favorite Weird Al Yankovic songs, “Good Old Days,” a James Tayloresque song including these lyrics:
I can still remember good old Mr. Fender / Who ran the corner grocery store / Oh, he'd stroll down the aisle with a big friendly smile / And he'd say "Howdy" when you walked in the door
Always treated me nice, gave me kindly advice / I don't know why I set fire to his place / Oh I'll never forget the day I bashed in his head / Well you should've seen the look on his face
Those were the good old days / those were the good old days / The years go by, but the memory fades / and those were the good old days
The point of this song is how we romanticize the most ridiculous things about our past—the cartoons of our childhood, mom's cooking, or the way things used to be in general, culturally. Sometimes it is safer to cling to the past, but it usually drives us into our memories and away from community. Haggai's words about focusing on our community and in rebuilding the temple might be of encouragement to those of us making major transitions. Maybe you quit or lost your job (or a health insurance policy). Maybe you're having a child or watching one go to college. Maybe you are the one going to college soon. Whatever transition you are making, be assured that God is present. Things will change, but God calls us together so that we can help one another to rebuild and become something even more spectacular than we were before.
I do miss the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles though...not the more recent 3-D ones, the real ones from when teenage mutant ninja turtles were teenage mutant ninja turtles.
The Rev. Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Wednesday, offering reflections on the readings of scripture from the upcoming Sunday. His personal blog is entitled Bowing to Mystery, on which he posts sermons, articles, pictures, videos, etc.
Into the Fire is a weekly contribution to the creative and imaginative process of interpreting the black and white fire of Scripture. Using an adapted process of Midrash, the author includes historical/cultural information, personal anecdotes, and other theologians’ ruminations on selected passages from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings. All are welcome to journey into the fire by using the comment sections on the blog itself, or on Facebook or Tumblr.