Celebrating God’s Purposes

Christmas means a lot of different things to different people. The secular interpretation of the Christmas holiday would have us go out to shop for the latest fads while remembering ‘Saint Nick’ through office parties and illuminated streets. The true meaning of Christmas is of course something entirely different. But regardless of whether or not we chose to remember the humble birth of a boy in a little stable two thousand years ago and the appearance of angels to shepherds nearby, there is something that most of us agree on – Christmas is a time for being together with friends and family as well as for helping those in need.

There are many accounts in Old Testament scripture that tell of families coming together, being united after times of separation. But there is one account in particular that recently caught my attention for it comes at a critical moment in history. The Jewish people were returning to Judah after a long period of exile that had come about as a result of the sin that they had committed against God. It was King Cyrus of Babylon who decreed that the Jews could return back to their land in order to rebuild the ‘Temple of the Lord’ (Ezra 1). This in itself strikes me as nothing short of remarkable- the fact that a foreign king should recognize the sovereignty of God is evidence if evidence be needed, that God can move in the hearts of anybody and everybody. In all, over forty three thousand men and women made the journey back home during that time (Ezra 2). The rebuilding of the temple began in earnest as carpenters cut the wood that had been floated down the Mediterranean from the shores of Lebanon (Ezra 3 vs 7-9). Even though Israel had its enemies who opposed the work and who felt threatened by what they saw as the building of the “rebellious and evil city” (Ezra 4 vs 1-17), God continued with his purpose to unify his people.

After Artaxerxes took power as king of Babylon, God brought a man by the name of Nehemiah to assist in the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2 vs 1-10). Together with the other returned exiles, Nehemiah worked on repairing the city walls (Nehemiah 3). Once again there were many from outside who felt angered by the rebuilding and threatened to disrupt the ongoing work. In response, Nehemiah assigned men to guard the wall and to act as look outs until the repair work was completed (Nehemiah 4, 7 vs 1-3). Ezra, a scribe who was well versed in Jewish law, had been granted permission by Artaxerxes to travel to Jerusalem to teach the law to the recently-arrived exiles (Ezra 7 vs 1-10). Ezra carried with him a letter from Artaxerxes instructing him to use silver and gold from Babylon not only to rebuild their land but to also make offerings and sacrifices to “the God of Jerusalem” (Ezra 7 vs 11-26). God’s people were to be reunited back in Jerusalem as a family, after a long period of exile from their land.

Despite all that they had done against him, God moved in the hearts of foreign kings because he wanted his people back together with him. The climactic moment to this story came as Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levites stood in front of the thousands of people who had assembled in Jerusalem and declared that day, “a sacred day before the Lord,” further instructing them to, “go and celebrate with a feast of choice foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared” (Nehemiah 8 vs 9-10).

As we unite with our friends and families and help out those less fortunate than ourselves this Christmas, let us not forget that there is One who brings us into unity- a God who, in the words of Nehemiah, “made the skies and the heavens and all the stars…..the earth and the seas and everything in them” (Nehemiah 9 vs 6). Within this context, the birth of Christ no longer exists as a trivial event but truly as the “reason for the season.” The God who brings about our desire for unity and charity is also the God who sent his son to live amongst us that we in turn may live. Let us celebrate this day with the passion and vigor it deserves.

Written by Robert Deyes

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1 Response to “Celebrating God’s Purposes”


  1. 1 Heather Flemming December 2, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I too have been studying in Ezra and Nehemiah recently. I have been struck by the GRACE of God which is pictured so beautifully in these books. Because of GRACE, the remnant of Israel which returned to Jerusalem experienced restoration with God.

    This is at the heart of Christmas — God’s grace and his plan for the restoration of his people.


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