“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
In the days of riverboats and single-sheet newspapers, the American humorist Mark Twain tried to squelch a rumor. He wrote, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” It’s hard to see how such a rumor could be only a little true, but some rumors are that way. Christians often have the reputation of being glum, ridden by guilt. Though I believe such descriptions are often exaggerated, we have to admit that there is some truth in the stereotype. Like the Jews of Ezra and Nehemiah’s day, we often grieve over our sins.
But such mourning can be overdone. Here in our Scripture reading, God’s people have been saved from exile and are beginning to rebuild their lives! Ezra comforts them and calls them to joy. Isaiah’s words are being fulfilled: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for” (Isaiah 40:1-2). And if this speaks to exiles who returned to Jerusalem, how much more does it speak to us, who have been brought out of the exile of sin by the redemption of Jesus Christ!
We have a lot to do in building the city of God. I like Proverbs 17:22: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” The joy of salvation gives us strength to push ahead.
Jesus, you said you would build your church. Strengthen our hands with joy to work with you. Give us cheerful hearts, knowing you have given us new life! In your name, Amen.
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