Ok….some history —
For about 115 years…what we know as Israel was united under a single king—-first Saul, then David, and then Solomon. But then, after Solomon died, Israel was divided into two nations…the North and the South. About 200 years later, the Northern Kingdom, which was completely corrupt (that was the kingdom ruled by king Ahab and Jezebel that we talked about a couple weeks ago when Elisha challenged the prophets of Baal), was brutally overtaken by the Assyrians. At that time, the Southern Kingdom still had faithful kings, who still had the best interests of their people in mind. Ahaz was king in the south when the north fell…and his son Hezekiah followed him. Together, they reigned for 45 years. However, when Hezekiah died, his 12 year old son, Manessah, was crowned king…and his rule was bloodthirsty and perverted. He ruled for 55 years…and thought only of pleasure and power. He abandoned the worship of the God of Abraham and Sarah, and turned the temple over to the worship of gods that glorified prostitiution and required child sacrifice…he even gave one of his own sons to the fire. Scripture says he shed so much innocent blood while he was king …it filled Jerusalem from one end to the other. His son, Amon, followed in his footsteps but reigned after him for only 2 years until he was killed by his own officials. It is at this time that Amon’s son, Manesseh’s grandson, Josiah…at 8 years old…is declared king.
The contrast of the two boy-kings could not be more stark. I thinks it’s a powerful reminder that “boys will be boys” is a lie we tell. Boys do not have to be cruel and violent and disrespectful, crudely sexual and exploitative. They can have integrity and restraint. They can act in the best interests of others. They can distinguish between right and wrong. Josiah strove to be a good king. He removed the sick and twisted worship of sex and power from the nation’s temples… stopping ritual prostitution and child sacrifice. He sought to make his people’s lives better…to pay them fairly and treat them with respect.
In the process of trying to clean up the mess his grandfather and father had made of the kingdom…he had authorized the renovation and restoration of the temple in Jerusalem. And this is when the workers discover the hidden scrolls. What they discover is the book of Deuteronomy.
Until this point…Josiah is a good king, he is doing what it right…but it doesn’t have any connection to the story of God’s promises or God’s law. Until this point, Josiah really does not know his own story. He has had no Scripture to read and study…to guide his life. The discovery of the scrolls is the rediscovery of Scripture for God’s people in Israel. It is the rediscovery of their story — their connection to God — their purpose.
In many ways…it’s similar to what happened during the Reformation in Luther’s time. At that time, most people of faith did not know their own story. They couldn’t read Scripture…and what was passed on to them through the church leaders at that time was violent and twisted, full of fear and punishment – a skewed picture of the Book that conveyed God’s love and promise…God’s law and grace. When Luther translated it into everyday language…it was so every person had access to their story — to their connection to God…their purpose.
I wonder, though, sometimes…how often we are people who don’t know our own story. Even with the Scriptures not hidden away in a corner of the temple…even with Scriptures written in our own language… they lay unopened, unread, unknown for so many of us. For example, I’m guessing most of you haven’t heard this story about Josiah before. And the thing is…collecting dust, our Bibles do not help us discover our connection with God…our purpose.
I’m always struck by the Gideon’s ministry and the anecdotes they share…of people who are given a copy of the Bible or New Testament…or find it in a hotel room or jail cell … and whose lives are transformed by discovering in its pages a God who loves them and forgives them…who gives them new beginnings and calls them children of God. In the pages of Scripture, they find their story…they get a new vision of who they truly are. The Gideons tell of addicts and prisoners and ordinary folks…of the hopeless and the angry..the empty and bankrupt …all who find hope and life in the pages of the Word of God …who find their connection with God…their purpose. A reason to live and a way to live.
That’s what Josiah found in the Scrolls unearthed in the temple. He found the word of God. The word of God that told him and his people who they were as God’s chosen ones…and how they were meant to live. The word of God that named the ugliness that corrupts us all so easily…that brings death and violence and darkness…and the word of God that reveals God’s light and love…God’s way of mercy in the midst of it all. Josiah had the Word read to the people of Israel…to God’s people…that they might choose a different path in the light of God’s love.
That’s what this Scripture is for — again and again — for generation after generation. It is a gift to remind us who we are…whose we are. It is to reveal God’s light in the darkness. God’s hope in the midst of our despair.
It’s true…there’s a lot of ugliness in here…you know that and I know that. There are things said and written that might have made sense in their context…but have been used over time to hurt and exclude…to justify violence and hatred. But the overall message is what we see in Jesus. That’s why John’s gospel calls him the “word made flesh”. The overall message…the promise and law of Scripture…is revealed in Jesus — who doesn’t rule with military might and violence and threats…but whose kingdom comes in forgiveness and mercy, justice and righteousness, humility and service. We’re entering Advent next Sunday…and the King we await in Jesus leads us not through fear, but through love.
We read Scripture…the stories, the psalms, the letters, the prophets…that we might be returned to ourselves…to the image of God in us. That we might be returned to love…the joy of loving God and loving our neighbors. We can be good people without the Word of God…Josiah’s reign was pleasing to God even before he rediscovered the Scriptures. But the Word of God gives us our story…our identity…as people of God. Chosen. Beloved. Often misguided…but created for goodness. The Word of God gives us new beginnings when everything falls apart…and perspective when we are drowning in the drama of our own life. The Word of God…give us Jesus.
Maybe this Advent is a time for you to dust off your Bible and re-enter the Word of God. To read the gift that it is for you…the stories of Jesus…the stories of God’s kingdom. The words of the Prophets. The Psalms prayers of our human family. And if you do…I pray you find that Word as life-giving as Josiah did. That you find in it your connection to God and your purpose. And that it might lead you into joy and hope. That it may lead you to Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.