A Child Leads Them

Scripture can be found here...


What does it look like, the rebirth of hope?

Back when my son Ned was just nine years old, his flair for music and drama was already making itself known. He was in third grade that year, and, as usual, Blessed Sacrament School presented a spring musical on a religious theme. The play was about good King Josiah, the Boy king, who ascended the throne when he was just eight years old. It was called, “Good Kings Come in Small Packages.” Ned’s best friend Charlie Hyland played King Josiah. Ned played his father, the evil King Amon.

The event is well documented in photographs, but I’ll tell you the thing that remains emblazoned in my memory. Predictably enough, it’s musical. The children did a rap on the evils of idol worship, the culminating line of which was, “You might as well pray/ to a bale of hay.” And then, the chorus piped in. “Bale of hay… bale of hay.”

And…  that is when I first heard of Josiah, the only king in scripture described as being fully, 100% faithful to God. “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2). No other king, of Israel or of Judah, is spoken of in this way.

Today’s passage tells us why. Josiah comes to rule at the end of a long, dark period, 57 years of very bad kings for the Southern Kingdom of Judah. For the first time in a long time the people have a king who truly desires to lead God’s people faithfully and well. We see that, first, as he makes provision for care and restoration of the temple. And second, there is that book.

The way we find out about the book is almost funny. The whole thrust of the passage is about the temple remodeling project. The king’s secretary takes the money over for the workers, and that is when the high priest mentions, almost causally, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 22:8b). Then, the secretary returns to the king, mostly eager to report that the money has changed hands. and then, almost as an afterthought mentions, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book” (actually, in Hebrew, “a scroll;” 2 Kings 22:10b). He then reads it aloud to the king.

What book is this? The high priest says, “the book of the law,” in Hebrew, the Torah. This could mean any number of things—the first five books of the bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy, are all known as Torah. Was the scroll they found the entire Torah, all five books? Or was it some portion, some passage? Some think it was Deuteronomy 5. That’s where we find the explicit covenant spelled out between God and people, the 10 commandments. Is that what they found? We don’t know.

Why is the finding of this Torah scroll a big deal? Well, first, the fact that it was missing is certainly a big, fascinating deal. Was it missing because the Torah was so devalued and dismissed under those previous bad kings? Was it, perhaps, hidden away from them, so that it wouldn’t be destroyed? We don’t know. What we do know, is what once was lost has been found.

What does it look like, the rebirth of hope?

Josiah’s response is immediate.  First, he sends the scroll to the prophetess Huldah to have its authenticity verified, much as you would take what you think might be a valuable first edition to an antique book store. Huldah shares a bad news-good news oracle with Josiah’s people: Good news: Yes, this is the scroll of the Torah. Bad news: It indicts the path the people have been on, the path forged by those two bad kings, in the harshest possible terms. Good news: But they have a good king now!

Next Josiah gathers the people together—“all the people, both small and great” (2 Kings 23:2). He reads the scroll aloud to them. And then he makes a vow, in the sight of all the people, to follow in God’s path, “keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3).

What does it look like, the rebirth of hope?

Here, it begins with a boy king and the persistence of his goodness. It continues with the discovery, the recovery, of the law, the covenant between God and people. It culminates in all the people, from the smallest to the greatest, vowing to do everything, heart and soul, mind and strength, to do the right thing, from now on, no matter what.

They say that every generation thinks, things can’t get much worse than this. Every generation loses hope. And I’ll admit, these last weeks have hit us with stories from around the world and our own country that have been excruciating to hear and watch and read. The attacks in Paris, and Baghdad, and Beirut. The release of a video in Chicago that showed the terrible scene of the killing of a black youth by a police officer, while other officers looked on. Friday’s shooting rampage in Colorado Springs, the second such rampage in a month for that city. And never mind, climate change, poverty, hunger… the usual horrible mess.

What does it look like, the rebirth of hope?

I would say, the details of hope are probably unique to the details of your particular hopelessness.

For those of us watching the story unfold in Paris, a young father and his son walking amidst the flowers laid in front of a café showed us hope, as the father said, “We bring flowers to fight against the guns.”

For those who loved Laquan McDonald, I imagine hope looked like the scores of people of Chicago who turned out in peaceful protest, insisting that black lives do, in fact, matter. And for those who know and love the people who protect and serve our communities, I imagine the words of our President provided hope, when he urged us, on Thanksgiving, “to be thankful for the overwhelming majority of men and women in uniform who protect our communities with honor.”

For the people at Planned Parenthood, hope looked like Garrett Swasey, a University of Colorado police officer who died in the line of duty on Friday. A husband, a father of two children, ages 10 and 6, and an elder at his church, Officer Swasey reminds us of what Fred Rogers so famously said: “Look for the helpers.” Swasey was a helper who made the ultimate sacrifice. He was a good man.

For me, yesterday, hope looked like the friend who said, despite the inhumanity we see, “there are far more people being kind, helpful, generous and loving daily.” And that is true, so true, I think we must really cling to it.

What does it look like, the rebirth of hope?

In these soul-searching days of Advent, it may begin with those who remind us of what real goodness looks like. It may continue with our own return to the basics, remembering to be grateful, remembering to be kind, remembering to look for the helpers. But imagine… just imagine… if it were to look like all the people, from the smallest to the greatest, having a change of heart powerful enough that we committed ourselves to truly loving all, neighbor and stranger, heart and soul, mind and strength. Imagine. Imagine.

What does it look like, the rebirth of hope? What does it look like to you?

Thanks be to God. Amen.