By Ed Little

A Reading from Zechariah 1:7-17

7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo; and Zechariah said, 8 In the night I saw a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen; and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. 9 Then I said, “What are these, my lord?” The angel who talked with me said to me, “I will show you what they are.” 10 So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, “They are those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.” 11 Then they spoke to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have patrolled the earth, and lo, the whole earth remains at peace.” 12 Then the angel of the Lord said, “O Lord of hosts, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which you have been angry these seventy years?” 13 Then the Lord replied with gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. 14 So the angel who talked with me said to me, Proclaim this message: Thus says the Lord of hosts; I am very jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. 15 And I am extremely angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they made the disaster worse. 16 Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion; my house shall be built in it, says the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. 17 Proclaim further: Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity; the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.

Meditation

“How long, O Lord?” In one way or another, that question appears over and over in the Bible — and in our own prayers. Why does everything take so long, Lord? When will you heal my beloved grandmother? When will I finally get that promotion? When will I find a life partner? When will my child return to the faith, my spouse stop drinking, my depression lift? How long must I wait, Lord?

The exiles who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon had been waiting and waiting and waiting. For 70 years they had languished in a far-off and hostile place. Finally, miraculously, Persia had conquered Babylon. King Cyrus issued his famous decree allowing Judah to return home. But then… more waiting. The Jerusalem to which they returned was in ruins, the temple a heap of rubble, the city walls destroyed. The task of rebuilding overwhelmed them. Zechariah gives voice to their anguish, and to God’s gracious reply.

Today’s passage begins with a vision. A man rides a red horse in a glen of myrtle trees, accompanied by red, sorrel, and white horses. They have been roaming the earth, and they inform an angel, “We have patrolled the earth, and lo, the whole earth remains at peace.” The angel, to our surprise, suddenly articulates the agony of the returned exiles: “O Lord of hosts, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which you have been angry these seventy years?”

While Zechariah hears a positive response — “the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem” — the question lingers. Waiting for God to act is agonizingly hard. We live in a perpetual Advent, waiting for the Messiah to come and act, even if all appears to be at peace on the surface. “When wilt thou save the people?” an old hymn asks, “O God of mercy, when?” The good news is that the Bible doesn’t quash the question. The Bible encourages us to ask it, over and over, until the time comes, and he answers.

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Collegiate Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Savannah, Ga.
The Diocese of Guildford (Church of England)