A City Without Walls

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 — Week of 3 Advent , Year Two

Lucy (Lucia), Martyr at Syracuse, 304

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 939)

Psalms 45 (morning) 47, 48 (evening)

Zechariah 2:1-13

Revelation 3:14-22

Matthew 24:32-44

It is said that the role of the prophet is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

Zechariah the prophet speaks to a demoralized and vulnerable people. The Babylonian exile is a recent memory. Just twenty years before, the Persian king Cyrus had given leave for the exiled people to return to their homeland to rebuild. But the restoration project had been tenuous. Yes, their homes were re-established, but the symbols of civic vitality were still as they had been following the destruction of the city of Jerusalem years ago. The walls were broken down, and the Temple lay in ruin. They are living in their ancient homeland among foreign people who seem to be tolerating them, but they are not in charge of their own land or their own destiny.

Zechariah writes at about the time when Ezra and Nehemiah with the support of Haggai will stir up the people to restore the walls of Jerusalem, to make it a city that has some security and military protection, and to rebuild the Temple. From their perspective, it would be a project of immense proportion — just to get back to where they were before the invasion.

But Zechariah sees another possibility. In his vision, he stops the surveyor with the measuring line and halts the preparation for rebuilding the walls. An angel speaks to Zechariah, “Run, say to that young man: Jerusalem shall be inhabited like villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and animals in it. For I will be a wall of fire all around it, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within it.”

This is a different way of living in the world. No walls either to keep out or to limit the freedom of the inhabitants. God is the protection for this visionary city, and God’s presence is at its center. This nation will be a blessing to all of the other nations of the world, not a challenge. These other peoples will be welcome, and “many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst.”

How hard must it have been for others to imagine such a possibility. To build a civilization in a new way. An open, defenseless city of welcome and hospitality. A city trusting in God rather than its own might. A city with God at its center instead of its own pride. Zechariah is saying something about the nature of community and about a vision for a new political order. How different might our nation be if it were to live by such a vision?

Zechariah is also saying something that can apply to us personally. What might we be like if we responded to ruin or catastrophe with a confident trust in God’s eternal presence at our center and a willingness to re-engage without defensiveness and suspicion, trusting God as our protection. What does it mean to be a person without defensive walls?

Zechariah says that God regards the people as “the apple of my eye.” God loves and cherishes us. Within that love and benevolent regard is our rebuilding and our security.

Zechariah closes this passage with an image that can touch anyone with a contemplative bone in his body. “Be silent, all people, before the Lord; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”

God is alive and active. God is at the center of our life. We may be silent. Defenseless. Peaceful. Peace. All is well. All will be well.

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