I will fill this house with glory

Advent reflections from Haggai 2:1-9

Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing? (Haggai 2:3)

Perhaps suffering a spell of over-realised eschatology, Mrs Wilson has been practising playing some Advent hymns in our home throughout November, so that we can enter the season ready to sing them. As much as this approach might be practically defensible, it has resulted in my earlier-than-usual longing for the season of feasting, singing, giving and receiving gifts and late-night dessert wines. A few times now, I have caught myself saying, Is it Advent yet?

During Advent, we recall the situation of post-exilic Israel, longing for her king to come and her fortunes to be restored. This was not a vague wish for a brighter future, but it was a longing for something that the Lord had promised to his people in many times and in many ways since the collapse of the kingdom of Israel. Though the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple under the direction of Cyrus fulfilled these promises to some degree, quite plainly, Israel was not on the cusp of a new Solomonic golden age just yet.

As it happens, in this last week before Advent, Jemimah and I came to the book of Haggai in our Scripture readings, which has some conceptual cross-over with Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. By the prophet Haggai, the Lord encouraged the Jews to persevere with their rebuilding of the second Temple, with the promise that he will bless their own houses if they attend first to his house (Haggai 1).

In Haggai 2:1-9, the Lord addresses Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, and promises to fill his house with glory. It would have been clear to anyone who saw the original temple in its glory that the sequel was not quite as good as the original.

But God encourages Zerubbabel, the descendant of Solomon, and Joshua, the namesake of the conqueror of the promised land, to be strong in this work. Together, they are conquering the land again and rebuilding this house. The Lord promises that he is with them, and his Spirit is in their midst as they work. They are told not to be afraid.

Then comes the Lord’s promise that he will be shaking the nations, so that all their treasures come in and glorify the house. As these two pillars of the nation work to rebuild a house for the Lord’s name, they are assured that their often-discouraging labours will not be in vain: they are pressing towards glory.

This is the hope that the restored people of God took to heart as they set out in their work to rebuild the Temple: they longed for the restoration of the dwelling place of God amongst them, they longed that the glories of the nations will come and offer gifts to the Lord to build up his house, and they longed for peace that they had not had since the golden age of David’s son Solomon.

And so, as the Lord was preparing to satisfy these longings of Israel, his messenger Gabriel came to Mary, the young virgin who was engaged to Joseph, a descendant of Zerubbabel. The angel assured her that the Lord was with her, and that she must not be afraid. She would have a son, and she must name him after the mighty conqueror of the promised land. How could all these things be? The Spirit of God was to come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her. Like Mary herself, the nation of Israel would be filled with glory once again.