December 16, 2017
Hebrew Scripture: Ezra 1:1-4, 1 Maccabees 1:1-10, 29-35; 2:19-22, 4:30-33, 52-58; 8:1, 11-16
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia. He sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared:
“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel.” And so the people returned to Jerusalem, and began to rebuild.
Two hundred years later, Alexander the Great defeated King Darius of the Persians, and he succeeded him as king. Alexander fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. When he grew old, he summoned his most honored officers, and divided his kingdom among them. His officers took up crowns after his death, and so did their descendants after them; and they caused many evils on the earth.
From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus. This king sent a tribute collector to the cities in the country of Judah, and he himself came to Jerusalem with a large army. He fell upon the city, and destroyed many people of Israel. He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. On every side of the sanctuary they shed innocent blood; they even defiled the sanctuary.
Antiochus Epiphanes demanded that all inhabitants of the land give up their own customs and offer sacrifice to idols. When this decree was given by the king’s officers, Mattathias, a priest, answered: “Even if all the nations under the rule of the king obey him, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. We will not obey the king’s words.”
Mattathias’ sons rebelled against the Greeks, led by their brother Judas Maccabeus. When Judas saw that their army was strong, he prayed to God, saying, “Blessed are you, O Savior of Israel, who crushed the attack of the mighty warrior by the hand of your servant David, and gave the camp of the Philistines into the hands of Jonathan son of Saul. Now hem in this army by the hand of your people Israel. Let them be ashamed of their troops and their cavalry. Fill them with cowardice; melt the boldness of their strength; let them tremble in their destruction. Strike them down with the sword, and let all who know your name praise you with hymns.” And they defeated the Greek army, all five thousand.
When they had defeated the army, the priests of Israel rose and offered sacrifice in the temple on a new altar they had built. The temple was rededicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven. They celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully made sacrifices of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.
Now Judas heard of the fame of the Romans, that they were very strong and pledged friendship to those who came to them. They have subdued kings far and near, and as many as have heard of their fame have feared them. Yet for all this not one of them has put on a crown or worn purple as a mark of pride, but they have built for themselves a senate chamber, and every day three hundred twenty senators constantly deliberate concerning the people, to govern them well. They trust one man each year to rule over them and to control all their land; they all heed the one man, and there is no envy or jealousy among them.