I have two things to say.
First, they built the altar before they even started on the foundations of the temple. They had their priorities. They immediately, upon returning to the city from exile, rebuilt the altar so they could practice the sacrifices God required. The altar wasn’t seen as the crowning glory of the completed temple. It was seen as the most important element, the one needed before all others. They needed to be able to use the altar while they built the rest of the temple.
There’s something very beautiful in that.
Secondly, when the foundation was laid, there was great rejoicing. They had returned from exile. They were home. They were being restored. It was to be celebrated!
But those who had seen the original temple wept loudly enough to compete with the shouts of joy. Yes, they were home. Yes, they were rebuilding. But it would never be the same. But the loss was still real. It would never be erased, never be rewritten. A new temple would never undo the destruction of the first anymore than the return would erase the memory of exile.
Recovery from pain and loss and trauma often has it’s moments of celebration. Milestones reached. New joys altogether. But they are usually colored by the grief. There would be no need for celebrating recovery if there had never been injury. The grief doesn’t invalidate or diminish the joy, nor does the joy disrespect or invalidate the grief. We are complex creatures. We can feel both emotions at once.
As we begin the year 2023, I feel like this is rather relevant. We can feel hope for the future, celebrate how far we’ve come, eagerly look forward to how far we can go, and still feel the weight of the year’s we’re still recovering from. The past three years have been hard for the entire world. It’s possible to feel hope and fear and grief and joy all at once.
Just remember, while it’s healthy to acknowledge the complexities of what we feel, we do also have some degree of control over where we choose to focus. Will you focus on God this coming year? Place your hope in his guidance? I hope so.