Let me set the stage for today’s reading a bit. Since we’re starting Advent today it can seem like the reading is predicting Jesus will be coming in just a few short weeks. The 14th and 15th verses are, “14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” and that can sound to our post-Nativity, post-crucifixion, post- resurrection ears that Jeremiah is referring to Jesus coming soon and very soon. And why not, it’s Advent right? We’re preparing for Jesus to come, right?
Well, yes we are but the message in today’s reading isn’t forecasting Jesus’ arrival in about 700 years after its writing. Today’s reading isn’t peering into the future and telling us how it plays out. Today’s reading is much deeper and more profound for us than jumping up and down because we know Jesus is coming and there will be presents, cinnamon rolls, and egg nog in just a few short weeks.
This text seems a little odd for an Advent text but it fits in pretty well when we look at what it truly means. Jeremiah is a prophet and is speaking a word of God’s truth to the people in Jerusalem. They are in need of God’s truth in big ways because life is not good. The exact timing of Jeremiah’s writing isn’t known but it is either right before the Babylonians come in to trash Jerusalem and take the people into exile or right as the Babylonians are trashing Jerusalem and taking the people into exile.
Either way, this is not a time of festivity for the people in Jerusalem. Their lives are being turned upside down as they are taken into exile and Babylonians are moving into their houses. Think about that for a minute. The people are being forcibly removed from their homes by the Babylonians and at the same time other Babylonians are moving in. The people in Jerusalem can’t see the future and indeed, don’t know if they even HAVE a future.
This is getting pretty dark for the season of preparing for presents, cinnamon rolls, and egg nog, isn’t it? That is the message of Jeremiah, right there.
His message is going to a who people are living with a backdrop of imminent collapse. They’re either under siege and exile or about to be under siege and exile. That is not a fun place to be and yet there they are. Jeremiah is there with them with the same backdrop of imminent collapse that he has been telling them about. In previous chapters Jeremiah has made no bones about what is coming and why. He’s been crystal clear that if they continue to step away from the way of the Lord and ignore God and God’s commands, life will not go well. If they ignore God and pursue their own devices, someone from the outside, like the Babylonians, is going to come and trash Jerusalem and take the people into exile. Jeremiah has razor sharp understanding of how their society is flawed and broken.
Of course, the people didn’t like hearing the truth of God. That’s not the first time we’ve heard of this dynamic in our talks about the prophets the past couple of months but it is still playing out the same way. The people didn’t like hearing Jeremiah’s prophetic voice and rejected Jeremiah and his words. Not surprisingly, things are going well for them after making some poor choices.
And yet he is bringing a word of hope to the people, “16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” In and amongst what is about to happen to the people, Jeremiah is bringing a word of hope. Along with his keen sense of societies flaws, Jeremiah has a keens sense of hope. A hope in God.
Which would seem like crazy talk, really. With the Babylonians trashing the place and taking people into exile it would seem easier to embrace despair and give up. Certainly that would seem the more logical approach, and really wouldn’t it just be easier to give up?
That’s the thing about hope. Jeremiah isn’t talking about a simple thing that the word hope too often gets used for. Like, “I hope I don’t have to sneeze when I’m singing Remember Me here in a little bit.” You know that feeling you get when a sneeze is lurking out there just out of reach but you know it’s coming anyway? It isn’t a common thing but if you’ve ever sang a solo in front of a group and that sneeze feeling comes on you know what I’m talking about. No, Jeremiah is talking about a life changing hope that challenges the realities of the present. The people of Jerusalem can drown in despair and understandably so. But Jeremiah is bringing that mind altering moment of hope for the people to grab onto. The hope that God will indeed act.
The good news for the people is that God has promised to act and God will indeed act. The people’s trouble is not going to last forever and eventually Jerusalem is restored. It wasn’t an immediate and magical kind of restoration but the restoration does happen. Just as God promised.
This is an important message today. Like Jeremiah in his day, too many people, too many of us, have a razor sharp understanding of what is deeply flawed and broken in society today. Which can leave us with a profound sense of despair. What we miss sometimes is the hope that God is and will continue to act.
It isn’t always obvious that God is acting on our behalf. We can see the sunrise and appreciate the beauty of several hundred million tons of hydrogen being converted to helium every second. That’s pretty impressive. But other things are less obvious and thus not as easy to see.
What it comes down to is that our true hope is not in a cute, fluffy, baby Jesus but hope in a life transformed by an incarnated, crucified and resurrected Christ. True hope in Jesus’ birth is not found in presents, cinnamon rolls, and egg nog. True hope, the kind of hope Jeremiah is talking about, true hope in Christ is rising up from the darkness and despair into a transformed life.
It is the hope in God’s promise of a life transformed that sends us into the world, Bringing Christ’s Love to Life. When we do that, we bring to others the promise that we ourselves have experienced. That’s a promise.