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. 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. 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.”- Jeremiah 33:14-16
Today’s first Lectionary reading, from Jeremiah, is very short – here, listen to it again: “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. 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. 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.”
Advent is all about looking forward to what’s coming. In the Lectionary texts, we’ll hear narratives of people expressing hope in what appears to be hopeless situations, and this reading is certainly no exception. Throughout much of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet has been telling the king, and the people, that things are going to go really poorly for them. He’s warned them of troubles that are headed their way. Running contrary to all the prophets’ personal blogs and websites, and what he read in all the books like “Smart, Career-Enhancing Things a Prophet Should Tell a King,” Jeremiah told the king that he was going to fail in battle, that his opponents would overrun the country and obliterate the city and even take the king himself into captivity. And, as you might expect, Jeremiah’s words didn’t make him many friends. He was jailed at one point, and thrown down a cistern and left to die at another. Even these words we heard today were uttered while he was cooling his heels in the king’s prison for telling the king things he didn’t want to hear. But now, these words were different. Now, while he’s in prison, and the Babylonians, the superpower, had overrun the countryside and had laid siege to Jerusalem, Jeremiah starts to tell the people “The days are surely coming…” Everything is going to be fine, even better than before. God will raise up someone from the line of King David who will set everything right, once and for all.
It was foolishness. It was nonsense; it was crazy talk. Anyone who was listening to him at all at this point must have wondered if he was getting high while sitting in his prison cell. And yet, there are the words. Contrary to all common sense and what everyone knew was about to happen, Jeremiah keeps saying, “The days are surely coming…”
It’s on just that hope – that crazy-talk – that our entire faith rests. During Advent, we remember the improbable, outrageous way that God chooses to enter into our world and begin what Jeremiah foretold – coming to us in the flesh, as a helpless baby in a manger. And we’re called to believe the unbelievable, that through this same child, God will finally usher in the fullness of that same promise.
It would be easy for us to look at the news, with all the bombings, the shootings, all the examples of human beings being atrocious to one another, to think that Jeremiah’s words are as pie-in-the-sky, naïve, crazy as the people of ancient Judah must have considered them.
And yet… and yet, we can’t stop hearing them, and praying and hoping against hope that they’re true. That the promise is real. That there is cause for hope. That somehow, all that’s wrong in the world, and all that’s wrong in ourselves, will finally be set right.
The whole season of Advent is our testimony to this hope that we hold in our hearts, against the logic of the world and against critics who would say we just invented this whole hope thing, this religion thing, to try to make sense out of an existence that’s really meaningless and hopeless.
I admit that some days, when I look at the world, I wonder if they’re right and if all we’re doing here is just whistling in the dark just because we don’t know what else to do.
But then there are other days. These days; the days of Advent. The days of hearing Jeremiah’s words, and the words of the other prophets, and the words of the one born in the manger all grown up, and taking it all together, knowing somewhere deep in our hearts that whether we can explain it or not, there really is something more going on here – something more than reason can explain; something more than the cynics can dismiss. It’s something that assures us that the hope Jeremiah talks about, and that Jesus talks about, is real. And it really does give us hope. So with that hope in our hearts we light candles, and have mini-dramas, and sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – and really mean it.
Thanks be to God.