Today is the beginning of a new year! This is one of those times in the church calendar that it is apparent that we are out of step with most of those around us. It is a time when we are reminded that our lives, our reality is ordered around the life of Jesus Christ our Savior. Today is the beginning of Advent, that season of waiting and of hope as we wait for the coming of our Lord. It is not so much a season of great happiness and joy… that comes later as we celebrate Christmas… it is more a season of reflection, anticipation, repentance. Earlier we sang the song, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” For me, that song captures the essence of the season of Advent as we seek to “ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage (our full worship) to demand.”
So let’s look at our readings for this morning, and ponder a bit about what we are actually waiting for, and what our waiting looks like. Is it a motionless waiting, or are we doing something as we wait? A commentary named Connections: A Liturgical Commentary for Preaching and Worship helped me formulate my thoughts this week.
Jeremiah the prophet declares God’s judgment on the people of Israel.
The readings from Jeremiah today come in the larger context of the whole book. In the first part of this book, Jeremiah the prophet declares God’s judgment on the people of Israel. They have not lived as his people, they have abandoned the Torah, the ordering of their lives by God’s laws, and God is bringing judgment on them by allowing the Babylonians to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, and carry the people who aren’t killed off into exile in Babylon. In the middle part of the book of Jeremiah, he gives the people God’s promise that exile is not their final destiny. God promises his people that they will one day return to the land of Israel, they will return home. And in the final part of the book, Jeremiah promises Israel that God will restore their land, their kingdom, and their priesthood.
Today’s reading about a Branch is part of that restoration… a king who is worthy and will reign in the way God intended. That language of a Branch is a little unfamiliar to most of us isn’t it? What is Jeremiah talking about? Well, have you ever seen a tree that has been cut down, but out of the remaining stump a branch grows up, sometimes into an actual tree itself. That’s the image Jeremiah is evoking here: Israel is the tree that has been chopped down, destroyed by the Babylonian king’s army, but out of that chopped down remnant will come a king who rules rightly… following God’s direction and law.
Earlier in the book, in Jeremiah 23:5&6, he says:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.
But did you notice in today’s reading what is called “The Lord our Righteous Savior?” It is not the Branch. Let’s look at that reading again: “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord our Righteous Savior.”
In this passage, when the Branch appears the land itself becomes righteous. I love this idea! Under the rule of the righteous king, the land is transformed into a place of righteousness.
For Israel, in the context of the horrific upheaval and disaster and devastation of their land, Jeremiah tells the people, God is still at work. The commentator put it this way,
“The catastrophic present must be seen as a pulling down and plucking up necessary for a building up and planting that will remake the landscape. Jeremiah 33:14–16 declares the remaking will be the Lord’s work through the Lord’s king — the vision of the future beyond the contemporary horizon, therefore calls the people of God to look beyond the present moment, with its violence, disintegration and failed leadership to the restorative end toward which the Lord is moving and so to orient faith and decision making within the context of God’s ultimate power and purposes, rather than the clamoring demands of the paralyzed present. The Lord is determined to renew creation once and for all.”
I think we can agree that this is a message of hope that is so necessary for all of us today as well. In the context of all of Scripture, Jesus is seen as the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy. He is the “Branch,” “the Lord our righteous Savior.” And so we wait for the complete fulfillment of this prophecy, … for the time when all of creation will once again be called righteous and be a place of safety and beauty completely in line with God’s created intent. We wait, in this Advent season, with hope in spite of the chaos around us because we trust that God has not abandoned us, but is at work bringing to completion the promised kingdom that Jesus announced has arrived in his personhood.
The psalmist reflects the tensions that we can experience in this Advent waiting; “In you Lord my God I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame.” Have I mentioned before how much I love the psalms?! I love them because they so honestly reflect the emotional landscape of a person of faith. Today’s psalm is no different!
I don’t know about you, but every time I plan an event… like the FED talks for example, I experience this underlying fear that this time, no one will actually show up. Do you ever feel that way too?
When we are honest, there is often a tension in our waiting for God to act in our lives. Bad stuff is happening, and we think God is still at work, but it sure doesn’t seem like it! So we can echo with the psalmist… help us out here, God! Don’t embarrass me by not showing up. Don’t make me look bad in front of all those others who I have told you are going to help me. The psalmist echoes for us… are you coming to help, God?
The psalmist echoes for us… are you coming to help, God?
And the psalmist brings something new to our understanding of waiting also… there are times we feel as if we may have disqualified ourselves from expecting the Lord’s rescue. The fear is that our sins, the times we have failed to live as the righteous-right living people of God, may mean God will no longer rescue us.
And yet, even here, there is hope: “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.” The commentator remarked,
“No matter how off target we become, God’s paths remain open, cleared by truth and marked by steadfast love and faithfulness at every turn.”
Our waiting for God, then, is also marked by the desire and effort to live rightly for God, to live according to the rules of his kingdom in a world that is distorted by other allegiances, by evil, and by death.
We see that same kind of holy living expected in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
For Paul, part of our waiting is to be marked by our love for one another. This gets at the heart of kingdom living. In God’s kingdom there is no favoritism, there is no valuing one more than another based on any demographics… the rich are not more welcomed here, in fact it is the poor and needy who are held in high esteem; there is no sense that one race or gender has more value or more power than any other; there is not a valuing of one political agenda over another, in fact there is a recognition that the kingdom of God’s agenda is quite different from both of them. There is only a radical love that welcomes those who are different, struggling, lonely.
That is the kind of community we want to be here at Arbor House. We want to be a place people can come each week to get a taste of what it will be like when Jesus comes again. As we gather together each week, we want to create a diverse community where we can be honest with one another, where we can disagree with one another, where we can encourage one another, and where we always, always know that the love that unites us is greater than anything that might separate us. Advent waiting requires us to be marked by the love of God for one another.
Finally, we turn to look at the Gospel reading for today. In Luke 21, Jesus talks with us about how God’s people must be vigilant in the time between now and the final future of humanity. Jesus warns us, not to “fall asleep,” not to get lured into living our lives with the priorities and values of those who are not anticipating his coming.
I love the contrast he sets up, “nations will be in anguish and perplexity… people will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world… yet when these signs take place, the people of God’s kingdom will “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!”
In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus is teaching us that God is not absent or inactive during this time of “not yet” waiting, so when we see these signs we will have a recognition of “this is it!” all things will now be made right!
This Advent, “The Lord is our righteousness” words of promise written by Jeremiah find their fulfillment in in the coming of Christ, Immanuel, God with us. To be the people of God means proclaiming there is salvation and safety in Jesus Christ. This is a message of power, hope and peace for a world that desperately needs it. There is a God who is at work right now in our world, preparing it for the time when Jesus comes again to restore all things, bring healing and wholeness to the broken, and renew all of creation, including humanity, into the perfection that God intended when he created us.
Our Advent waiting is not passive. We live our lives anticipating this coming reign of Jesus Christ… so we seek to live rightly with God and others, we seek justice for all peoples, we ask forgiveness for those places we fail, and we love one another with God’s welcoming love. We live as people of faith, so that even when it doesn’t look like it, we believe our God is powerfully at work in our world bringing it to a future perfection and glory that is impossible for us to fully imagine. We live as people of hope.
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