Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
December 2, 2018
First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33: 14-16 (CEB)
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. 15In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. 16In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.
When I was a kid, young elementary-school aged, my best friend Melissa lived in the same neighborhood as I did; just behind my house, in fact. Except I need to qualify what “just behind my house” means. She lived on a cul-de-sac that branched off a different street from my own. Between our homes was an acre of backyard and about an acre of woods. When we started playing together regularly, my Dad got out in the woods one Saturday with his sling blade and cleared a path from our backyard to Melissa’s backyard. I don’t think that I have to tell you that over the next two years until she moved, Melissa and I wore out that path. We were back and forth between one another’s homes all the time. My memories of playing with Melissa are pretty foggy, but there was one day in the early Spring of our 1st or 2nd grade year that I will never forget.
Melissa and I were on the path in the woods, making our way from her house to mine, when just ahead of me, Melissa, turned around and talking to me, stepped just off the path and right into a yellow jacket nest. I’m not sure we knew what hit us, but the swarm rose quickly, and we were both getting stung. We started screaming and running. Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere (though he must’ve been working in the garden at the edge of the woods), my dad came crashing toward us. He seemed like Superman. He was leaping over brush piles and ducking through vines and branches. He grabbed each of us by one arm and started running back out of the woods. I’m not sure if he was carrying us or we were running along beside him, probably some combination of the two, but as we ran we were getting scrapped and scratched by branches, and his grip on our arms was so tight we had bruises afterwards. Honestly, the rescue kind of hurt, but it was better than the yellow jackets.
That image is not so unlike our heavenly Father’s work. He sees the danger and, sometimes before we can even call out, God comes crashing into our world. From some throne above the universe, he hurdles the great expanse of time to enter our reality and pull us from danger. The rescue may not be smooth or easy, but the goal is always our safety, and God’s motive is always love.
Some 2,600 years ago, the Israelites, God’s chosen people, were in a swarm of trouble. After years of straying from God’s away, after years of failing to follow God, after years of unjust practices and selfish conceit, the Israelites had been conquered by the Babylonians and pulled from the Promised Land. Forced to live in exile, they were strangers in a foreign land. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by one of the Babylonian invasions. Their place of worship, God’s own house, was in ruins. The Land which had been promised to them was no longer theirs. The entire first half of Jeremiah is basically a cry of lamentation because of the violence, discrimination, prejudice, injustice, and intimidation that was an everyday part of the exiles’ lives.
Then the tone changes. In the midst of all the pain and sadness, there comes a fresh word from God. This short passage we heard a few moments ago is just one part of the message that Jeremiah delivers; a thread which runs through the second half of his prophecies. This new message is one of social restoration; leading to new possibilities and celebration. Jeremiah gives a vision of the future where the broken is made whole, where peace is restored, where violence, discrimination, prejudice, and intimidation are ended, and where justice reigns. This is a future with hope, and joy, and peace. This is God our Father crashing into the world, rushing right into the mess, and bringing salvation. And at the center of it all is a “righteous branch from David’s line.” “The Lord is our righteousness.”
You know, Christmas for many is a time of joy and celebration. The Christmas story is idealized in our minds. With a precious baby born to adoring parents, angels singing in the background, and shepherds and wise men coming to worship the newborn King. But this season of Advent, the four Sundays that lead us toward Christmas, help us to understand the context into which this baby King was born. One theologian writes, “The stories of Advent are dug from the harsh soil of human struggle and the littered landscape of dashed dreams.” In our waiting and our anticipation, we admit that we are broken, that we are sinners. In our waiting and our anticipation, we acknowledge that our world is a mess and we are in trouble. In our waiting and our anticipation, we cry out for help.
In the days of Jeremiah, the problems among the Israelites were vast. Yes, the Babylonians were invading, but the Israelites weren’t just victims. A lot of their hardship they had brought upon themselves. They were not following God’s way. In fact, they were worshiping other gods. They were not living righteous lives in the eyes of God. They were rebelling against God and sinning against their neighbor. They were not caring for the orphan and the widow in their midst, they were not welcoming the stranger, they did not hear the cry of the needy. They were not enacting the justice of God’s law.
So, when the people cry out for help, for deliverance, for salvation, God knows exactly what they need. “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “…[when] I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land.” My friends, we are not just. We sin. We are not righteous. Only Christ is righteous. Our only hope of ever being made righteous is Christ himself, who swoops into our lives to rescue us from danger, to save us. The only chance that our world might ever be a better place than it is now rests with Jesus Christ. The only possibility of a reign of justice and peace is in the Lordship of Christ the Savior. We need help. We need rescue. And the promised Messiah was and is God’s answer to our troubles.
This was the truth in 600 BC when the Israelites were floundering and the Babylonians were invading. This was the truth 2,000 years ago, when after 500 years of seeming silence from God, a doubting people were met with the unimaginable news that their Savior was now in their midst. And this is the truth today as struggle in a world fraught with violence, greed, and injustice.
Christmas isn’t just a birthday party for the greatest human that was ever born. Christmas is a celebration of the fact that again and again, God comes bursting into the wilderness of our lives to rescue us from danger. And Advent and Christmas is also a time of anticipation, when we look with hope and joy toward that day when God will rush into our lives once again and Christ will be enthroned once and for all as the ruler of heaven and earth. “The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, “when I will fulfill my gracious promise.
I heard this week of a soldier recovering from a war injury at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland. As you know, Walter Reed is the place where soldiers with some of the gravest injuries undergo surgery, and therapy, and recovery. This soldier, like so many of his colleagues there at Walter Reed, had suffered significant injury when his convoy ran over a bomb in Afghanistan. Such injuries are devastating to anyone. It can mean the loss of livelihood, the ability to care for loved ones, and maybe even the loss of hope. But this soldier had a different outlook. He hung a sign on his door that read, “Attention to all those that enter here: if you are coming into this room with sorrow or to feel sorry for my wounds, go elsewhere. The wounds I received I got in a job I love, doing it for people I love, supporting the freedom of a country I deeply love. I am incredibly tough and will make a full recovery.” This is an outlook of hope and peace; a living into a future of promised fulfillment.
Our God is incredibly tough. We may have messed up our lives and our world in unimaginable ways, but with the “Lord our Righteousness,” we will make a full recovery. Again and again, God our Father has shown how he swoops into our lives to rescue us. And because of that, we can know that the promises to save the world are not empty promises. Christ has come to establish his reign, and each Advent we proclaim that Christ will come again to reign in glory.
“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.”