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Our Ongoing Hope

Old Mystic, November 29, 2009
First Sunday in Advent
Jeremiah 33:14-16

Summary

The season of Advent always renews our hope in God’s gracious promise of deliverance in the face of uncertainty, fear, and despair. Such a hope is founded on Jesus Christ, the liberator, God establishing a new relationship with us of justice and righteousness.

Sermon

We begin the season of Advent focusing on hope and, aided by our lectionary reading, we can see a glimpse of hope in the words of the prophet Jeremiah in the midst of many warnings about the inevitable doom pending upon the people of Israel. Jerusalem had been under siege for quite some time and, in spite of some signs of potential help from Egypt, the fall under the armies of Nebuchadnezzar was certainly going to take place. Jeremiah himself, often overtaken by grief, had announced that Israel’s failure to be faithful to God had brought them into such a predicament. He had prophesied to them but their ears were deaf and, for his zeal, the prophet had been imprisoned.

But hope shines powerfully in the words of Jeremiah, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made.” The prophet knew that destruction, devastation, and death were going to befall Jerusalem. Yet, he trusted God and also knew that there was a future. And the image of that future, in the hope of a descendant of David, was significant. The days of the glorious kingdom of David and his son Solomon were long gone; many failed leader-kings had driven the nation away from God. Still, he could dwell in the hope of a “new branch” from the house of David, a king that “shall execute justice and righteousness.”

Indeed, Israel went into exile in Babylon for sixty years and, after their return, there was not such a thing as a ruler of the house of David who reigned with justice and righteousness, not at least as David had been. How far did Jeremiah’s expectations go? We do not know for sure. What we know is that his hope is enlarged by the Messianic interpretation that has been brought to bear upon this passage. God is a gracious God that came into the world through his son Jesus Christ to bring the hope of a new relationship; a relationship of justice and righteousness. This was Jeremiah’s hope, it is the hope of the present, and the hope of the future; our ongoing hope.

Hope is always focused on an expectation; something good, peaceful, joyful, and beautiful lies ahead. But it also implies waiting, not a kind of passive lingering but an active endeavoring to embrace the long expected hope. And Advent returns again and again—as long as we are hopeful—to remind us that our ongoing hope is in Jesus Christ. The remembrance of his birth renews our hope, enhances our expectation, and encourages us to do what the Prophet Jeremiah promoted throughout his life: to “plant and to build.”

Jesus came to bring—and it is an ongoing process—justice and righteousness, just as Jeremiah preached about the future king of the Davidic line. In the context of our 21st century, it is about a new relationship. In the Old Testament, the word justice stands for “judging with equity.” It means dealing fairly with everyone and giving everyone what is due. Jesus’ coming into this world signaled the beginning of his kingdom. He began his ministry announcing that that kingdom was near and, indeed is near, and it is here. It has already begun. Jesus inaugurated a new system of justice! What does that mean today? It would be long to list again all the maladies that surround us and how many of the atrocities that plague our century—and have been consistent throughout human history—are pervasive and signs of the many ways in which injustice still prevails. But the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated has set a new course, a course through which things will be transformed.

We have hope in Jesus Christ. The movement is on and, if we follow Jeremiah’s advice, we are in the time of “planting and building.” There is a journey illuminated by the hope of Advent. Jeremiah had said to the people in exile, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” We are challenged in the name of the Lord of Advent to seek the welfare of all those around us. It is by seeking justice for all—sounds familiar?—that we will find justice. And that is a journey of hope—our ongoing hope.

The promised branch of David was also to be a ruler who would “execute” righteousness. The expression seems to indicate the implementation of some rules of conduct since our understanding—misled for generations—has primarily been legalistic. We often see a righteous person as “morally right;” as someone who does what is ethically correct from a personal stance and for the sake of being right. The promise of Davidic king in Jeremiah’s message was speaking of a future person/ruler who was coming to ‘fulfill the demands of a relationship.” And God is serious about God’s relationship with humankind! For that reason one of the names given to the Messiah is Emmanuel, that is, God is with us.

Can we see this perspective, we 21st century onlookers? We can only be righteous in relationship with others and this is what virtue is all about—at least in this sermon! Righteousness is about loving, embracing, caring for, supporting, and surrendering to our neighbor! It also means fulfilling the demands of our relationship to the widow, the orphan, and the stranger—to use the Hebrew Bible language. Jesus came to set things right between us and God and between brothers and sisters.

Paul puts it beautifully in the language of reconciliation. “if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” When we are conscious about the complexities of human relationships, both interpersonal and corporate, the more we realize the importance of the Advent of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In spite of our claims of freedom and equality, we are still in bondage in so many ways and many in the world and even in our nation find themselves oppressed both by the system and their personal circumstances—is there any difference between these two? Advent once again brings the hope of a reality to be embraced, believed, and shared. Christ has come to have a relationship with us and he is in the process of setting us free; free to build a new world with different sets of relationships in a framework of justice; free to fulfill the calling of right relationships with God and with our neighbor.

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