Advent 1 ~ The days are surely coming

The book of Jeremiah is the longest of the Old Testament, and is dominated by gloom and doom. Jeremiah was a prophet for a long time, spanning the last three kings of Judah and the exile of the people. Like the prophets before him, Jeremiah is charged with words of condemnation for his community, king, and nation for abandoning their identity as the people of God. Jeremiah is to announce their imminent destruction, belaboring both God’s judgment and God’s grief over Judah. They have systematically violated the covenantal agreements. They have transgressed the Ten Commandments through economic policies that abused the poor, by foreign policy that centered on military might rather than on justice and mercy, by theological practices that countered God’s word, and by illusions of privilege. In the theology of their day, these violations will culminate in the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of its elite as a natural consequence of their actions.

In the midst of judgment and gloom come a dense cluster of promises. They glimmer with visions of hope, comfort and restoration. These few chapters of Jeremiah proclaim that after the judgment of exile is over, God will indeed bring the people back to the land of Judah and restore them as a new and faithful people. This light in the darkness is significant because it suggests that what Jeremiah pronounced as God’s “anger and wrath” are not the final words. God’s will is for things to be set right through the people’s repentance and obedience. God does not want their death, but their life lived in the light of God’s teaching.

From Jeremiah chapter 33, the book of consolation:

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. 

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.” 

17 For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, 18 and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.

The light shines in the darkness… and the darkness has not overcome it. 

Hymn 261   As the dark awaits the dawn.   

Even before Thanksgiving dishes are washed and put away, Christmas is in full swing. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and tomorrow’s Cyber Monday surround and overwhelm the first Sunday of Advent like Assyria, Babylon and Egypt overwhelmed and oppressed ancient Israel. 

And from here it’s a rush to Christmas day and after-Christmas sales. God’s word of objection to the world’s will and way of power, commerce and consumption is seriously muted, made quite irrelevant to the bottom line. We’ve got too much to do in preparation for Christmas, too much at stake in this holiday, to pay attention to the coming of God in Christ. The irony of that will gradually sink in. 

The four weeks of preparation for the Advent of that Word are crowded with parties, shopping, cookie baking, meal planning, over indulging, over buying. It’s a bit discouraging to be an Advent people: to feel the pull of Christmas wonder and fun and holy joy, and yet hold it back, waiting, letting the longing and self-reflection have it’s day. We might recognize the once and future sense of Christ’s coming, but still get swept along in the cultural stampede of 20% off sales, this day only.

For some reason, Advent is an unexploited gem. More than a holiday or festival, it is a season – a short season for those of us with short attention spans – just four weeks. I guess wreath and candle sales are the commercial side of Advent, but that’s not much. It’s colors are blues – midnight blue so dark it’s almost black, then gradually lightening blues, brightening to pink and palest blue on the horizon, then gold as the sun rises on Christmas morn. 

It’s appropriate that Advent begins in the dark. That is where prophecy finds us. As ancient Judah could not see the coming onslaught of Babylon, but chose to think God would always protect them as a people, so we in our day, have lived oblivious to social and environmental prophets’ words. We have preferred to stay in the dark on such matters, minding our own business, as though care of creation, the poor, and our fellow creatures is not our primary business. And even if we listen and agree, the doing is another matter when it means radical change.

Jeremiah’s prophecy was not welcomed, either. He was imprisoned for his discouraging words, the future of his consolations was too distant to comfort. Yes, Jerusalem would be destroyed, it was inevitable now, but the days are surely coming, he said, when God will bring return and renewal.

Historically, these promises were not fulfilled, have not been fulfilled, and so the day has not yet come for justice and righteousness in the land.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord…

Anticipation, Hope, Expectation – these are the words of Advent. And this prophesy is perfect. The days are surely coming. Jewish people are still awaiting this day, this Messiah. Christians believe the day has dawned, but not arrived in its fullness. We, too, wait for peace, for justice and wholeness in the land – and more and more – for the land. Ecological justice is our calling and may be our dread.

But Advent doesn’t give up. Christ has come and Christ will come again, we profess. Dark it may be, but more light and light it grows. Advocacy is the new righteousness, people like Greta our new prophets.

This Advent we are focusing on ELCA World Hunger. You may have noticed ornaments taped to the front doors. They are supposed to be on a small tree, but my plans got snowed under. Each ornament represents a gift – $50 for a goat, $25 to feed a refugee family, $10 to stock a backpack with food, $15 for a rooster, $125 for a micro loan for a woman, $30 for a water filter…on they go. If you would like to give the gift, you take the ornament, sign your name and place it and your check in the offering plate. 

These gifts are little sparks of light for those who dwell with deeper darkness than we do. We can’t buy off our iniquity like carbon offsets. We must also prayerfully consider the lifestyle choices and changes our prophets call us to enact. Advent is a short season. The need is not.

Jeremiah didn’t have the assurance of Advent to work with, what he warned against was the abandonment of God. While this is not our worry, he makes an interesting point – which Abraham Heschel describes in his commentary, The Prophets: pg 142-3: 

“Israel’s distress was more than human tragedy. With Israel’s distress came the affliction of God, His displacement, His homelessness in the land, in the world. And the prophet’s prayer, “O save us,” involved not only the fate of a people. It involved the fate of God in relation to the people. The Lord who had dwelt in the midst of Israel was abandoning His dwelling place. But should Israel cease to be His home, then God, we might say, would be without a home in the world. He would not have left His people altogether, but He would be among them like a stranger, like a wayfarer, withholding His power to save.

Jeremiah was constantly exposed to the situation of God, and tirelessly attentive to the mood of the people, attempting to unravel the knots in the relationship between God and Israel.”

Our calling as Christians in Advent is to wait for the coming of Christ, to work for justice and peace as an embodiment of our faith in Christ, and to look for sparks of light, glowing faces, radiant hope in the people of God’s love and concern – that is, I believe, in all people – and creatures, too.

Jeremiah’s parting word for us, from chapter 14:

“You, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name. Leave us not.”