Advent I – Jeremiah 33:14-16

Jimmy JoAdvent, SermonsLeave a Comment

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent, as you probably know, is that season of the year leading up to Christmas.  We celebrate or observe Advent from the fourth Sunday before Christmas.  It’s a time of anticipation, preparation, and expectation. 

Different Christian traditions (or even individual congregations) observe Advent in different ways.  Some churches assign a different theme to each of the four Sundays – but some don’t.  Some traditions emphasize prayer and fasting – confession and repentance become a key aspect of Advent in such traditions.  Some groups may not pay much attention to Advent at all, focussing all of their efforts and energies on Christmas proper.  I grew up in a church like this, where Advent as a season wasn’t particularly important (though Christmas definitely was). 

So, why do we observe Advent?  Well I think we observe (or at least can observe) Advent for all of the reasons we noted before.  But encompassing all of those reasons, one of the things that I hope we pay attention to is the rhythms of life. 

Again, many of us may not be aware (though we try to make note of it here at Grace) that many Christian traditions, for many centuries, have followed a Christian calendar.  Again, this varies somewhat from tradition to tradition, but the Christian year typically begins with Advent and Christmas, then Epiphany (noting the visit of the wise men), then we get Lent, then Holy Week, which leads us to Easter, then, Ascension Day (Jesus’ Ascension), Pentecost, then Ordinary Time.  Again, this can vary quite a bit in terms of the significance of particular days or seasons according to different traditions.  For many, Christmas and Easter are the only really significant seasons. 

Now, this whole cycle of annual celebrations has precedent in the Bible as Israel was commanded to observe a series of Feasts every year, the one we’re most familiar with being Passover. 

Now as I said, there are plenty of Christians (faithful Christians) who only celebrate Christmas and Easter.  Is it necessary that we observe the whole Christian calendar?  I would argue, “No.”  Is it important that we observe the whole Christian calendar?  I would argue, “well, maybe.”  I suppose what I would argue is that this cycle of celebrations can help us enter into the rhythms of life, the rhythms of grace that are being worked out in a fallen world. 

Let me try to explain: 

Our scripture passage today is taken from the lectionary for the season of Advent.  We are reading Jeremiah 33:14-16. 

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘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.
16 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.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The book of Jeremiah is one of the largest books in the bible and one of the most significant (which is actually a weird thing to say).  It is named for the prophet Jeremiah who was speaking to the people of Israel (properly speaking, to Judah).  Because it’s such a large book, it’s impossible to look at it in detail.  But in general, we read right at the beginning of the book that Jeremiah’s ministry covered the time of the king Josiah, all the way through to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and to the deportation (the exile) of the people.  We read: 

1:1 The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

Jeremiah 1:1-3

So, in other words, Jeremiah is prophesying to the people – that is, speaking the word of God to the people – in the midst of significant political, national turmoil.  I remind you that the people of Israel had a very specific understanding of who they were.  Their history involved their specific election by God to be a people called by His own name.  They understood themselves as chosen and blessed by God.  But after the halcyon years under King David, they experienced the division of the nation into Israel and Judah (the Northern and Southern Kingdoms respectively).  They were oppressed under the foreign nation of Assyria who exiled many of their people. 

During Josiah’s reign – King of Judah at the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry – Josiah tried to clean up the problems in Judah.  That is, he tried to restore Judah as people truly devoted to God.  But Josiah died in a battle with Egypt and his sons were not interested in a kingdom devoted to Yahweh – rather, they were committed to advancing their own kingdom.  Subsequently, Judah fell deeper into sin, eventually being conquered by Babylon, finding themselves in exile.

So this is the context into which Jeremiah is ministering.  And this is the broad context into which we read Jeremiah’s words today.  Again:

33:14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘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.
16 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.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

I can imagine the impact that these words would have had on the hearers of Israel and Judah.  In terms of national scope, we know that they had been suffering and struggling for generations.  The hope of their ancestors – those who had been delivered from Egypt, those who had received the Law of the Lord, those who had conquered and settled the promised land, those who understood themselves as God’s people, under God’s blessing – that hope must have seemed do distant.  What they were experiencing in the present certainly wasn’t what they expected as those who should have been known as the people of God. 

Now make no mistake, what they were experiencing now was a direct consequence of their own sin.  If one wants to be the people of God, then one actually has to be the people of God (that is, not a people like all the other peoples of the earth).  And they knew this – or they should have – because God was pretty darned specific about it.  God told them, over and over again, that if they failed to keep the covenant, then they would receive the consequences of the covenant – that is, they would not be living with God’s blessing. 

Nevertheless, their own history told them that God was always faithful.  Their own experience told them that God would always deliver the people, even from their own sinfulness and rebelliousness.  So, when they heard the words, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah,” they knew that God would be faithful again – they were able to see the hope again. 

This is what I mean (at least in part, from one perspective) by the rhythms of life.  What we see in the story of Israel is the rhythm of grace, the rhythms of redemption.  I’m not saying that sin is a necessary part of the story – it’s a reality, but it shouldn’t be a necessity.  But following sin is always grace.  Following the fall, God always picks His people up. 

It’s the same rhythm that we see in the seasons of the year.  Each year, the winter brings darkness, cold, and death (I don’t mean to be morbid – I just have in mind things like crops, plants, trees).  But the spring always follows winter.  Summer always follows the Spring.  Life always arises out of death.  The rhythm of each day echoes the rhythms of the season:  The sun always rises out of the darkness.  And hope always rises out of suffering.  What we see, and what we know, is that God is always faithful. 

But what we also know is that, though God repeatedly shows His faithfulness, Israel (and all human beings) repeatedly fall back into sin.  And if the cycle were to go on endlessly forever, we would have little reason for actual hope.  We read the words of Jeremiah: 

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘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.
16 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.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

…and they are hopeful, no doubt.  But we know that Israel fell into sin again and again, long after this. 

But the hope that Jeremiah is pointing to is not about their immediate situation.  The “days [in which] Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety” have little to do with actual Babylon.  The Israelites would have had Babylon in mind, sure.  And deliverance from Babylon was certainly part of the promise.  But God had something much bigger in mind.  The “day” that Jeremiah is speaking about isn’t just another day, but the final one.  The “Branch” that Jeremiah is speaking about is not another earthly kingdom but an eschatological one.  The Branch that Jeremiah is speaking about is Jesus. 

As we probably know, Advent has a double focus.  We know that Advent is about anticipation and preparation.  The first sense of anticipation has to do with waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  In Advent, we remember the promise of God to fulfill His kingdom in and through the person of Jesus Christ.  Advent recalls the waiting of Israel, suffering through centuries of oppression under the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Romans, for the arrival of the Messiah, in whom God’s kingdom would be fulfilled. 

But the second sense of anticipation, the second sense of Advent, has to do with the fact that we are waiting still.  We today sit on the other side of history, the other side of the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ, the true Messiah, has come, has died, and has risen again.  He has poured out His Holy Spirit among the people.  We live in the shadow of that joy, in the reality of God’s salvation.  But we still wait for the final fulfillment of God’s kingdom.  We still live with the reality of sin in the world and in ourselves.  We know that none of this is yet as God has meant it to be.  But it will be. 

One day – we don’t know when – Jesus will come again in the fullness of His kingdom.  We know that one day, sin and death will be done away with and we will live in the fullness of the life of God. 

But until then, we wait.  Until then, we remember.  And until then, we anticipate. 

I know that this past year has been hard for a lot of people.  The past couple of years has been hard.  It’s been harder for some than others.  And it’s been hard for some in ways that the rest of us have no idea about (that is, it’s not just Covid).  Life has been hard for some people.  But what I want to remind us of, as we enter into this season of Advent, is that the dawn is coming.  I want to remind us that out of the darkness, light is always coming. 

Now I want to point out that this doesn’t mean that we should minimize our struggles.  It doesn’t mean that our pains are not real.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that we should trivialize the things that others are going through.  But I hope it help us to pay attention to how deeply, and in how many different ways we need Jesus.  I hope that we can start to understand how deeply we need restoration and redemption. 

And out of that brokenness, out of that woundedness, I hope that we remember God’s word to His people: 

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

The last thing that I want to say is that, in the midst of the brokenness and woundedness of the world, I hope that our desire – as a people who know and experience the forgiveness and redemption of Christ – is that we would be a voice of hope to that world.  We’ve talked a lot about the challenge of being the church in our world today.  One of those challenges is that many people today see the church as an institution of judgement, of privilege, of hypocrisy, and etc.  I’m not going to talk about that today because there’s a lot to unpack.  But what if we, as the people of God, could be a people who could communicate to the world, the hope of God?  The hope that this is not all that there is?  What if we, as the people of God, could genuinely enter into and share the struggles, suffering, and woundedness of people and point them towards the one hope.  A hope that Is not based on the supposed wisdom and ingenuity of fallen human beings, or their technologies, their institutions, or any of our plans or ambitions.  What if we could point to the truth that there is a light at the end of the tunnel?  That the dawn is coming.  That the kingdom of God is coming.

Each year, we celebrate Advent.  Each year, we experience the rhythms of darkness and light; of fallenness and suffering, hope, and redemption.  But one day, there will be no more Advent.  There will be no more cycles.  There will be no anticipation because the King will arrive.  And it’s in Him alone that we have our hope.

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