Advent: Jeremiah 33 verses 1 to 18
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
Before the talk, the passage was read from the Good News Bible.
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Advent continues as it does across the world. It continues in burnt out cities like Paradise in California or so many places in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, and other places too. After centuries of divine patience with Israel’s blatant covenant breaking, God has finally had it. This dark book of Jeremiah is God's word of judgement upon his wicked children and upon those who will be instruments of his judgement. The judgement has begun to fall, so there is death and terror, deprivation and sorrow everywhere.
Today we only have to listen to the news or reach for our newspapers, flip in our phones or switch on the TV to be plugged into the world and about how awful this place can be. Every Christmas the TV ratings compete Corrie against East Enders with some far-fetched storyline to get us to tune in, maybe the catastrophic events portrayed in them will give a bit of respite from the lives that the viewers have.
Has it really got that bad? Do we watch the telly to make us feel better about ourselves by feeling even worse for fictional characters? Perhaps that is what it was like for Jeremiah except it was happening for him for real. At that very moment when God’s judgement reaches its depth there is thrown a lifeline. Jeremiah speaks an unexpected word of hope.
Just when Judah thought there was no hope, Jeremiah speaks and God repeats a word he had made centuries before to David, a word about healing and restoration and security and prosperity and hope. That’s what we have in Jeremiah chapters 30 to 33 the so-called book of consolation, in the midst of Jeremiah's tear-filled words of judgement. Our text today is the exclamation mark at the end of the book of consolation.
Jeremiah himself is not in a good place. Indeed, he is in prison, it says right at the start. As would so often happen to the apostle Paul centuries later it was in prison that the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Our text today is the second revelation given to Jeremiah as he languished in that courtyard of the guard. It’s an encouragement to us in those dark times. It's a fitting way to continue our Advent journey.
I speak of dark times, primarily because of the political situation in so many parts of the world but particularly of course, in the UK and its government where division has reached potentially historic proportions and the politicians seem to be at loggerheads over Brexit. The news cycle bombards us with those dire warnings: we’ve never had such leadership; we can't survive this kind of government gridlock; we're doomed as a country.
Of course, people in places like Afghanistan and North Korea, South Sudan will tell us that we don’t know how bad it can get, when leaders don't know what we should think or what they should or they shouldn't do, but all around the world, we hear voices declaring that things have never been worse.
Who do we believe in these negotiations and where do we get our information from? Our duty as Christians, whatever our political persuasion, is to pray for our Prime Minister and government, when I wrote this I didn’t know who was going to be the prime minister, to have a calm head, to be wise and to seek the best or perhaps at this stage the least worst outcome. Then there would be peace and acceptance from all sides whatever is agreed.
Romans 13 commands us to pray for those in leadership. Jeremiah challenges us with a very important question in this situation, who are you going to believe? Who are we going to believe? The word of the secular prophets? Perhaps how we’re influenced today without all the facts or the figures at our fingertips or possible fake news, another word for gossip, or how we're influenced by God.
Earlier in Jeremiah, those secular prophets claiming to speak for God had declared that all was well: prosperity and life are our lot now; goodness. Now after perhaps 40 years those same prophets are declaring that there is no hope. Two times in this chapter alone God quotes these prophets, “You say,” he says,“you say that this place is a desolate waste without men or animals.” In verse 24 God says,“If you notice that these people are saying, the Lord has rejected the two kingdoms he chose.”
God has a solution for a dark time. Don’t believe what those talking heads are saying about your future. Listen to this word from God, “These days are coming,” he says,“when I will fulfil the gracious promise that I made to the house of Israel, to the house of Judah.” His solution is unification of two lands, Israel and Judah, doing the impossible and yet fulfilling a promise. Sound familiar? Read chapter 33 carefully and you'll hear over and over: the Lord says; the word of the Lord came to me; this is what the Lord says; hang on in there there's more, there's hope. God is not afar or aloof or distant. That's his promise to Jeremiah and that's his promise through the birth of Jesus and that's the promise he continues today in the here and the now.
Here is the promise of Jeremiah, it is not all doom and gloom: in those days and at that time I will make a righteous branch sprout from David’s line, we sing it every year. Of course, this harks back to the promise God made to David in two Samuel chapter seven and reiterated in two Samuel chapter 23. You will always have a son on the throne of Israel. David's line will not die out, but Israel was about to be dragged off into exile and the last Jewish king was going along for the ride.
The monarchy was over, it had been an abject failure in the last years of those two kingdoms and now it was dead. The promise of God, had it come to nothing? Everyone could see that, everyone said that, but the prophets. The prophets don’t just give out the bad news. The season of Advent is where we often remember the importance of what they had to say, what they had to say to people then and the promise in the coming chosen one of God in Jesus.
There is coming a time when God will raise up a little sprout, a little shoot in the stump of Jesse, Isaiah chapter 11, a righteous branch from David’s line and he will do what these kings failed to do and could not do. First of all, he will do what is just and right in the land, exactly what God appointed leaders to do: to act righteously and defend justice, especially for all of those who are victims of injustice. That branch will save his people.
In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. What Israel needed and what every nation needs in order to be safe and secure, prosperous and happy is a leader who does what is right and just. Or as verse 17 puts it, what we all need is a king and a priest. For this is what the Lord says, “David will never fail to have a man sit on the throne of the house of Israel nor will the priests who are the Levites ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually, to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and present sacrifices.”
I was especially interested and impressed, I think to hear the Bible discussions last week on our second Sunday that Jesus’ family heritage was from both the line of Levi, the priests, and the line of David, the king. In Jesus, we have this priestly king. How good is that? Jesus was not a mistake. He was born at exactly, precisely the right time to fulfil the Old Testament promises.
Jesus’ life and example now restores the Kingdom of God to the whole world and is in the process of bringing that kingdom to the fruition promised here in Jeremiah 33. Israel was looking for a rebuild nation that resembled what they had under David. Christians often focus on a heavenly dwelling that has little to do with this place on earth.
Yes, of course, Jesus reconciles us to God, but he also promises to reconcile us to one another, and the creation of this new heaven and this new earth. Until then, there is a challenge. This kingdom involves not just the priestly king, but its residents, its subjects, you and I. The Lord, our righteousness, whether that is the name of the restored Israel or Jerusalem, as here, or the branch himself, as in chapter 23 and verse six. The idea is that the righteousness that will reconcile us to God and to our fellow humans and to creation is a gift from God.
There’s a sense that if God is our righteousness, then we have something to do with the restoring of our world. Having the Lord as our righteousness isn't just a title we can rely on or take comfort in, though it is that too. Righteousness is about, get this, making it right, making our world right. We've talked this year quite a lot about the importance of thinking how we treat our world, how we might do our parts in ensuring we're doing our bits to save our earthly environment. That's just one very small part.
Jesus talks endlessly about how we must treat one another. Just this week I had cause to speak to a government agency about something and the lack of compassion that the person on the other end of the phone had, blaming the situation, that somebody else has got themselves into was heartbreaking. It reminded me that this person at the government agency didn’t have the same outlook on life as perhaps I did, seeing how they would view the situation differently if the boot was on the other foot.
That’s doing right. That's justice, standing in the gap, making a way through the mire. That's how we began this year talking about the jubilee year, the time of the Lord's favour, cancelling debts, giving and receiving forgiveness. When we think about the Lord, our righteousness, yes, it's about who God is, but it's also about how we can respond in action to one another, to the outcast, to our neighbour. Because when we respond with love and action, we are becoming like God, again, who acts righteously.
The God of justice once again has his hands and his feet and his eyes and his ears and a huge heart of compassion. The God who restores and makes communities live again has moved once more into the neighbourhood. In this season of Advent, we look back to the promised fulfilment of Jeremiah’s surprising promise.
We look ahead to this brave new world that the promise branch would bring. This promise will sound foolish to the prophets and the government agencies and Prime Ministers who alternate between glory of human potential or wallow in human failure. Our response is always to hear what God is saying, to believe it and then to act.
Restoration, hope, rebuilding bridges into our communities, loving the unlovely, not for what we can get out of it, but for what we can give, that’s the love of Jesus in action. That's God's rescue plan. Not only so that sinners get rescued, but the whole love of God for the whole of humanity, from the love that God has for his whole creation, so that widows find families and the orphans find fathers and mothers, so that when it comes down to our individual response, peace and goodwill to all becomes a habit, and we all become Christ-like.
We all come down to earth and love the loveless and speak out for those who have no voices and capture that heart that God has for those who think that they are beyond his reach, only to find that the love of God finds them through the actions of God’s children. The prophets long foretold the coming of the Christ child. Jeremiah promised it pretty accurately. In these days as we become evermore expectant about recalling afresh the birth of this priestly king Jesus, so the challenge remains, how will Jesus be born in us, in me, today?
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