Main Street Community Church

Advent 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16

This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The talk is long.

You can see the talk with its video on Facebook.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 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. 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.” (Jeremiah 33:14–16, NRSV)

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In my missive this week, I was starting to talk about my planned preparing for Christmas book [aside: -- Thank you, that’s lovely, --] by Richard Rohr, I’m trying to read through this each day as a part of my preparation for Christmas and Advent. One of the sentences that came out this morning was ‘Come, Lord Jesus, the Advent mantra. It means that all of Christian history has to live out a kind of deliberate emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfilment.’ Advent I think is a season for feeling out of kilter as we wait and prepare for such as this season of Advents. We recognize that not all is what it should be. While this is the case every year, this feels is especially true of 2021. For many, this was to be the year of triumphal return to what was, or at least an excitement towards building that new normal. A vaccine was readily available to people in the west, at least with the hope that normal life could resume again.

However, the society has been irrevocably changed by the events of 2020 and 2021. Many are tired and grieved and burnt out. For many people within our fellowship, it’s been another hard year and it’s sometimes difficult to know or discover where that hardship will ever end. As I was preparing this message, I got a phone call from somebody to say that they’d been struggling with their mental health and that schools were starting to batten down their hatches for Christmas activities. Of course, our sad news this week for getting back to normal in Frodsham Churches Together is that we felt we had to cancel Christmas Journey. Whilst we enjoyed the familiarity last night of the Christmas lights switch-on, the being up close with unvaccinated children in gazebos wasn’t felt right to expose more potentially vulnerable adults.

This year, Advent really does feel like it’s a period of waiting in the darkness of not receiving what we know will happen. It’s a season in which we are caught between joyful expectation and the harsh realities of the present condition while we wait for promises to be fulfilled. The discipline if you like of this season puts the church at odds with contemporary culture. I think Gill you alluded to that earlier in which the holiday season consists of bright lights and celebrations and packages wrapped up with bright coloured paper. There’s no room for darkness and little patience for prayerful expectation. When Christmas songs blare from speakers in the shops: have you been to Cheshire Oaks lately?

The neighborhood is starting to glow with displays of lights and yet ironically this experience of being out of sync with our surroundings may attune us more deeply to the nature of Advent. In Advent, we live in the unsettling tension between what is and what will be. In some ways I guess it’s like how Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, it’s here but not in its fullness; it’s here but not quite yet. There’s a confusing time of here but not-yetness. It was lovely to see Laura join us, there she is hello with Effy there. Long time, no see. She’s waiting an Advent excitement. She’s expecting a baby any week now. I think really? Oh, there’s Effy in the middle there just below me. It’s the there but not quite yet.

This kind of confusing time that Advent gives us time to prepare and plan. One of the things I’ve done in my nearly half-decade at Main Street is to try to become a little bit more aware of the importance of Christmas seasons. We marked Advent not merely by the lighting of the beautiful candles on the wreaths although this is really helpful and a visible way of reminding ourselves. A lectionary reading is a wonderful way of reminding us how the church year kind of unveils. Today is almost like the first day of the church year.

Last week we celebrated Christ the king, and Advent begins the liturgical year just in time for Christmas. There are so many feasts and saints days and celebration days and this to some small extent, I think reminds us of God’s goodness just like the people of the Old Testament remembered God’s goodness to them in spite of their often forgetting God himself. They used to enjoy the celebrations. We also know that there are tensions between celebrating and being aware of the hardships and difficulties facing individuals and families and nations today. It’s hard to celebrate when we are acutely aware that someone known to us is suffering pain and hurt. The prophet Jeremiah here in Jeremiah 33 speaks of a community that is acutely aware of tensions. Jerusalem has been completely devastated by the Babylonian empire of 587 BC and many inhabitants of Israel have been scattered from their homeland living as conquered people in Babylonian captivity.

For those living in exile, their way of life has been completely overturned. Their sense of security has been violated and they’ve got no idea whether they will see home again. Where is God in the midst of all this? Why did such devastation happen? Is God present here in exile? will God allow us to return home anytime soon? what happens to that promise that God gave to David? Is the grace of the covenant promises made long ago still operative now? The experience of exile is one of profound dissonance. This generation lives in the wide gap between the reality of what is and the promise of what is to come. In fact, the hardship of the present reality must make the covenant promises seem far from reach. As the Psalmist lamented, “Well, by the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and we wept when we remembered Zion.”

“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange and foreign land?” Here in Jeremiah 33:14-16, Jeremiah offers a vision of that new reality. “The days are surely coming says the Lord when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” We shouldn’t underestimate what a daring proclamation this is in the face of devastation with all the evidence to the contrary. Jeremiah the prophet insists that God’s promises are certain how far and how much do we really trust God in his promises when we look deeply into them. The sign of the covenant promise is the righteous branch of David. The prophecy, which is expanded a little earlier in Jeremiah 23:5-6, promises the restoration of David’s line.

Find out more about that in “While shepherds watch their flocks by night” – almost said socks. The Levitical priesthood which Jeremiah goes on to speak about in chapter 33 and verse 17, the government with David that promises an eternal kingship, God’s perpetual love remains reliable but the reality of this promise seems hard to believe given the present circumstances. Could God’s covenant with David be broken? No more than the sun would stop rising and setting. If we look at Jeremiah 33 just a couple of verses on him in verses 20 and 21, “Thus says the Lord if any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night so that day and night would not come at their appointed time only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken.” The covenant made by God with King David is as certain as the cycles of the day and night. It’s part of the regular workings of the cosmos. It’s an issue of God remembering and His people remembering that they can trust His words. Jeremiah’s prophecy imagines an alternate reality. The restoration of Israel, the practice of justice and righteousness, and flourishing life in the land that God has promised.

Jeremiah doesn’t simply cast utopian visions of life as it once was, or as the people desire it to be again: empty promises are of little comfort for homelessness, broken dreams, and tarnished memories. Rather, this alternate reality is grounded in a claim about God’s faithfulness. In Jeremiah 33:16, it will be called the Lord is our righteousness. Bridging the gap between the present reality and the promised future is only possible by an act of faith that God’s righteousness will triumph. Jeremiah suggests that confidence in God’s righteousness enables belief in a new reality today.

Over the past weeks, we have been reminded constantly in our news and our bulletins, about saving the planet and going green. Maybe we forget that amidst the difficult facts that we are faced with by scientists, we still have a God whose promises are sure and deep, that there is still a hope and a future. That this hope and future is not only in the future when Jesus returns but within our present when we are called to ask Him to bring God’s kingdom, as it is on earth as it is in heaven, we to an extent can be the answer to our own prayers and desires for our world if we act. That new reality can be part of who we are becoming, even in parts now.

In Advent, the church proclaims an alternate reality that grows out of confidence in God, manifested in hope as we see by that candle, in joy, in love, and in peace. Advent invites us to name the place in our lives and our society that are at odds with the divine vision of justice and righteousness, those places that are devoid of hope and joy and peace and love. It so often comes back to these themes in scripture, both in the work of Jesus, in the work of the prophets, and what Paul says in his writings. There may be a wide gap between what is and what we wish was so. Yet, the promise of Advent is that God is our righteousness. This promise allows us to proclaim an alternate reality in which all things will be made new. Someone once said to me that they believe God now and trusted God for the future.

None of us will know when God will break in once again. We are promised that Jesus will return and that there are signs of the times that will prepare us for that return. A microcosm of this is Advent, a time where, in the Christian calendar, we prepare ourselves afresh for the expected arrival of something new, someone new and life-changing preparation. Waiting doesn’t have to be passive where we sit and do nothing. Waiting can shape us. In the waiting, we could grow bitter, letting resentments fester. We could become paralysed with fear. We could use the waiting as an excuse to do nothing.

Waiting however is not passive. We could be a people who wait in hope. Our hope is in God, who is faithful. God will restore God’s people. God brought the messenger, Jesus, who is God in flesh. One day, Jesus will return again. In the waiting we are not passive, rather we join with God in God’s mission working to fully bring about God’s kingdom. The words of Jeremiah, the prophets spoke of a real hope that the people’s situation wouldn’t always be so bleak. In fact, not only would their situation change but God would restore them in ways beyond their imagination. Not only would they return from exile, rebuild the temple, no longer be under Babylonian rule, but the Messiah, the hope of the entire world would rest on them.

Today, of course, there’s much for which we despair: loved ones have died; there’s ongoing economic uncertainty; political, social, and racial unrest. For some, it feels that the 21st-century church in the Western world is in some kind of exile. Just as was the case in Jeremiah’s day, God is still at work. Jesus is still our source of hope and strength. Like the people of Judah, we are called again to be a people who wait in hope. One day Jesus will come again to make all things new. In the meantime, we look for where the spirit of God is at work and we join in with what He’s doing. We even join with God in the waiting. Is Advent just a countdown to Christmas? Is it merely opening those little doors behind the Advent calendar to nibble that chocolate? Or can this time be used to prepare ourselves anew for whatever it is that God has in store for us this Advent season?

The thing is that we love to rush stuff. We want Christmas to arrive now without the expectation and the excitement of anticipation. I’ll let you into a bit of a secret about myself. I know it’s a bit sad, but I like looking at wrapped presents under the tree. I like having the expectation of not knowing what is in the bag or wrapped up in that piece of paper. I love the anticipation of what the gift might be because the gift will always be exciting and anticipated until I open it. The gift will always be there unless I unwrap it. My expectations may be surpassed but then they might be dashed if I open it. There’s one way of discovering whether or not I’ll be ecstatic or I’ll feel let down and that’s by unwrapping. Anticipation, I quite like it.

It’s the same when I go on holiday. What’s it going to be like? What’s the place I’m going to stay going to be like? What am I going to do this week? Where will I go? What new experiences might I have? Otherwise, I’m maybe just stuck in a rut. For me, that’s the excitement and the peace of Advents.

Anticipation of something coming, something exciting juxtaposed against the peace and tranquility that I can treat myself to before the madness and the busyness of the day itself. To close, I want to think about those words that Richard Rohr in his book this morning said to me, “Come, Lord Jesus. The Advent mantra, come, Lord Jesus.” We are waiting for him. Come, Lord Jesus. He says is a leap into the kind of freedom and surrender His righteously called the virtue of hope. Come, Lord Jesus, is not a cry of desperation but an assured shout of cosmic hope. The reflection from Richard Rohr today, one question which I will leave us with today, “what expectations and demands of life can you let go of that you can be more prepared for the coming of Jesus?”

References and sources

Rohr, Richard. Preparing for Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2008.


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