This is the sermon for Advent 1. The texts are: Jeremiah 33: 14-16 and Luke 21:25-36
The Plight of Jerusalem
“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 33:16, NRSV)
Imagine what it would be like to live in a small community that is literally caught between three superpowers.
The text we read this morning from the book of Jeremiah was written in just such a situation. This reading refers to a time in the life of the city of Jerusalem before the city had fallen, but it was also a time when the city’s inhabitants were well aware of their dangerous situation. The people of Jerusalem were caught between three superpowers: Egypt to the South, Babylon to the East and Assyria to the North.
Had the people of Jerusalem and Judah lived in another geographic location, it’s probable that none of these superpowers would have taken the slightest bit of notice of them. But geography was precisely their problem, because their city lay in a strategic location, in the corridor that each Empire needed to use on its way to attack the other. This obviously made Jerusalem desirable from the point of view of military strategy: control the corridor of access to your enemy and your armies will stand a higher chance of success in battle.
But many people in Jerusalem were probably not as concerned about this state of affairs as they ought to have been. The Temple of the One True God was located in Jerusalem. God was physically present in the Temple, therefore they believed that Jerusalem could not fall. Time and again, God had protected Jerusalem from foreign invasion.
Except the prophet Jeremiah had a different message for the King of Judah and for the people of Jerusalem. Because of the unrighteousness and unfaithfulness of Jerusalem and her King, the city was going to fall into the hands of her enemies. You can imagine that this message did not make Jeremiah very popular, either with the king or with the people.
Why did Jeremiah see the King of Judah (Johoiakim) as unrighteous?
If you look back to Jeremiah 22:13-17, Jeremiah accuses the King of dishonest gain, the shedding of innocent blood, and of practicing oppression and violence. (v. 17) Jeremiah tells the king that the essence of true kingship is not “building spacious houses with large upper rooms” (v 14) but defending the poor and the needy (v 16) as his father had done. So Jeremiah prophesies the unthinkable: the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple of God.
The Book of Restoration
But in the midst of all this doom and gloom, there are four chapters in Jeremiah which are given the name “The Book of Restoration”. These are chapters 30 to 33; and today’s Old Testament reading is taken from Chapter 33.
Even in the face of the prophecy of the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah, these chapters foresee God’s eventual restoration of his land and of his people. This hope is reflected in today’s brief reading from Jeremiah.
Jeremiah tells his listeners that that God is faithful, and he will fulfil his promise. From the dead branch of the defeated Kingdom, God will cause a green shoot to spring forth from the house of David. Out of a desperate situation, springs hope; out of death springs new life.
This shoot will be a righteous shoot, a righteous King of a righteous people. A King will establish a Kingdom concerned with the defence of the poor and vulnerable. The name of “The Lord is our Righteousness” will be applied not only to the King of this Kingdom, but also to the people of the Kingdom.
Because of God’s faithfulness, God’s judgement of evil and his desire to establish justice and righteousness, a new King and a new Kingdom will be established where God’s promises will be fulfilled.
The Kingdom Comes
I wonder whether – when you heard this morning’s readings – you thought that these were strange texts for the first Sunday in Advent.
Just two weeks ago, the assigned readings for Sunday were all about the end of time and the Kingdom of God and here we are again, with these same sorts of readings. Instead of all this doom and gloom in Advent, shouldn’t we be reading about the coming of the baby Jesus?
The thing is that, like the Kingdom of God, Advent is one of those “now and not yet events”.
The “now” bit is the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, Christmas and the baby Jesus. The first coming. The “not yet bit” is “the Second Coming” – the Eternal establishment of the reality of the Kingdom of God. The celebration of Christmas is not just a memorial of the first coming of the Messiah. It is also a preparation for the second coming of the Messiah.
Earlier in the service with the children, we noted that, in Advent, we are looking forward to the coming of the baby Jesus. We said that Advent is about looking forward to Christmas.
But, as adult Christians we know that Advent is also about looking forward to the eternal and permanent reign of Christ in the Kingdom of God. That is why, like Lent, Advent is also a time of penitence and self-examination.
It’s not just the baby Jesus that we’re waiting for. Like Jeremiah, we are also waiting for the rule of the Righteousness of God, because that’s what the “Second Coming” is about. The Second Coming is about the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus tells us numerous times that we don’t know when that will happen. I personally also think that we don’t know what it will look like. It’s a personal interpretation, but I suspect that, in the same way that the disciples first did not recognise the risen Jesus and then were able to recognise him, that the Second Coming and the Kingdom will be something that is both familiar yet, at the same time, beyond the bounds of our current life experience.
But it is certainly something to hope for.
We ended our all-age talk earlier by mentioning some of the things we would like to ask the Son for God for – for the world and for ourselves. We mentioned things like acceptance, peace, justice, reconciliation.
As we acknowledged in voicing these wishes, being a human in this fallen world can sometimes be difficult. Faced with things like serious illness, chronic pain, unemployment, mindless vandalism, it can sometimes seem impossible to hope. In a world where people try to scrape a living together because they can’t get a fair wage for their crops or where they can’t afford medical treatment, it can sometimes seem impossible to hope. In a world where yet another natural disaster kills thousands of people and leaves many more thousand homeless, it can sometimes seem impossible to hope.
Advent can be a tough season because it does ask us to look forward and to wait in hope. It can be a season of great and genuine difficulty and loneliness for many people and yet we are asked to hope, a call that may sometimes seems like God is mocking us.
I suspect that Jeremiah understood this puzzle of trying to communicate hope in a hopeless situation. As we do, he looked at the world around him and saw the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. As we do, he saw a system stacked in favour of those in power where the weak had no-one to defend them.
But yet, he proclaimed his message of righteousness rising out of the death of unrighteousness. He proclaimed his vision of the covenant Kingdom of God. ‘The reign of God is coming!’ he proclaimed, ‘Justice and righteousness will conquer sin.’ It’s easy to see why people often thought that the prophets were mad.
Waiting for What is to Come
In Advent, we look forward to the celebration of Christmas – the birth of the baby Jesus and the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity – God with us. We remember that Jesus came into the world to be our Saviour and our Leader. We remember that Jesus came into the world in a mission that would change the very fabric of reality so that, no matter how bad things may seem, we know that God has the last word.
We remember that, as Christians, we can believe these things by faith, even if we don’t feel them, for that is the Truth that we proclaim. But we also look forward to the coming of the Reign of Righteousness, and to the coming of the Kingdom of God.
In thankfulness for the love, forgiveness and healing that we have received from Christ, we remember that we are called to spread his love and good news throughout the world. We are instruments of Christ’s kingdom and we are called to spread his hope in what we do as well as in what we say. We are called to live as if the fullness of the Kingdom were already upon us.
As we come to the table of the Lord in a few minutes’ time, I pray that we may each receive any healing that we need to grow in hope. I pray that we may receive the nourishment we need to live as if the fullness of the Kingdom were already here. I pray that we may meet with Christ as he comes to us as both helpless baby and as risen Lord.
May our Advent waiting be blessed with the presence of the Prince of Peace. Amen