In movies and on TV, there’s a convention around the phrase, “We need to talk.” If you’ve ever seen a romantic movie or TV show, you know what I’m talking about. One of the characters in the movie will talk to the person whom they’re dating, and they say, “We need to talk.” You know right away that they’re going to break up. You can just tell.
We have a LOT of this kind of thing. When we hear “Once upon a time,” we know what kind of story we’re going to get. There are others, too. We have these cultural and linguistic triggers that tell us something is going to happen. Well, the Bible has these, too, and one of them is how our passage from Jeremiah began today.
Before we get too deep into that, though, let’s take a look at the history of the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet in ancient Judah. Now, one thing it’s important to know about “prophets” is that they weren’t so much in charge of “predicting the future,” which is how we normally use that word, but rather they were more in charge of “speaking the truth about the present.” That meant that, most of Jeremiah’s time as a prophet, he talked about what was going on politically in his homeland.
Jeremiah was an incredibly well-respected prophet. Even those who disagreed with him often respected what he had to say. Imagine a political commentator (remember, that’s what a prophet was) that had the respect of people on all sides of an issue!
Anyway, let’s look at the political reality Jeremiah lived in. What we know today as the state of Israel did not exist. The borders were similar, but it was actually two nations – Israel, in the north with its capital in Samaria and Judah in the south with its capital in Jerusalem. These two political entities are broken apart during Jeremiah’s lifetime. They had broken apart centuries beforehand, and pretty shortly thereafter, the northern state of Israel was captured by a foreign power, while Judah was able to wade off those same attackers. Jeremiah lived in Judah, and the Judeans considered it a sign that, even when compared to the Israelites, Judah and Jerusalem were God’s special and chosen place, and therefore it would be impossible for them to be conquered.
Well, spoiler alert – that’s not how it works out. They do manage to get conquered. And, in fact, Jeremiah spent much of his career telling people to read the signs, and to notice that one military victory a long time ago didn’t guarantee that it was impossible to ever lose in the future. Eventually, the Babylonians come, defeat the Judeans, and take away all the wealthy and powerful, so that they’re not in the Promised Land anymore, and Babylonian citizens can take it over.
The passage we read today was written during this exile, or at least when Jeremiah’s friends and the courtiers and royalty have been exiled. This passage was written in that time when all hope seemed lost. God had put David on the throne in Jerusalem, and the people believed that never again would there be a time without a king from David’s line on the throne. Suddenly, there was none.
Beyond that, the Temple, the place build as God’s house, was in Jerusalem. Now, with the people in Babylon, they were away from the place they believed God should rightly be worshiped – oh, and by the way, the Temple is destroyed by these invaders, meaning true, rightful worship of God could not happen.
Beyond that, the land itself was that same land promised to all the people – that famous “Promised Land” that the people wandered to get into, and that God had said would be theirs – was gone. They were utterly without, not just their homes, but seemingly without the promises that God made to them. It was a dark, dark time for the people of Judah.
So that brings us to today’s passage. That’s the reality Jeremiah and his comrades are facing – torn away from their homes, their religion, and everything else they held dear. Their entire reality has been uprooted and shaken apart. It is not a happy time. So today’s reading began with the ominous, foreboding words, “the days are surely coming.”
The words, “the days are surely coming,” I think, are something like, “Would Kaitlan Laible please report to the principal’s office.” And then all the kids in class go “oooooooooooh…” because we all know Kaitlan’s in trouble. That’s “the days are surely coming.” They are, most frequently, words of judgment. And, for the most part, Jeremiah has been a book of judgment. It has condemned the rulers who treated people unjustly; it has condemned all the people in society for valuing their own self-righteousness more than mercy for those in need; it has condemned the naivete of the people regarding the military.
So I imagine that we would all feel like kids in the classroom when a classmate gets called to the office – except it’s our name getting called – all of us. It’s not just someone in class getting called out. This is like hearing your own name as the one who’s in trouble. That’s what we are supposed to be thinking when we hear the words, “The days are surely coming.” We hear those words, and we are filled with fear.
We often want to see villains get their comeuppance. We like to see bad guys get what’s coming to them. We hear about the attacks in Paris, and we want the villains be punished. We want to hear about bad people being “taken care of.” The problem is, in Jeremiah, the “bad guys” are us. We are the ones who deserve punishment. And “the days are surely coming.”
Instead, though, God doesn’t offer judgment in this instance. No; this time, God offers to do the impossible – to restore the king from the line of David; restore the people to their homeland; bring people back, so that they will declare “The Lord is our righteousness!”
Imagine that promise – “You will be grateful to me.” God’s people have been through hell on earth. They’ve been taken over by foreign kings and seen their homeland taken away. Most of all, they’ve seen those things that God has guaranteed to them, and they’ve seen them taken away. Who wants to be grateful to God after all that?
But you know what? It works! Of course, the people are restored to Judah and Jerusalem. They do rebuild the Temple. Everyone is returned to where they belonged. Yes, it takes generations, but this promise is kept and fulfilled. Well, almost everything. There’s only one thing missing – the king from the line of David.
For us as Christians, though, this becomes an easy interpretation. We know someone who comes from the line of David who is our King – that’s Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. He comes to rule over, not just Jerusalem and Judah, but the whole earth; not just this life, but the next, too. Earthly rulers are limited by time and place, but Jesus does not have those same limits. He is the one ruler who stands above and beyond what any human can do or be.
As I’m sure most of you know, Advent traditionally has four themes, one for each Sunday leading up to Christmas. The first week is “hope.” And in the name of that hope, we have here a story of a people who are pulled away from all they hold dear. But when everything comes back and is returned, it is done even better than ever! The king who is restored is not merely a political leader, returned to the people – it’s God in human flesh, returned to the whole earth!
So think about the hope that comes to us here. We being in the depth of despair as God’s people, ready to face judgment… instead, we’re given hope, and hope in abundance. Instead of facing trials, we are able to see God’s goodness, and God’s reign.
When we should be trembling in fear due to the words, “The days are surely coming,” we’re instead given words of hope – the greatest hope of all: hope of restoration in Jesus Christ.
So this Advent season, remember that, no matter how dark your darkness, God promises redemption and restoration in Jesus Christ – and it will come to pass! Amen.
Also, don’t forget to check out our “older posts” if you missed our Thanksgiving Eve service on 11/25!