Restoration and Comfort for a Disordered World

Year C Advent I, Jeremiah 33:14-16

Our reading from Jeremiah today comes from a portion of the text referred to by scholars as “The Book of Comfort”.

It contains oracles of hope, forgiveness, and restoration.

Carolyn J. Sharp, Ed. The Oxford Book of the Prophets, p. 173.

Restoration from what, you might ask. The Sunday lectionary gives us a tiny portion of scripture, so let’s place today’s Old Testament reading in context. 

Jeremiah lived around 600 BC. The people the Prophet Jeremiah is addressing have a historic memory of the Assyrian invasion, about a hundred years before, much like we have a historic memory of Pearl Harbor.

In addition, the people have very recently experienced the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the temple’s destruction.

The centuries long Kingdom of David has come to an abrupt end.

Chapter, Verse and Season, “The Righteous Branch.” Accessed November 26, 2021.

Jeremiah attributes the current political instability to the Israelites’ unfaithfulness, their breaking the first covenant with Yahweh on Mt. Sinai, when, instead of honoring the covenant given to them by Moses in the 10 Commandments, they bowed down to a golden calf. So Jeremiah preaches oracles against them.

The oracles of judgement, Jeremiah’s call to repentance, are followed by the Book of Comfort, chapters 30-33. Our reading today imagines the restoration of the community with God.

Why discuss repentance in Advent? In the secular world, these weeks before Christmas are about twinkle lights and baking. However, it is a season in which the Church asks us to ponder the 4 last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Our tasks as Christians in Advent is to remember that we will die, and, like the Israelites, to repent.

The Hebrew scriptures reveal God to be a God of relationship and we repent to restore that relationship.

God speaks his desire for covenant with us and wishes comfort for us down through the millenia. We are a people in need of comfort on many fronts. Five million people have died worldwide in this pandemic, leaving millions more grieving. For nearly 2 years we have been living day to day and face to face with mortality and disruption.

Jeremiah 33:6 I am about to grant them a cure and a healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them a wealth of true peace.

These stark pandemic years have caused us to reprioritize. People are questioning what jobs they are willing to do and for what money. This crisis is what some call a labor shortage and what some call a reaction to unjust wages. 

That right there…that question: is it a labor shortage or a wage shortage…that right there divides us. In that divide and the divide between every question like it,

every question of self-defense or murder, the gulf between describing a demonstration as a peaceful protest or as a riot, every fear or embrace of a changing world, that crack between us, the disagreement and anger and sometimes hatred, that space calls for God’s restoration and God’s comfort.

Jeremiah 32:27 Look, I am the Lord, God of all flesh. Can anything be beyond me?

Let us call down God’s comfort upon the young. Millennials, and the generation that follows them, Generation Z, born since 1995, are known as the ANXIOUS generation.

Young adults are struggling with hope and purpose, diagnosed with anxiety and depression at rates higher than any generation before them.

Our world has given them 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, the Covid pandemic, with a heretofore unknown access to information via the internet, information about war, racial injustice and ecological destruction.

Jeremiah 33:12 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: in this place that is waste, without man or beast, and in all of its cities, there shall again be habitations of shepherds resting their flocks.”

May the comfort of God’s justice rain upon people of color. Slavery was abolished in 1865, but between 1882 and 1968, at least 4,742 people were reported lynched, murdered without due process by vigilantes. In 99% of cases, the perpetrators escaped punishment. Violence against innocent people of color continues to go unpunished.

But thanks to cell phones, those chirping little boxes of constant interruption, these incidents of violence are being recorded, and in some cases––like in the case of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery––video evidence is beginning to turn the tide of white men killing black men without consequence.

In case this sermon sounds too political, keep in mind the Hebrew prophets regularly counseled kings. Keep in mind Jesus was an INNOCENT Middle Eastern Jew sentenced to death by the Roman governor of an occupying government and died in an execution that was LEGAL.

The Bible is inherently political, because our God is a God of justice.

The Prophet Isaiah declares,“Is this not the fast that I choose? To LOOSE the bonds of injustice, to UNDO the bonds of the yoke, to let the OPPRESSED go FREE?” (Isaiah 58:6)

So what does Jeremiah have to do with Advent, with the sweet anticipation of a baby who will be wrapped in swaddling clothes and tucked into a manger? 

In Advent the Church anticipates not just Christ’s FIRST coming as an infant, but also his second coming as a JUST JUDGE.

Our Dean at seminary emphasized Advent’s 4 last things to the extent that our Christmas tree, which was really an advent tree until December 25th, was decorated with images of death, judgement, heaven and hell. And maybe we made sure he wasn’t in the building if we sang Christmas hymns during Advent. Which of course we didn’t.

For what are we being judged? For being impatient with God’s law and preferring to worship golden calves instead.

We are divided by tribalism created by media algorithms that appeal to our fallen nature, social media companies and news corporations that know we are more motivated by anger than by empathy, corporations that benefit financially from our hatred of one another.

By allowing rampant hate speech, Facebook is considered complicit in the massacre that occurred in the country of Myanmar. 

Our enemies are children of God whom we are called to love. All of them. Does that make you impatient? Or ring untrue? Impatient enough to worship other gods, to allow news sources to determine the value of those who disagree with you?

Let us turn back to God. Chapter 32:38: I will bring them back to this place and make them dwell secure. And they shall be my people and I will be their God.

So now hell. There’s something we don’t hear preached about much.

Jesuit priest James Schall writes, “. . . if the doctrine of hell is true, (and personally I’m not convinced it is) if it is a real possibility for each person as a result of his actual choices, of his putting disorder into his soul and into the world, it means that our ordinary affairs are shot through with unimaginable significance.”

James V. Schall, The Order of Things, p. 176.

May we ever be mindful of how our ordinary interactions may be creating torment or injustice for someone else. May we repent from our contribution to disorder in the world.

In today’s reading, Jeremiah promises a new covenant, a Brit Hadashah in Hebrew, a New Testament. 

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

“‘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.”

Jesus Christ, son of David, made a covenant with us in his flesh. On the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the COVENANT, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:22 -24.)

Here is our ultimate comfort and our hope. Here is heaven. If we turn from sin and believe, we are saved by the Blood of the Lamb.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.