(Kate Huey, UCC Sermon Seeds) Six hundred years before Jesus was born, the people of Israel were carried off to exile in Babylon, after many warnings by the prophets, including Jeremiah, that their failure to live faithfully, to live in justice and righteousness, would bring their downfall. They must have felt that they had been cut down, like a tree felled by the ax of a brutal and heartless oppressor. Once, under the great King David, Israel had been a formidable political and military power, and its people still remembered those glory days and longed for their return. Now, their king was no more, that glory was only a dim memory, and their hopes were dashed upon the rocks of the brutal history of empire.
It’s at that moment, right there in the midst of despair, that the prophet arises, the prophet who is also a poet with an imagination and a deep sense of call to proclaim, even in desolation, destruction and loss, the promise of God’s future taking shape beneath and behind it all.
What is happening underneath, what we cannot see, is nevertheless real.
Now, in the midst of the terrible suffering of the people, with Jerusalem destroyed and the temple in ruins, Jeremiah doesn’t heap more misery on the people; instead, he offers them something to grasp, a hope to which they can cling. In fact, the prophet’s voice takes such a dramatic turn that these chapters of Jeremiah are called the Book of Consolation, or the Book of Comfort.
Listen for the word as inspired by God:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill 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.” Here ends the Reading, thanks be to God.
A Sermon Rev. Lucia Anne Jackson
”Did you hear it? in the midst of communal sorrow and despair, this prophet speaks a word of hope, a promise of what is yet to be. Jeremiah doesn’t say that things might get better, or could be better, or that we should be “optimistic about future possibilities.” The prophet says that a better day is surely coming–and you can count on it because God is the one making this promise.” (Kate Huey)
Such is the language of hope to a people in despair.
Perhaps you say, well when. When is that fulfillment of promise? When will we live in peace with justice and righteousness in the land? And that is a fair question. A real question. An honest question. Every year in Advent we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child. We celebrate the Holy breaking into our world and into our lives in the birth of Jesus. We sing about the Prince of Peace, the Mighty, Wonderful Counselor. Immanuel. God with us. It seems in December 2018 that proclamation takes a lot of imagination. With desperate refugees – families and children – gassed on our borders, with mass shootings a frighteningly common occurance, with an opiod crisis devastating our populations and families, with climate change real and accelerating, not to mention the devastation of fires in California and a political world that is venomous, it takes A LOT of imagination to proclaim a world of peace and justice and righteousness.
But today, today we lit the candle of hope.
What does it mean to hope? And how?
We are not the first people to struggle with the difference between God’s promises and the daily life in which we live. But here is the thing. We are called to be hopeful people. We are called to witness to what the world can and should be. As someone at Bible study said, “we can’t complain that God hasn’t fulfilled the promise, we aren’t exactly keeping our part of the covenant. If we each of us, lived as Jesus taught us – with kindness and forgiveness, compassion and generosity – the world would look a lot more like God’s kingdom.” Jesus came to teach us, show us, sacrifice for us, that we might live in hope and love, with justice and righteousness in the land. Advent, the time of preparation, focuses on the hope that a better day is surely coming–and you can count on it because God is the one making this promise.
Dorothy Sölle, said “God dreams for us today. Today, at this moment, God has an image and hope for what we are becoming. We should not let God dream alone.” Let me repeat that.
God dreams for us today. Today, at this moment, God has an image and hope for what we are becoming. We should not let God dream alone.”
You see, You and I have a job this Advent. And a big job it will be to counteract the news cycle, the shopping pressures, the despair. But its our job, our calling, because we know the promise of what will be.
Last week I preached on the gifts of gratitude. Gratitude is a powerful way to hope again. Start with gratitude. Recognize what is right about your life and the world because there is a lot of good in the world. See the genuine acts of kindness and generosity. Know that those who do the right thing outnumber those who do the wrong thing. Hope is kindled by gratitude.
How do disillusioned hearts turn the corner to hope again? Often it’s when a sister or brother shares with true stories about God’s mercy in their own lives and about the graceful things God is doing in the world—what they have seen and heard. And the more they tell, the more the big picture clarifies, and the more the risk of faith feels right again. The more a heart is able to hope again.
In days when the world is filled with violence and uncertainty, when injustice seems victorious, and when hope seems dim, the church – that is you and me – when hope seems dim we need to say “Not for long . . . and not inside of our doors.” We know a better day is surely coming–and you can count on it because God is the one making this promise.”
That is the language of hope to a people in despair.
Proclaiming that Christ is born into this broken world is a radical act. Look towards the birth of the one who will change everything. Now is the time to re claim that promise, the beginning of a hope that will always rise again.
Because “God dreams for us today. Today, at this moment, God has an image and hope for what we are becoming. We should not let God dream alone.”
In the greatest of HOPE. Thanks be to God. Amen.