Sermon Advent I: We Wait for Shalom (Jeremiah 33:14-16)
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.”
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In order for us to fully appreciate this morning’s text from Jeremiah, we must understand the context of these words.
- At the beginning of this chapter — Jeremiah 33 — the prophet is in prison. His own personal circumstances are difficult and don’t give him much cause for optimism.
- Then, while Jeremiah languishes in jail, he receives word from God that the Babylonian armies are coming to destroy the city of Jerusalem. They will do such a thorough job, God says, that it will be like the earth was before creation — a wasteland unable to sustain the life of humans or animals.
- Finally, as if that weren’t enough, God says that he is going to hide his own face from his people during this time.
Talk about a hopeless situation! Confinement. Invasion. Destruction. Captivity. And no sense of God’s presence or help to give comfort or encouragement to the people.
I am currently reading Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge’s book on Advent. She reminds us, in direct, pointed words: “Advent begins in the dark.”
It is certainly beginning in the dark this year for thousands of people in California who lost their homes, belongings, and in some cases, their loved ones to devastating wildfires. Many of them are looking at a process of years and years to try and get some semblance of normal life back. Their lives have become a wasteland of loss, trauma, and the fight for hope.
They are not alone. Asylum seekers at the borders of our own country have come for help, having fled failed governments and institutions, crime and gang warfare, and a life without the prospect of decent jobs and peaceful communities. People in places like Yemen and Syria are living in war-torn wastelands and don’t even have access to the most basic services in their effort to survive. For them and countless others around our globe, Advent begins in the dark.
People face personal disorder and chaos in their own lives as well. Life expectancy here in the U.S. has dropped now for three years in a row. Most analysts say this reflects the tragic opioid epidemic, which takes tens of thousands of lives each year, as well as rising rates of suicide. One analyst says these are “deaths of despair.” For many of our neighbors, friends, and family members here in our own country, Advent begins in the dark.
If we are going to be thoroughly biblical in our faith and realistic about life, we must, Fleming Rutledge’s words, “be willing to take a fearless inventory of the darkness.” The Christian hope we look for in Advent is not naive. It does not ignore how hard the world is, it doesn’t gloss over it, it refuses to simply “put on a happy face.”
Instead, Christians look the world, the flesh, and the devil directly in the face, assess the apparent hopelessness, and then say along with Jeremiah, “Yes, I see all that, but…but ‘days are coming.’” “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when God will fulfill the divine promises.”
The days are surely coming when:
- A leader from the house of David will spring up like a small branch from a fallen tree to bring justice and peace.
- We will be saved from our enemies and will dwell in safety and security, free to pursue lives of loving God and loving our neighbors.
- God himself will dwell in our midst to make everything right. Shalom will fill our land as right relationships are finally restored in this world of conflict.
- The relationship between humanity and God will be fully restored, and we will walk in freedom and forgiveness, claimed and called to walk in divine favor and acceptance.
- Our relationship with ourselves will be fully restored, and each one of us will stand tall, bearing God’s image.
- The relationships between humanity and the rest of creation will be restored fully, and we will take care of this earth with deep devotion.
- The relationships between men and women, parents and children, people of all races and ethnic groups, people of all communities and nations will be healed and filled with mutual respect and fair dealing.
- The relationship between humanity and the people and systems that govern will be made right and just and fair, so that all may receive the support of their communities and nations to live peaceably and freely.
The Bible calls this “shalom” — a word that is often translated “peace,” but which signifies something much deeper, broader, and more profound than that. Shalom refers to wholeness, completeness, integrity of relationships, flourishing, a sense of safety and security, and the feeling that all is right and rightly ordered in our lives. Shalom comes about when all of our relationships are transformed into what they should be — whole, healthy, complete, made right, and ordered by love and mutual respect.
Advent begins in the dark, but it doesn’t end there. The days are surely coming, God told Jeremiah, when shalom shall come — justice, a world made right, a world made safe and secure. Advent leads to shalom. In fact, on the night of the Nativity, that’s exactly what the shepherds heard the angels say — “Shalom (or peace) on earth, goodwill to all people.”
In Advent, we wait for shalom. We pray for shalom. We work for shalom. Our waiting, praying, and working begins in the darkness, but God’s light is about to shine. Amen.
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Photo by Kristisan at Flickr. Creative Commons License