Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sermon: Wednesday of Advent 1 (Ad Te Levavi)

6 December 2006 at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, Harvey, LA
Text: Jer 33:14-16 (OT from 3-year series)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

The prophet Jeremiah was not in much of a position to make promises. He preaches to us anew across a chasm of some 2,600 years, six centuries before the coming of our Lord, even as he proclaimed this Gospel to the remnant of the children of Israel, the nation of Judah, not long before Judah would be defeated, the people captured and taken into exile, and the Temple destroyed by the wicked, devilish Babylonians.

For even after preaching the law until his voice was raw and his nerves shot, this weeping prophet still has some good news to preach to the people. Through him, the Lord makes a promise: “Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” The Lord promises to fulfill his earlier promise.

But this was to be on God’s timetable. We can only imagine how the people must have hated Jeremiah. His preaching of God’s promises must have seemed a cruel joke, as women and children were torn from their husbands and fathers and put into chains, as they were forced from their homes, mourning in lonely exile here, until…

Until “those days,” nearly six centuries later when the Lord would indeed make good on his promise to “cause a righteous branch to spring up for David.” King David was long dead, and it seemed that this mighty royal tree of his kingly descendants had been reduced to a lifeless, forlorn stump in a dark woods, dead and ridden with fungus and mold. And yet, out of this rotting mess came a “righteous Branch,” for the Seed was not dead, but merely waiting. This was the Seed of the woman that God promised would crush the serpent’s head, and thereby “execute justice and righteousness in the land.” And as a result, Jeremiah prophesies, the people of God, the remnant of Judah, will find their salvation, and the city of God, Jerusalem, will live in security.

And even this promised New Paradise would bear a new and greater name: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

No doubt, some would believe in the words of the preacher, and would take comfort through all of their tribulations to come. And just as sure, there must have been people who stopped up their ears and refused to listen to the prophet speaking of salvation and glory in the midst of the circling vultures and the hoofbeats of enemy soldiers coming to reap the grim harvest of death and defeat.

And when this destruction came, all that the people of Judah had to comfort them was the Word of God. For in spite of the wages of sin to come, God had not abandoned His people, and He urges the prophets to “comfort, comfort, ye My people, speak ye peace, thus saith our God. Comfort those who sit in darkness, mourning ’neath their sorrows’ load.”

In the valley of the shadow of death, the chosen people could do nothing but wait upon the Lord. All that was left to them was to wail: “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice” and for them to wait for the righteous Branch to sprout. And that waiting went on for centuries.

But, dear Christian friends, waiting doesn’t mean it will never happen. God’s promises are as sure today as they were when he promised the Serpent that his head would be crushed. And we are called upon to wait upon the Lord in faith, in patience, in hope, and in joy amid all of our troubles, through all of our tears, and even while looking into a freshly dug grave. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord…”

For just as Jeremiah doesn’t preach what appears right to his own eyes and ears, and just as Jeremiah doesn’t speculate and give his own opinion, but rather speaks the Word of God (even when it seems insane), so too, my dear brothers and sisters, do faithful preachers today proclaim the Word of God – in the throes of uncertainty, of suffering, and of death itself. Even when the world crumbles around us, and dark clouds billow overhead, we who prophesy and proclaim have been given Good News to preach to you!

And while we are not facing exile from a military power, we are surrounded and beaten down by the conspiracy that seeks to overthrow the Kingdom of God, the ancient triumvirate of sin, death, and the devil. For vultures circle overhead even as Satan and his minions wage relentless war upon us. And yet, even in the jaws of defeat and death, the Lord renews his promises again and again. We begin another Church year, one more year closer to the glorious fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy when the people of God will be victorious once more.

For like the Children of Judah, we are waiting, we are in a time of advent, of expectation and hope, looking up, for our redemption draweth nigh. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord…”

And listen to Jeremiah’s prophecy. He promises salvation and security, justice and righteousness. And the fulfillment of this most ancient of all promises has a name of its own: “The Lord is our righteousness.” What a beautiful articulation of the Gospel! For we are promised righteousness. It is a pledge to us, a gift. It is not something we must pay for, or strive for by clawing and scratching – but rather something that is as free and yet as powerful and alive as a stubborn green shoot growing from a dead stump.

Our righteousness is not of ourselves, but rather: “The Lord is our righteousness.” And just as a little branch sprouting from a dead tree needs water, our righteousness is watered by baptism. And just as this tenacious little shoot needs the glorious light of the sun to give it energy and a will to live, so do we bask in the light of the Dayspring from on high. We too are constantly nourished by the holy Word of God and sustained through the holy sacraments.

For we know how the story continues and how it ends. It continues centuries later in the little town of Bethlehem, with a virgin mother, and with a baby boy who is both God and man. This boy is the Seed of the woman, and 33 years after his birth, he would die in the act of crushing the head of the Serpent. In His death, He is victorious. And in His victory, we are more than conquerors. His righteousness is our righteousness. He will go to the cross, and he will rise on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures.

And we know how the story ends – “he shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.”

The Seed sprouts as a Branch for David, and in the fullness of time, he too will die, and yet he will live. And seeds will be scattered around the world until He comes again.

And that is where we find ourselves on this December Day, Anno Domini 2006, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord…” He is returning to execute justice and righteousness once and for all. He is calling us to repent and turn from our sins, to wait for him in peace and joy, and to live day in and day out in the renewal of baptism – even as the people of Judah fixed their hearts and minds on the promises of God, even in the midst of sorrow and injustice.

“For behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord…” days of justice and righteousness. In the midst of our trials, “the Lord is our righteousness,” both now, and unto eternity! Thanks be to God! Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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