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.” Jeremiah 33:14-16
We have come to the season that time has forgotten. In our 21st century world, the period between Thanksgiving, or even Halloween, and the start of the Christmas season on December 24th has become a period of shopping and other holiday frenzy. I always hear people complain about how early retail outlets put their Christmas offerings on display yet those very same people skip over the liturgical season of Advent as if it is nothing to be concerned about.
Advent is a season about expectation, about waiting, and about preparation for the coming of the Christ child. Just think about the number of hours we spend getting the house ready for Christmas. Dragging the decorations down from the attic or up from the basement. Trying to get all of the strings of lights to work, and getting frustrated when they don’t. Standing in what can seem to be endless lines waiting to pay for stuff that will either be broken or forgotten about in less than a month, yet we spend so little time preparing ourselves, our hearts our minds, and our souls for the greatest gift of all.
The reading we heard from the Prophet Jeremiah this morning could be classified as a lament. The people of Israel are in exile in Babylon. They have lost everything, homes, lands, and their future but more important than all of that they have lost all hope. So rooted are they in their despair that they cannot imagine an alternative to what has happened to them and so they cannot remember God’s promise to them, so Jeremiah comes along to remind them. The message Jeremiah is bringing is supposed to be one that will restore hope even in the darkest hours but also Jeremiah is filled with grief, and so his message of hope comes across as a lament. The message of the First Sunday of Advent is hope not hope for material wealth and greatness but hope in a future that God has promised them and a future that God has promised us.
During the season of Advent we hear from the Prophets and prophetic literature to point out the importance of waiting, anticipation, and trusting in the promised future that seems removed from our current circumstances. What the prophets are trying to tell us is that we are called to not only name suffering and injustice but to lean into God’s promised alternative future. We may light our Advent candles for preparation, hope, joy, and love but the prophets’ sound justice and righteousness.
During the lighting of the candle on our Advent wreath today we heard from another Prophet, Isaiah and that darkness has covered the earth. But Isaiah does not leave his people there with the image of darkness he tells them about the light the light of God’s glory that will shine into the dark places. The light of God’s love that comes upon each of us and assures us of our forgiveness and that God loves us. The light from that one candle is there, shining forth, to bring us hope us just as Jeremiah was bringing hope to his people.
One of the characters that we are introduced to during Advent in John the Baptist. It’s funny that we run into him during Advent since his story is so intertwined with the story of Lent and Easter but we run into John in his role as a prophet as the one who is crying in the wilderness and John’s life is one that Christians should emulate.
John is a holy troublemaker a prophet who speaks truth to power he is preaching his message of repentance and preparation to the people, but he is also a thorn in the side of power both civil power and religious power. In Christian art, John is always depicted as pointing towards Jesus. In the iconography of the Orthodox Churches John is never painted without looking towards Jesus. John is included on the wall that separates the people from the holy place but is always leading the way towards Jesus. And John is a preacher but not a preacher that brings fame and glory to himself. He is not a preacher that is walking the halls of power. John is not a preacher that sits with kings and advises them, not John is a preacher what brings glory to God and preaches a message of transformation. His message points towards Jesus as the one, the only one, who can take away the sins of the world. John is a fascinating character that only has a cameo role in the salvation story, but it is an essential role because he points to the promise of hope that Jesus is bringing.
We are now the ones that need to carry that message of hope out into the world. We are the light that needs to shine in the darkness. We are the ones that need to seek justice, mercy, and peace in the world. We are the ones that need to be a thorn in the side of power, and we are the ones who need to continually remind people of how much they are loved by God just the way they are and that God forgives them.
Like John, we are called to speak out and act out in our faith, and we are called to, in the words of another prophet, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”