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
Today we begin our journey towards the birth of the Christ child on the morning of Christmas. Today, in a time of hustle and bustle, the church is calling us to slow down, to prepare, to wait, and to anticipate the coming of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the prince of peace. If there was ever a time that the church is calling us to live in a way that is counter cultural it is during the season of Advent.
Today we lit the first candle on our advent wreath. The circle of evergreen that will be a reminder to us that God’s love is eternal just as the circle is eternal and that is love for us will not change, just as the green on the branches will not change regardless of the harshness of the season. We lit the first candle, the one that represents hope, the flame of hope that we will carry with us out into the world of darkness in the hope of bringing just a little light that might brighten the day of someone we meet.
Each week we will light another one, hope, joy, peace, and love until we finally come to the eve of his birth and we light the large white candle in the center. It is white to denote the purity not only of Jesus but of God’s love for us that he sent his son to live like us so we might have an advocate with the father. With the lighting of that final candle the wreath will sit ablaze with the light of our prayers and the warmth of the love that we are to share with one another. This is the advent season. The Advent season opens us to the mystery and centrality of the presence of God in the world and in our lives.
I understand that the world wants us to start our shopping and our celebrating but this is not the time. I also understand that in our world today we have to begin all of this early but we also need to make time for the important season of advent and the lessons that we have to learn. Just like we cannot have Easter without Lent and Good Friday, we cannot have Christmas, we cannot truly understand the message of Christmas if we do not pause to at least acknowledge Advent.
Advent calls us to a time of repentance and reconciliation and the liturgical colors remind us of that. The covering on the pulpit and communion table have changed to purple. The color has changed to remind us that the season has changed and to cause us to think about relationships that need tending to and perhaps mending. Purple is also used during the time of Lent for the same reason and the early church considered Advent another Lenten season with the same themes.
In my “From the Pastor” column this week I quoted from the Orthodox Christian theologian Thomas Hopko, “Jesus lay as an infant in the cavern in the reign of Caesar Augustus that he might lay in the tomb under Pontius Pilate. He was hounded by Herod that he might be caught by Caiaphas. He was buried in baptism that he might descend into death through the cross. He was worshipped by wise men that the whole of creation might adore him in his triumph over death.” You see there is a connection and a continuity to the entire church years.
But this first Sunday of Advent we think about hope. I do not think there is a better time than right now to think about hope. There is not much to be hopeful about. Politics has us on edge, another survey about the decline of the church; suicide rates are at an all-time high and have now affected the life expectancy here in the United States, racism, white supremacy, nationalism, anti-Semitism, opioids and all the rest. There does not seem to be much to be hopeful about, but as Christians we have to be.
The word hope appears 129 times in scripture, in 105 verses, 40 chapter, and 28 books the word hope stands out for us. I would suggest that the entire New Testament is about hope. God sent his Son to give us hope. Jesus was born to give us hope. Jesus called the 12 to give us hope. Jesus healed the sick, made the lame walk, restored sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf to give us hope. Jesus fed 5,000 refugees when they came to him to give us hope. Jesus walked alone to his death to give us hope. And Jesus rose from the dead to give us hope. The entire Gospel, the good news, is about hope and so it is hope that we must have for we have no other choice.
I do not usually find my inspiration for sermons from the writings of the Prophets of the Old Testament but Advent lends itself well to their writings. The Prophetic works announce the coming of Christ in some of the most poetic fashion that entire works of music have been composed using only their writings, so I thought this year, I would give it a shot.
Jeremiah comes to us today with his pronouncement of hope for his generation and for us.
“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.” “This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”
Jeremiah is telling those listening, and us, that the day of righteousness is coming. This righteousness is not an attitude or an absolute standard by which we are to govern our lives, righteousness is how we conduct our lives and how we do God’s purpose in this world, love God and love neighbor. We are called through the righteousness that Jeremiah speaks of to do good by doing the good things of God, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the least of these the anawim of God, the ones crying out for a better life and stand with their brokenness at our front door. We are called to doing not just being the hands and feet of God in this world. We are called to make disciples of all by loving all, without question and without condition. The righteousness that Jeremiah is speaking of is a humble ethic of living towards others in justice and loving relationships.
In a few moments the elements that have been placed on the Communion table will be uncovered and I will invite you to come to the table, not because you must but because you can. The Sacrament that we will observe this morning nourishes us by the hope of God’s coming and it also allows us to participate in the future, we get a glimpse of what is possible by the breaking and sharing of the bread and the cup when one will go hungry or thirsty. This is the sacrament of love, the sacrament of justice, and the sacrament of righteousness, and all are invited to participate in it.
Our Advent journey continues and we are reminded to “prepare Ye the way of the Lord.” And we do that by preparing not only our homes but our hearts. We make room under the tree of our hearts for the gift that God has given us, his Son, Jesus Christ.