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Sunday Homilies with Pastor Wanda: Fouth Sunday in Advent

My apologies, I’m running a bit behind. Better late than never, right?

It was a few days before Christmas. A woman woke up one morning and told her husband, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?”

“Oh,” her husband replied, “you’ll know the day after tomorrow.”

The next morning, she turned to her husband again and said the same thing, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?”

And her husband said, “You’ll know tomorrow.”

On the third morning, the woman woke up and smiled at her husband, “I just dreamed again that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?”

And he smiled back, “You’ll know tonight.”

That evening, the man came home with a small package and presented it to his wife. She was delighted. She opened it gently. And when she did, she found-a book! And the book’s title was “The Meaning of Dreams.”

As 21st century Christians, we don’t put the stock in dreams as the ancient world and the biblical tradition. We tend to move in the opposite direction…focusing on that which is factual and concrete, shying away from that which is elusive and out of our control.  Yet, even in the 21st century, we still sleep-we require a time of rest which leads us into the world of dreams, of vulnerability, of stirrings that come to us out of our control.

In today’s gospel from Matthew, we read that the birth of Jesus is announced to Joseph in a dream, in which he is instructed to name the child Jesus. You know, the ancients dared to believe that the unbidden communication of dreams is a venue in which the holy purposes of God, come to us. They knew too that this communication is not obvious. It requires interpretation, but the dream world of sleep, of stirrings of the heart, of imagination…these were honored and respected. (Brueggeman)

So in today’s reading from Matthew we hear Joseph’s story and we catch a glimpse of his faith…of a quiet and unyielding faith that we don’t often hear about.  His story begins at the start of the gospel with a long genealogy of Jesus. The genealogy shows that Jesus is a descendant of David through Joseph. But it’s an unusual geneaology.

First of all it includes five women:  Tamar, Rahab, ruth, “the wife of Uriah” whom we know is Bathsheba, and Mary.  Since ancestry and inheritance were traced through the father’s line, reference to women in a geneaology was uncommon.  Secondly, each of the women mentioned are involved in some sort of questionable sexual behavior.                                       

We don’t know the full reasoning behind Jesus’ family tree according to Matthew, but we do see a recurring theme in that the plan of God has often been fulfilled in history in unanticipated and irregular ways, as in the birth of Jesus from Mary.  

Joseph’s story shows that God’s plan often occurs in surprising, unpredictable, even scandalous ways. Yet most of us like our life with some kind of order. We like to know where we are going.  Even those of us who are wired to fly by the seat of our pants, still like to have some sense that we know what our life is about. We have dreams and hopes, sometimes big and sometimes small, some specific, some vague…but most of us like to know at least the general direction in which we are heading.

I suspect that Joseph was no different. He probably had a sense of where his life was headed, what his hopes and dreams were for Mary, his intended wife. And then Mary shows up pregnant with a child that is not his. Then he has this dream, where an angel comes and tells him
to take Mary as his wife into his home because the child is God’s.
This probably wasn’t his original plan!

Before I met David, my husband, I had plans to live in New York City. 

Little did I know that my future husband couldn’t abide New York. When we met and fell in love, everything changed…and I ended up in rural PA and now rural WV. Sometimes changed plans are positive.

On the other hand, a change in plans doesn’t always feel so good. It might be through the loss of a job, sickness, financial misfortune, divorce, or an unplanned pregnancy, trouble with children, or death that turns our world upside down, and it usually doesn’t seem to have anything holy about it.
This is precisely where this story of Joseph and the life he lived from this point on can guide us. Your tenancy might be to grumble, to dig in your heels, to fight the change. Or perhaps you are one of those stoic ones, who don’t say anything but deep inside begin to feel bitter and angry.

But to take a Joseph Look would be to ask “Where is God in all of this? What might be God calling me to do with this situation so that it becomes an opportunity?  What is God up to? And how can I be a part of it?
When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, Joseph doesn’t say a word, but he listens to this message from God. When Joseph woke up from his dream, he dropped the ordinary plans he’d made and began a whole new life not at all of his own making or choosing.  He stands as an incredible model for us of faith.

We often think of righteousness as always doing what is right. To divorce Mary quietly, as he had planned, would have demonstrated a certain kind of righteousness.   However, marrying her – based on a dream, knowing that people were talking about him, facing the disapproval of his family, facing shame and embarrassment and disapproval of the religious authorities – this was taking it to a whole other level. 

Have you been faced with a decision or decisions over which you have agonized and prayed and sought advice.  Maybe marriage, maybe divorce, choosing a career or taking retirement.  Maybe having surgery. For Joseph, it was marriage or divorce. Matthew says that Joseph decided to divorce Mary.

But then – then came the angel. The angel said, “Joseph, don’t be afraid to do what you really want to do. Don’t be afraid to risk your reputation.

Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife because God has a part in what is going on here.” The angel was saying, “Joseph, I know about the decision you have made to divorce Mary. I know it must have felt like the right decision at the time, but give it some more thought. Find the courage to change your mind and do that which God is leading you to do.”

Joseph models for us what it is like to struggle with a difficult decision.

In Joseph, we find one who is willing to risk being unpopular, one who is willing to reject an easy way out, and one who is willing to face a most difficult circumstance. In Joseph, we find one who takes a courageous stand against the current and then does what is right.

And the angel came to Joseph in a dream.

Abraham and Sarah heard the angel, as did Moses and Daniel. An angel spoke to the women at the empty tomb, as well as to the apostles who were in prison, and to Paul in the midst of a storm at sea. But by far, our favorite angel stories are those that have to do with this season. An angel promised old Zechariah and barren Elizabeth a son. An angel promised Mary a special baby. An angel directed to marry Mary.

Most of us don’t escape difficult decisions and situations. The decisions range from family matters to financial ones; from health concerns to career choices; from deciding what is right to peer pressure. This Christmas we rejoice that we do not make any decision alone. The promise of Emmanuel is that when we are weighing the options carefully in the midst of difficult decisions, we are in the presence of the one true God who is always for us and always with us.

Do you realize in the Bible how often God’s Spirit makes things new?
Bruggemann writes:

  • It is God’s Spirit that creates a new world, a new heaven  a new earth.
  • It is God’s Spirit, that blows the waters back in Egypt and lets our ancestors depart from slavery.
  • It is God’s Spirit that calls prophets and apostles and martyrs to do dangerous acts of obedience.
  • It is God’s Spirit that came upon the disciples in the Book of Acts and created a new community, the church.

That is what Matthew is telling us, that God’s Spirit has stirred and caused something utterly new in the world. God has caused this new baby who will change everything among us.

Is the voice of God whispering to you in your heart, in your sleep, in your feelings, in your hunches? How can you sink into your dreams, trusting and following them, so that God can be born in you and through you into the world?

Perhaps we follow the ancients in at least this aspect of faith. While we don’t forgo the use of reason; we know that reason must involve the presence of the Holy. Our technological achievements require and permit us to learn again what the community of faith has known — and trusted –that there is something outside our controlled management of reality which must be heeded.

Joseph’s story tells about how to accept changes. Joseph helped these three people come together as a family. It’s not the way he would have wished it or planned it himself, but it’s the way it happened. 

It’s hard to do the right thing when you might suffer for it.  It’s hard to do the right thing when you’re not sure it’s the right thing.  And it’s very hard to do the right thing when everybody else thinks it is the wrong thing.

Joseph shows us what faith involves. It isn’t simply following the right rules and procedures; it’s following God’s way even when it is costly and even when we are not 100% certain. It is being willing to suffer with others. It is demonstrated not in our words so much as in our actions.

St. Francis once said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”  For Joseph, words did not seem to be necessary. 



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What happened to Christmas?

It began in an explosion of joy! Angels blowing trumpets and shouting from the heavens that a new King has been born, a testament to the hope that a new kingdom is possible.

But what was once a time to celebrate this great proclamation, has somehow—perhaps without our even noticing—devolved into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists. And for what? When it’s all over, many of us are left with nothing more than gifts to return, a house to clean, debt that we’ll be paying off well into the summer, and a sort of empty feeling like we missed what all the hype was about, that there should have been something more.

What if there is? What if this Christmas we could proclaim with the angles that a new King is born, and that therefore a new kingdom is possible—a kingdom where love rules over hate, where the hungry are fed, where relationships are mended, and life abounds? What if…

Advent Conspiracy is a swelling movement of Christians committed to worshiping fully, spending less, giving more, and loving all this Christmas, and to the belief that if we are faithful to that call, Christmas can [still] change the world!

What do you think? Has Christmas been completely hijacked by consumer culture, or do you still experience deep joy and hope during this season? What can we do to begin to reclaim the good news of Christmas?

This week, I’ll be writing a series of posts on those four commitments, to: worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. But in the mean time, you can check out Advent Conspiracy, here.

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Sunday Homilies with Pastor Wanda: First Sunday in Advent 2010

Happy New Year, Theologoholics! I am thrilled to let you know that we have a new partner joining in our conversation. Wanda Childs is pastor of St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beckley, WV. Wanda is an excellent preacher with an unrelenting commitment to sharing the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ! And she has graciously allowed us to publish the transcript of her Sunday homily in our now weekly segment: Sunday Homilies with Pastor Wanda

When writing What Happened to Hope, the late Karl Menninger went to the library in search of source material.  There he found volumes on faith and volumes on love, but he found none on the subject of hope. In the Encyclopedia he found the same thing: columns on faith and more on love, but hope was not even mentioned.  Menninger concluded that we don’t live in a time of hope. And in fact our century has been called the century of despair.

If you Look at Early 20th Century Literature you see an overwhelming shift from the writings of possibility and optimism to writings of despair and depravity. You no longer find the inspiring and inspirational writings that came from the likes of Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and others. Instead we find authors such as T.S Eliot, Ernest Hemmingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald with themes of Blackness, decline, lack of meaning, and overall depression and despair.

This morning, we lit our first advent candle, and we named it the candle of hope.  Hope – the opposite of despair. The definition of despair? a state in which all hope is lost or absent. But hope has other opposites as well.  Like sloth, or spiritual laziness.  When faced with the prospect of life forever with God, sloth yawns and says “BOR-ing.”  Sound familiar? Or how about presumption?  Hope is humble confidence that God won’t give up on me.  Presumption is the arrogant expectation that God owes me mercy, regardless how neglectful I am of the means of grace.

Hope is a spiritual muscle.  But like all muscles, it must be exercise just to survive.  Unused muscles atrophy.  Use it or lose it. That’s why each year the Church gives us a season of Hope, which we called Advent.  Though our society has made it a season of indulgence, it is meant to be a season of training.  It’s time to blow on the spark of spiritual desire within us till it bursts into flame.  Christmas lights are nice, but it is we who are supposed to be the light of the world.

We hear plenty about faith and love.  But when is the last time you heard a rousing homily on hope?  Why is hope important?  And what is it precisely?

To accomplish great things in life, you need a future goal that is big enough to keep you motivated.  The promise of a diploma makes college students stay up late writing papers when they’d rather be partying.  The dream of Olympic glory gets the runner up early to put in miles while others are comfortably snoozing.

An underlying confidence emerges from our readings this day. Scripture that is filled with hope, not despair. We pray it every week and many of us pray about it several times during the week. It is something that is rooted deep within the foundation of the Christian community.

“Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven…”

Ours is a faith of hope. So what does our hope look like? In other words — What if God was actually reigning on earth? What would it be like? Try to imagine it. Paul did: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.”

There would be no misunderstanding, but instead harmony and peace and  true understanding. There would be no injustice and the world would be right with God. Great joy would abound. What a world it would be and how we long for such a world.

This is the world we pray for week by week:  A world where Arab and Jew live as sisters and brothers. Where the tribes of the Balkans and Africa and Ireland, of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China, no longer maintain their ongoing fears, resentments or rage. Where the peoples of the United States were truly united…rather than polarized in hostility & hatred among ourselves as democrats vs. republicans, labor vs. union, liberals vs. conservatives – you name the category, poor vs. upper class.  Think about a world where there is no longer need for armies or secret police, no more razor wire, nor more prison compounds or grey jails. Think about a world where the billions of dollars spent on armaments are diverted to feeding, clothing, housing, teaching, healing the peoples of the world. Think long about a world where all are neighbours and every individual in treated as intrinsically precious. Where the vulnerable can leave their doors unlocked, and ordinary people can walk on the streets at night without fear.

Think about Christ and his way:

He shall judge between nations,

and arbitrate between many races;

they shall beat the swords into ploughshares

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war any more

This is who we follow. We are Christians.   Christ is our hope.

Henri Nouwen was once asked: “Are you an optimist?” His reply: “No, not naturally, but that isn’t important. I live in hope, not optimism.”

Teilhard de Chardin once said the same thing in different words when he was accused of being overly-idealistic and unrealistic in the face all the negative things one sees in the world. A critic had challenged him: “Suppose we blow up the world with a nuclear bomb; what then happens to your vision of a world coming together in peace?”

Teilhard’s response lays bear the anatomy of hope: “If we blow up the world by nuclear bombs, that will set things back some millions of years, but eventually what Christ promised will come about, not because I wish it, but because God has promised it and, in the resurrection, God has shown that God is powerful enough to deliver on that promise.”

Hope is not simple optimism, an irrepressible idealism that will not let itself be defeated by what’s negative; nor is it wishful thinking, a fantasy-daydream that someday our ship will come in; nor is it the ability to look the evening news square in the eye and still conclude, realistically, that there are good reasons to believe everything will turn out well.

Hope is not based on whether the evening news is good or bad on a given day. The daily news, as we know, is better on some days and worse on others. If we hope or despair on the basis of whether things seem to be improving or disintegrating in terms of world events, our spirits will go up and down like the stock market.

Hope isn’t based on CNN, CNBC Fox, nor any other network.

Instead, hope looks at the facts, looks at God’s promise, and then, without denying the facts or turning away from the evening news, lives out a vision of life based upon God’s promise, trusting that a benevolent, all-powerful God is still in charge of this world and that is more important than whether or not the news looks good or bad on a given night.

Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners and one of the prophets of hope in today’s world, has a wonderful way of illustrating this: Politicians, he says, are all of a kind. A politician holds up his finger in the wind, checks which way the wind is blowing, and then votes that way. It generally doesn’t help, Wallis says, to change the politicians because those who replace them do exactly the same thing. They, too, make their decisions according to the wind. And so — “We need to change the wind!” That’s hope’s task. The wind will change the politicians.

How does this work? Wallis uses the example of the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was not brought down by guns or violence or even by changing the politicians, but by changing the wind.  In the face of racial injustice, people of faith began to pray together and, as a sign of their hope that one day the evil of apartheid would be overcome, they lit candles and placed them in their windows so that their neighbors, the government and the whole world would see their belief. And their government did see. They passed a law making it illegal, a politically subversive act, to light a candle and put it in your window. It was seen as a crime, as serious as owning and flaunting a gun.

The irony of this wasn’t missed by the children. At the height of the struggle against apartheid, the children of Soweto had a joke: “Our government,” they said, “is afraid of lit candles!”  It had reason to be. Eventually those burning candles, and the prayer and hope behind them, changed the wind in South Africa. Morally shamed by its own people, the government conceded that apartheid was wrong and dismantled it without a war, defeated by hope, brought down by lit candles backed by prayer. Hope had changed the wind.

During the season of Advent, Christians are asked to light candles as a sign of hope. To light an Advent candle is to say, in the face of all that suggests the contrary, that God is still alive, still Lord of this world, we still pray, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.

Advent is a kind of journey, a journey from where we are now to where God is leading us.

Advent is a reminder that we are living in the meantime.

My teenage years were some of the most topsy turvy times of my life. What a great example of what it means to live in the meantime. Teenagers are something more than a child, on the way to becoming an adult, but not quite there yet.  College students who are looking forward to graduating, looking forward to moving on – guess where you are? Living in the meantime.  Not really knowing what the future holds, what kind of job you will have or where you might be living is not so easy. The truth is, we all live in the meantime.  Looking towards the promise “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

And we are called to stay the course, to plant that tree, to keep hammering away at those swords in our own lives, in our homes, in our relationships, in our jobs, in our community, even in our church, until they look more and more like plowshares: until hatred is changed into love; until rejection is changed into acceptance; until quarreling is changed into listening; until apathy is changed into service; until selfishness is changed into sacrifice; until greed is changed into generosity.
For Isaiah believed with all his heart that God would one day bring about a world where all humankind would live together and walk together before the Lord in faith, righteousness and peace.

And so every time our congregation comes together to pray, we are living faithfully in the meantime. Every coin you placed in our noisy offering for the hungry, is faithful hope, as we live in the meantime. Every time we share our faith, live as a witness of Jesus Christ, make a decision to do good rather than evil, try to understand rather than condemn, we are living faithfully in the meantime. Every time you speak a word of forgiveness in a situation of bitterness and hatred, that Christian is speaking in the future present tense. We are giving the world a foretaste of how God will help us to live together in God’s kingdom. Every time we stand up and sing from the heart, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, Born To Set Thy People Free,” we are joining Isaiah in the prayer that one day the whole world will indeed walk in the light of the Lord.

We live in the meantime.  Christ has come and Christ will come again.

In the meantime, Christ keeps coming again and again into our hearts, into our lives, our families, our communities, our world. We live in hope.

Thanks be to God.

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A People in Waiting, Part 2: “A Baptism of Repentence”

Luke 3:1-6

 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

Christians were not the first to celebrate the sacrament of baptism.  Ceremonial washings were conducted throughout the Ancient Near East.  The people of Israel, for instance, were commanded to perform ritual washing after becoming unclean by touching carcasses, menstruating women, and the like (see Lev. 15-16).  In the first century, baptism took on a new meaning for the Jews—it was used not only for ritual purification, but as a rite of initiation into the prevailing political parties of the day.  We might not think of the Pharisees and the Sadducees as political parties, but that’s precisely what they were.  Each had their own idea about how to be Israel under the rule of the oppressive Roman government, (a problem to which Christianity offers a strange and refreshing answer, which was in part the topic of part one of this series). 

The Sadducees thought the answer lay in the Jerusalem temple.  (Jesus directly confronts this philosophy with his cleansing and condemnation of the temple, and act so politically charged that many scholars think, in at least two of the gospel accounts, it is to be read as the direct cause of his execution).  The Pharisees—whose apocalyptic literature reveals how deeply displeased they were with the supervision, the size, even the ornamentation of the second temple—thought that the identity of Israel must instead be rooted in stringent observance of The Law.  A third party that we hear little about in the New Testament, the Essenes, thought that there was no way for Israel to be faithful under the fist of Rome, so they practiced a politics of exclusion, drawing away into caves and practicing their piety in proto-monastic communities.  What each of these groups held in common, however, was a similar recruiting process.  Each party produced teachers, or Rabbis, who would disseminate their particular biblical interpretation and political philosophy.  The Rabbis would in turn make disciples who, if they were deemed worthy, might be initiated into the elite inner circle of the political party represented by their rabbi, through a particular kind of ceremonial washing called baptism.  Thus baptism, to the first century Jew, was primarily a way of separating people, a distinguishing ritual not unlike the role of tattooing in modern gang subculture.   

For obvious reasons, each party’s rabbis would look for the best of the best.  After all, if a politician is to wield his influence over the masses, he’s got a reputation to keep.  Those confirmed, through baptism, into the upper echelons of the political sphere were Jews of high pedigree, with high moral standing in the community, and expensive education—the schmaltz of the matzo, so to speak.  On to this scene comes John the Baptizer—a prophet with a fire in his belly, camel skin on his back, and bugs on his breath—preaching, as the gospel glibly states, “a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins.”

What?!?  John’s baptizing who?   You’ve got to be kidding me!  We knew he was eccentric, what with the honey-roasted locusts and all—But baptizing sinners?—has he lost his mind?  He’ll defile the whole practice.  Baptism is reserved for the best of the best.  But now, coming up out of the waters of the Jordan are gluttons and drunks, common whores, Rome-sympathizing tax collectors, and—what’s that?—even gentiles?    John’s acting with complete disregard for our entire social system of how people are valued.  He’s acting like some cosmic shift has taken place, and we’re all living in some kind of alternate universe you’d see on the X-files where God is not counting men’s sins against them, and where children of the devil are given the right to become children of God.  What on earth has gotten into him?  

Prayer.  God of timeless grace, you fill us with joyful expectation.   Make us ready for the message that prepares the way, that with uprightness of heart and holy joy we may eagerly await the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Read Part 1: The Days Are Surely Coming

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A People in Waiting, Part 1: “The Days are Surely Coming”

For each of the four Sundays of Advent, I’ll write a brief reflection on the lectionary text, that I’m calling “A People in Waiting.”  My hope is that these meditations will help us navigate our journey as a people who wait expectantly for our Lord’s coming.

The Prophet Jeremiah, Saint-Pierre, Moissac, 1120-35.

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.

In the age of the divided monarchy—after the northern kingdoms of Israel had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and lost forever in the pages of history—Judah, made of the two remaining Hebrew tribes, found herself caught in the crossfire of the power struggle between Imperial Egypt and Babylon.  In 605 BC, during the reign of Jehoiakim, the last real king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, defeated the Egyptian pharaoh Neco in the battle at Charchemish, effectively placing Judah under Nebuchadnezzar’s control.

The battle at Charchemish was a turning point in Jewish history.  Before that battle, the Judeans lived in relative peace in the land promised to their father Abraham.  They were ruled through the line of David, Israel’s favorite son, and they worshiped the God of Israel in a temple made of gold built by the wise king Solomon.  After the battle, the Jews know what it means to be an oppressed people:  Nebuchadnezzar lays siege on the temple in Jerusalem, and destroys the Jewish house of worship.   King Jehoiakim, and many of the other Jewish nobles are taken into captivity in Babylon, and a puppet-king named of Zedekiah is employed by Babylon to keep the peace in Jerusalem.

Zedekiah, however, was not seduced by the offer of rule —he wanted justice for Judah.  After winning the trust of his people, Zedekiah planned to build a grassroots militia and overthrow the Babylonian empire.  Meanwhile, in Babylonian captivity, a beatnik prophet named Jeremiah—no doubt wearing black eyeliner and his emotions on his sleeves—wrote letters pleading with the king not to try to overthrow the Babylonian empire.  Jeremiah’s prophetic message is about how to worship without the temple, how to remain faithful to the God of Israel in the empire of Babylon, how to sing the songs of Zion in a strange and foreign land.  Far more difficult that staging a coup on the oppressive government, Jeremiah’s message is about living faithfully under the rule of the empire

The foundation of Jeremiah’s message is this week’s text: “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.”  At the heart of Jeremiah’s prophecy is a message of hope.  God has promised to care for Israel, and God will deliver on that promise.  The days are surely coming.  There is no need for the king to build his army, because The King will cause his Branch to spring up out of David.  The days are surely coming.  God will be the one to execute justice and righteousness in the land.  The days are surely coming.

Like the people of Judah, you and I find ourselves this advent season, taken captive by a foreign regime.  Our temple has been usurped by the mini-mall.  Our spiritual disciple: shopping.  The message of Christ’s coming has been drowned out by billions of dollars in advertising.  Yes, Christmas is long dead in American culture—we only attend its funeral.  Our first reaction, not unlike the over-eager king Zedekiah, is to power over the kingdoms of this world—signing petitions for the use of “Merry Christmas”  rather than “Happy Holidays” as the liturgy of our retail churches, and fighting for the display of nativity scenes in on public lots—as though we will have won some battle for the faith.  And in this hour Jeremiah, the beatnik prophet, comes to us pleading that we only remain faithful within the empire of this world.  The days are surely coming.  You see our struggle for cultural power reveals a deeper problem: we do not believe that God will keep his promises.  We want to overcome the empires of this world with petitions and voting power, because do not believe the day of the Lord’s righteousness will come without our help, not really.  We cannot live in peace with secular society, because we have no alternative vision.  And the prophet comes to us saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord, In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he—that branch that is our Lord, Jesus Christ who comes to us at Christmas—shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. ”  Relax! The days are surely coming.

Prayer.  God of justice and peace, from the heavens you rain down mercy and kindness, that all on earth may stand in awe and wonder before your marvelous deeds. Raise our heads in expectation, that we may yearn for the coming day of the Lord and stand without blame before your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Read Part 2: A Baptism of Repentence


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