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 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.