A Sermon for Advent 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. It is not the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is not the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, which now begins before Thanksgiving. It is a season peculiar to some Christians a pivotal time, a time of reflection, to prepare for the celebration of the divine incarnation, and/or to prepare for the return of the King, Jesus the Christ, the Lord of lords. I find it helpful to place ourselves in the time before Jesus birth, to reconnect with the state of the world, in particular, the state of Israel. Knowing those struggles helps us to see more clearly the struggles we face. Our lectionary provides us with a reading from Jeremiah so we will begin with the state of the state in Jeremiah’s day.
The Assyrian empire is in decline and the ensuing conflict between Egypt and Babylon for domination appears to present Judah a chance for independence. The Northern Kingdom, Israel is doomed, she is about to go into exile, her monarchy is over, the last of her kings is captive. There is an impulse of nationalistic stirrings which pushes Zedekiah, Judah’s King into rebellion against the new power Babylon. Their wrath will be terrible, their retribution swift. The two Kingdoms have failed in all imaginable ways; the land is full of burned out cities littered with dead bodies; a devastated countryside where the deer and the antelope no longer play. Jerusalem is in a state of chaos, without form, a void covered in darkness It appears that God’s promise has come to nothing. Jeremiah is under house arrest and the Chaldeans (Babylon) are coming (Chan; Mast; Harrelson).
It does, and does not, sound familiar. Today we continue to read of
- devastating hurricanes
- never-ending war(s) in the middle east
- leaders continuing to put national economics above morality
- police being fired for shooting a black man
- police being fired for not shooting a black man
- threats from increased economic tariffs
- new missile systems possibly being deployed in Europe
- accidental or deliberate military encounters in o the Western Pacific Ocean or Eastern Europe.
At the same time, we read that we are in the 2nd longest recovery in history, GDP is growing 3.5% a year, faster than anyone expected. Earnings for high school dropouts is up 6.5%. Because of government social support programs incomes for the bottom 20% have increased by about 80 percent over the past forty years. But; 60% of us are dissatisfied. The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index is at its worse in its ten-year history. Only 45 percent of those between 18 and 29 see capitalism positively. This may be because well-educated young people are facing large school debt, the gig economy, that is mostly temporary insecure work, with no benefits. The normal professions are drying up. We are in a crisis of connection that is caused by and leads to people being
- less likely to volunteer,
- less likely to go to church,
- less likely to know their neighbors,
- less likely to marry, and
- less likely to have social resources.
Life expectancy in the US has declined for the last three years, for the first time since WWI and the 1915-1918 flu pandemic (Brooks). Many people are deeply concerned that the partisan divide is a sign that our country is coming apart. We fear that it has never been this bad, that we are doomed (Mast). Some are concerned that fear is becoming to be the denominate force in our lives. In desperation we • seek more stuff, • are more hostile, • have more contempt for those who are different, and • seek more protection. There is no wonder we see more and more gun ownership advocacy.
However, there is more to Jeremiah’s story, than the background I shared. And, there is also more to our story. This morning’s short 2 verses from Jeremiah are known as the “little book of consolation,” and it assures Israel a new Davidic king will rule in justice and righteousness (Harrelson). We hear God saying something different. The day will come when the King will
- do what is right in the land
- do justice and
- save the people.
God says the day will come when I will heal, when I will bring shalom, the day will come when I will restore the people’s fortunes (Chan). It is notable that restoration of fortunes is not just a matter of restoring abundance, productivity, and partying. Restoration includes: recreating justice in systems of governance and religion and raising up leaders who will rightly decide the affairs of the people and will lead them in their worship of the Lord (Kennedy). What might this look like for us?
You have heard me say that we’ve just about commoditized everything and that is having huge negative impacts. For instance, the commoditization of education is leading to large student debt, that is leading to young adults buying newer cars slower, buying homes slower, going back homes, and so on. So, I was surprised when I read David Brooks write There’s an interesting debate going on in conservative circles over whether we have overvalued capitalism … and undervalued programs that foster dignity-enhancing work He continues
- Conservatives were wrong to think that economic growth would lead to healthy families and communities all by itself.
- Moderate (Democrats) were wrong to think it was sufficient to maximize growth and then address inequalities with transfer payments
- progressives are wrong to think life would be better if we just made our political economy look more like Denmark’s
It seems this is no longer Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy stupid.” world. Now it is a relationships, relationships, relationships world (Brooks).
Given that Brooks is correct, and relationships are the key to wellbeing who are we, who are you going to listen to for guidance?
our local or state paper?
Can they, will they, set the tone of your life? Who will you believe as you face dark times?
the secular prophets of old,
the new prophets of today?
our immortal, invisible only wise God (Smith 423)
born to set his people free, (Wesley 66)
our living God, (Mast)?
whose still small voice reminds you that
He has told you, … what is good;
…[that]… you [are]
… to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Bates, J. Barrington. “We Need A Little Hopefulness, Advent 1 (C) – December 2,.” 2 12 2018. Sermons that Work.
Brooks, David. “It’s Not the Economy, Stupid.” 29 11 2018. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/11/29/opinion/american-economy-working-class.html>.
Chan, Michael J. Commentary on Jeremiah 33:14-16. 2 12 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Kennedy, James. M. New Interpreter’s Bible The Book of Jeremiah. Vol. 4. Abingdon Press, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.
Mast, Stan. Jeremiah 33:14-16. 2 12 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Smith, Walter Chalmers. “Immortal Invisible.” The Episcopal Church. Hymnal 1982. 1982. .
Wesley, Charles. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Church, The Episcopal. Hymnal 1982. 1982.