During the next four weeks we are going to reflect on the four themes of each of the Advent candles that are lit: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. So this Sunday we begin with the first candle, the candle of hope, as we meditate on the Word of God recorded by the prophet Jeremiah.
What makes you hopeful? A lot of students are hopeful this time of year because they can see the light at the end of the tunnel of finals. Some even have graduation to look forward to. They’re hopeful about the future. You can often see it in their eyes. Often though when we begin to look ahead we become anxious and uneasy. What makes you less hopeful or even hopeless? There’s a lot of anxiety out there about the fiscal cliff. There’s a lot of talk about the difficulty of college graduates finding work.
Each of us no doubt gets stirred up and anxious by different developments in our lives. Sudden changes in health can cause us to feel less hopeful. Stresses about the finances, the children, and the overall well-being of our families are constantly on the mind of some. When we think on these things and others like them hopefulness dims and our sense of security wavers. Whatever your troubles Jeremiah would understand your condition. He often struggled with the seemingly hopeless conditions of the time he lived.
First of all Jeremiah was called to be a prophet in a time when God’s people refused to listen to sermons. They resented God’s Word and His messengers. At least twice there were attempts to kill Jeremiah. He was also arrested and held prisoner soggy at the bottom of a well. Jeremiah shared his feelings of frustration and hopelessness as he prayed to God:
O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in. (20:7–9)
At the very center of Jeremiah’s life—his calling and work given to him by God—there was tension, rejection, and frustration. Jeremiah often struggled with losing hope because he saw no fruit for his labor only pain and trouble.
If his inner struggle wasn’t enough the outside world was worse. The people were going on like nothing was wrong, but Jeremiah knew the situation was hopeless. God’s people had been divided for some time now between Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians and now Judah was backed into a cliff of its own. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was about to conquer Jerusalem and enslave its population. The temple, the glory of Jerusalem, would be destroyed. Jeremiah was called to tell the people that this would happen. He had an even more difficult job than that though. He was called to tell the people that this was all happening because they had brought it upon themselves. They’d rejected the God who loved them so much. Filled with false hope that everything was going to be alright they would soon be completely hopeless.
What a terrible situation! However anxious we might and hopeless we might feel, these forces do not surpass the internal and external challenges that faced Jeremiah.
Into this hopeless situation God gives a remarkable Word for Jeremiah to preach to the people. Not only would it later give them comfort, but it comforted him during this hopeless time. “In those days I will raise up a righteous Branch to spring up from David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called, “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Amidst the chaos and uncertainty God gives this healing and refreshing promise to Jeremiah and all the people to hear. It’s more than just a Word though. This Word will change reality. It brings hope to a hopeless situation. Jerusalem would experience terrible bloodshed, anguish and enslavement for their sins. Yet, God says that’s not the final Word. Once again she will dwell in security and enjoy prosperity. There will be a time when the people can be hopeful again. When the people were finally captive in Babylon they would hope in this promise of the prophets; that God would restore His people forever. As Isaiah had promised, though their sins were like scarlet they would become what as snow. Perfectly forgiven and perfectly restored.
This great reversal would happen when a lowly rabbi entered in like a conquering king on a donkey. Jesus fulfills Jeremiah’s word perfectly. He is the seed of David, the righteous branch that sprouted up. The people received Jesus as king at first. They thought he’d come to do what a victorious king would do. He’ll make sacrifices at the temple in Thanksgiving to God and then take up David’s throne. Little did they know that he had come to make sacrifice, but the sacrifice would be his own body. The same Jerusalem who had rejected God in the time of Jeremiah rejected Him again. He was enthroned on a cross and crowned with thorns. People thought this Jesus was the hope of Israel, but now he was gone. His disciples fell into hopelessness, locked themselves up in rooms lest they meet an end like his.
Then the promised king came to them when they were at their lowest. He entered through those doors they had shut themselves up in their own hopelessness and misery and said “Peace be with you.” Hope: profound and permanent hope was theirs because Christ is risen from the dead. That is yours in Jesus too. Jeremiah said that the kingdom of God would be known as “The Lord is our righteousness.” That righteousness is yours when God placed his name upon you as you joined Christ in his death and resurrection at your baptism. His death has done away with Israel’s sin, Judah’s sin, your sin, and your sin. His resurrection has given you life that is in God so you know no matter what troubles you or causes you to lose hope it will never mean God will lose you.
At the time of Jeremiah the people were not very attractive or lovable at all. Yet, in this Word God shows us that God does not love us because we’re so lovable but rather we’re loved before we’re made lovable We’re forgiven our sins and made white as snow by God’s grace. Now apply that to your hopeless situations. The counsel of others is too often that if you think positively than positive things will happen. That might be true at times, but it also puts the onus on us; as if hope is something we have to find within. But think of Jeremiah in the pits of hopelessness.
Just as in Christ God the Father loves us before we were ever lovable so also he gives us hope before we were ever hopeful. Christian hope is not dependent on how you’re feeling at a given moment or what is happening within or outside of you. Christian hope is summed up in the name Jeremiah promises us, “The Lord is our righteousness.”
If we take a moment to reflect on those things that try to make us feel safe, secure and hopeful we see that they can’t deliver true hope. The stock market? Fiscal plans? Insurance? Physical prowess? Beauty? Popularity? All those places that promise lasting hope just can’t deliver. The wealthiest person can lose it all and he will still die. The most solid fiscal plan is still dependent on the ups and downs of human and natural history. How silly to regard any of these things as the end of our hope, to treat them as gods.
But to say this and to trust this: “The Lord is our righteousness!” That gives true hope. Many people heard Jeremiah’s message and rejected it because they couldn’t see beyond the present. The present promises of either health and wealth or gloom and doom. Wherever you place your hope will determine your actions in the present. So they went chasing after these things and when they failed they fell into hopelessness.
Yet, some heard Jeremiah and they saw the glory and awesome wonder of their God. They trusted that one day He would restore all things just as He promised. That all the things they hoped for and couldn’t find in the world, peace, security, health, and life can only be found in the God who raised from the dead a branch from David. Wherever you place your hope will determine your actions in the present. So as they hoped for the future they confessed their sins and received the love of God. They lived in the midst of their troubles trusting that God will deliver them out of them all. They sought not to live as they did in the past worshiping and hoping in false things and sinning against their God. They sought God and looked forward to the arrival of the righteous King. We should take their example to heart. We live in the presence of our future hope. The presence of Christ with us in the present form our future and determine how we conduct ourselves in the present. Let’s never grow apathetic to the glorious gospel and the future we have in Christ. This future has the led the Church throughout time to live in the light of the future; doing works of mercy and love towards those around them.
So, we now rejoice with Jeremiah. Living in the present with our eyes on the hope of the future of Christ’s return. We do so filled with hope knowing that we will be delivered from any sin or trouble that besets us now. In Jesus’ name. Amen.