A Righteous Branch 12-2-18

In this sermon, based on Jeremiahs 33:14-16, we kick off the Advent season by explore a sense of longing for the future fulfillment of God’s past promises.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

As I was growing up, back during my late elementary and probably jr high days…my aunt was the librarian at the local public library in town, which was located straight down the street a few blocks away from my school. And once I had gotten old enough to be trusted to walk these few blocks on my own, I would often head down the street after school on those days when we needed to stay in town and get picked up a little later.

This in itself isn’t really a very big deal, but there was something significant along that route that I would walk that I can still remember to this day.  On one of the corners was a great big tree…full grown…the type with a big trunk that went up about 10 feet before the first major set of branches came shooting out, creating a small open spot right there in the middle of the tree. And in that gap…at some point the seed of a pine tree found its way in there…and apparently there was enough debris present to allow that seed to kick out roots and grow. And I remember being amazed at the sight of this small, maybe 2 or 3 foot high pine seedling that was growing up in the midst of another tree…blew my mind.

Now, I know its not THAT uncommon…I’ve seen it in other places in the years since, maybe you have too…but I remember being so impressed with that little tree…thinking how tough it is…or maybe we could call it stubborn…but you know what…plants can be like that can’t they…especially trees or shrubs.

I’ve actually got a little seedling that keeps growing up through one of my hostas over at the house…doesn’t matter how many times I pull it or snip it off…darn thing just keeps growing back…and in a lot of ways, that reminds me of the way that suckers will shoot up around the base of many different types of trees here in the Midwest…same deal…doesn’t matter how many times you cut them off…they’re gonna on growing.

Now, admittedly, this is a bit of an odd topic, but perhaps you’re starting to see the connection…not so much with our gospel lesson…but rather with the Old Testament reading out of Jeremiah that we are sharing for today…and the promise made by God to raise up a righteous branch…or righteous shoot to be a little more precise for David. (pause)

Now you probably know that my normal style is to base the sermon off the gospel lesson…but this week that seemed just a little bit off…probably due to the season that we find ourselves in today.  All we have to do is take a quick look around the sanctuary and we can easily see that things have changed…the blue paraments…the presence of the Christmas tree and other decorations…and the Advent wreath which today only has a single candle burning.

We are, of course, in Advent…a season of anticipation…of waiting…or perhaps the best way to describe it, is a season of longing.  But when we start to talk along these lines, perhaps we wonder just what it is that we’re waiting or anticipating or longing for.  If we shoot from the hip, we’d probably say that we’re waiting for the birth of Jesus…which of course we’ll celebrate at Christmas in a few more weeks…and that’s not wrong.  But I can’t help but think that the season goes a little deeper than that…and that sense of longing that we’re probably all familiar with goes deeper too.

As we look around at the world that we live in…as we take a moment and ponder on the state of things…as we somehow witness evidence of the broken state of our reality…I think we all long for a something more…a time when there is no poverty leading to people standing on street corners…a time when there is no sickness or disease causing our loved ones to waste away before our eyes…a time when there is no hatred or violence leading to news reports of genocide or hate crimes or mass shootings. (pause) We know that sense of longing don’t we? Even in times when the sense lies too deeply within us to put words to, we know that sense. (pause)

But you know…Advent is bit of a funny time…a strange season…because it doesn’t quite gel into our linear experience of time does it?  We find ourselves looking forward to the birth of a baby which has already happened…likewise we find ourselves looking forward to the return of that baby who grew into a man…the man who lived and died and rose again…and who promised that this wasn’t the end…and that one day he would return in glory…an event that is promised but that hasn’t happened yet.

This ambiguity is telling, not only of the season of Advent…but of this oddball thing known as the kingdom of heaven that God ushered in though a past event…through past promises that even now, many thousands of years later, still points us into a promised but unknown future…an ambiguity that exists within this crazy thing called life…within this crazy thing called faith. This way of living that looks backwards to past events and promises which speak into our life right here right now, and yet point us towards something more to come.

And that sense is why I chose to focus in on Jeremiah today instead of the gospel. Now a touch of background…Jeremiah was a prophet. He was active about 600 odd years prior to Jesus…and while he was active for several decades, the most pressing historical aspect during his time was the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah to the Babylonian empire.

Jeremiah was active when they first came in and exerted their authority, hauling off the existing king and establishing a puppet government that would serve their interests…and he was still around a dozen years later when that puppet government got a little too big for their britches and tried to shake off Babylonian rule, only to have the Babylonians come in and lay waste to Jerusalem and haul everyone off into exile.

These were the events that Jeremiah talked about…a coming judgment…death and destruction and exile and isolation…prophetic words that actually landed him in jail when the local powers that be failed to listen…but words that would ultimately come true…and would result in the loss of the Promised Land…the loss of their national identity…the loss of their capital and the religious center of the temple…

When Jeremiah speaks these words, its still future tense…but it wasn’t far off and many of those who heard his words lived to see the reality…and yet in the midst of that turmoil…as their cultural and religious identity was utterly shunted to the side…they are reminded of the promises that God had uttered hundreds of years earlier…to the great King David as he still sat on the throne…that his descendent would hold the throne forever.

But here’s the thing about that past promise…David, as great as he was…and as much as he was praised for the heart he held for the Lord…David had his issues…his son Solomon…for all his wisdom…tried to “honor” the Lord by building the temple…by using slave labor…think about that…he honored the one who delivered their culture from slavery, through slave labor.  His son Reheboam…he made the foolish choice to treat the people even more harshly than his father had…resulting in the split kingdom and 10 lost tribes of Israel.  And all those kings that came after them, all the way down to Jeremiah’s time a few hundred years later…well they all had issues…and none of them managed to lead the people in the ways of God’s justice and righteousness…most of them did the polar opposite. That whole Davidic dynasty…can’t help but think that it failed on that front. (pause)

But then there’s Jeremiah…who in the midst of all kinds of turmoil, utters words that point the people back to that past promise…and gives them something to hold onto in the midst of pretty dire circumstances…a past promise that reminds them that whatever is going on right here, right now…that’s not the end…that there is more…that restoration is possible…and not only possible…but according to the Lord…is SURELY coming.

But what’s it going to be…or perhaps more importantly, who’s it gonna be?  This righteous sprout…the one who will bring about that divine justice and righteousness…the one who will lead the people in ways of honoring God’s justice…who will live their lives in a way that God will call righteous? Who will that be? (pause)
This is an important question to ask…and when we answer it…we tend to think that this must be Jesus right? We’re not wrong to do so…for Jesus was a descendent of David…and he has ushered in this new kingdom of Heaven…and as follower of Christ…we do have the tendency to view the scriptures through this lens…but its also important to remember that this is not the only way that the world sees or hears the promises uttered by the prophets.

But what we might just share in common with our Jewish brothers and sisters is the re-assurement that the promises of God will come to fulfilment and that somehow, someway, we will be included in that. Our understandings might be very different…our way of looking at just how God might bring about that future fulfilment is also different…but the promise is, I believe…the same.

Now how its gonna look, that’s open to interpretation…and I think its safe to say that no one really knows just how God’s gonna bring it all into completion out there in the unknown future…but what does seem to be apparent is this…that God’s going to bring about something utterly new.

God will raise up one from that line of David that will do what no earthly king was able to do…to live in a way that truly reflects and embodies that divine justice and righteous…and the very last words from Jeremiah reveal this…that the name of the city…the city we know as Jerusalem…it will be changed…and it will be called The Lord IS our righteousness.

Whenever something or someone gets a new name in the scriptures…it pretty much ALWAYS indicates a new identity…a new understanding…maybe we can even say a new creation…and however God is going to bring about the future fulfilment of this past promise…its gonna be something new…we don’t know what or how or when…but I believe however it comes about, we won’t be disappointed…and that in one way or another…the promise remains that we will be grafted into that righteous branch…the promise that somehow we are included…and this is true now…and at the same time the promise has yet to be fulfilled…and so for that future fulfilment of this past promise…we wait…we anticipate it…and that is what we long for. May we keep that in our hearts during this Advent season. Amen.

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