Jesus is Coming! (December 1, 2019)
Jeremiah 33: 14-18
Jesus is Coming!
So a couple of weeks ago I went to another church for a meeting, and they had a question on the whiteboard of the youth room. That question was “When does the Christmas season begin?” They had written up a bunch of answers from passersby, from the youth themselves; different times when the Christmas season begins. Obviously there’s the traditional time of when the Christmas season begins: there’s the time that the vocal portion of the Internet says, which is of course either Black Friday itself, or the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The important part of that is the “after Thanksgiving.” It is the image of the turkey yelling at Santa to get back and it’s lane. Other answers might be the Sunday before Thanksgiving. After all this church, and many other churches, decorate their building for Christmas on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. So maybe the Sunday before Thanksgiving is when the Christmas season begins.
Of course that’s not the only potential time the Christmas season begins. I can tell you from personal experience that for Oak Park Mall at the very least, the Christmas season began on November 1. My wife and I went to the mall very early in November, it may even have been November 1 but I think it was more like the second or the third. Either way they already had the greens hanging throughout the center of the mall. Black Friday sales were beginning two weeks ago. Does the Christmas season begin, perhaps, November 1? How long before that?
Of course the correct answer, according to Church history and tradition, is that the Christmas season begins on December 25. Then we have the 12 days of the Christmas season until epiphany on January 6. I say that just because I am almost obliged to say it as a pastor. But I recognize that answer has pretty much been rejected by society. I don’t really even think it’s that helpful any longer.
What is the Christmas season? Is the Christmas season a time in a calendar, or is it a feeling that we long for? A feeling we try and recreate every single year, sometimes more successful than others. Personally I have come to believe that the Christmas season is indeed that feeling. It feels like grandma‘s house, with the family gathered around the tree and the ham cooking in the oven. It’s a feeling that brings us hope, and peace, and joy, and love.. A feeling that leads us to hope in a Savior; a hope that the Christmas season doesn’t actually begin because the last one never ended.
If we go with that idea of the Christmas season, then the advent season is the portion of the year where we are intentionally trying to cultivate that feeling; trying to develop that feeling within ourselves. The advent season is the period of the year where we prepare ourselves. Any time that the colors up front turn purple you are in a season of preparation. In this case, we are preparing to celebrate the birth of God himself, God incarnate in a little baby; promising joy to the world, peace on earth, and goodwill toward all. This is the period where we build the hype for Jesus.
I am a massive Star Wars fan. And for the next two weeks we are at the end of the hype season for Star Wars Episode IX: the Rise of Skywalker. In the midst of that season, what the executives at Disney and Lucasfilm have been trying to do is build the hype so that we are over excited for the coming of this movie, and so that every fan will be lining up to pre-order their tickets for the midnight showing right when it comes out. So they can make as much money as they can. They’re trying to build hype and build excitement for the coming of this movie. To do that, they’ve released trailers and these trailers show us a little bit, just enough to build curiosity. And they released tiny 15 second television spots that you’ve probably seen as you’ve been watching TV. Those show nothing about the movie, but try and give you the feeling of the movie. This is trailer season for Star Wars if you will.
The prophecies of the Old Testament, like the one that was read today, where the trailers of Christmas, or at least the trailers of redemption. They serve that purpose for people of faith. They were glimpses of the future promises of redemption, meant to get the people excited for what was coming so they can make it through the dark times. In this case, the period of exile and occupation. These prophecies have served as a kind of trailer, not just for the people Jeramiah talked to, but for every single person of faith who has read that book and the other ones like it: Isaiah, Daniel, Micah. These prophecies are meant to build your hype. And during this season of Advent, let me encourage you to let them build your hype. Let the Scriptures we read here, the Scriptures you read at home, my sermons as the Spirit works within my words; intentionally let the, build your hype for yourself. Think about what is coming and what it means: that Jesus is born. Get excited! Jesus is coming! By the time Christmas arrives, you should be as excited for Jesus as Will Ferrell is for Santa. Jesus is coming. And by doing so, you prepare yourself for his next coming as well.
To really understand the trailer that was what Jeramiah was been saying in the midst of this prophecy, you have to understand where he was and where the city and the kingdom of Judah was as he was speaking. Jeramiah was born at the end of the good rule of Josiah, the last good ruler that Judah had in the great line of kings that spawned from David. Jeramiah continually prophesied that the kingdom was going to be destroyed for all the sins that had committed and for all of the times that they had broken their covenant. And there were false prophets who are preaching that everything would remain prosperous because it was prosperous now. And the king got angry at Jeremiah. At least once the King threw him in prison. And that is where we find Jeramiah here: in prison. The city has fallen under siege by the Babylonians. And the king becomes angry at Jeremiah and blames him for all of the troubles because he’s been saying mean words. And here, in prison for preaching despair, he hears this word of hope.
Jeramiah has been declaring destruction would come to the kingdom, and he still is. He still says you’re not getting out of this. The Babylonians are going to defeat you. He’s still encouraging them not to fight the war. But, he’s adding to it. He starts to declare that the destruction will not last forever. He brings a message of hope. Just one chapter earlier is where he goes out and buys a piece of land. Now, the enemy is at the gates. They’re about to come and conquer the land; about to come take everything. And he buys a piece of land that he’s about to lose to that enemy army anyway! But he does it as a declaration that this won’t last forever. The people will come back. God will redeem the people.
All the way up until this point the false prophets surrounding Jeramiah having predicting that everything will go great while he was preaching doom. Now that the city is under siege, now that the writing is on the wall that the city is going to be destroyed; now they start saying “woe to us!” And now Jeramiah starts to say hope! Hope for a future after destruction and times of hopelessness. What’s going on, Jeremiah?
God’s prophets preach hope in times of hopelessness. Gods’ people hold on to hope in times of hopelessness. If you feel it is hopeless, either now or if you felt that way in the past or you feel that way the future, I want you to ask yourself “what am I preaching?” If it’s hopelessness, you might want to stop and start praying. And also, ask “what are the people that I’m listening to preaching?” The politicians, the news networks, the friends, the social media sites you go to; are they preaching hope in the midst of destruction or not?
Now of course, our understanding of what Jeramiah prophecies has evolved over the centuries; particularly after the Christian religion began. We began to look back at this prophecy as one of the ones that was predicting Jesus. This is one of the reasons why Matthew and Luke go into the genealogy of Jesus at the beginning of their Gospels: because they want to tie Jesus back to David in order to say that he is the branch that Jeremiah predicted; the descendent of David who is now on the throne forever. The “Son of David,” as he is often called in the Gospels. This prophecy speaks toward the promise we believe Jesus fulfilled. For us, salvation would come through a single branch sprouting in the midst of destruction: a tiny crying baby in a manger in a land under the Roman occupation.
But salvation does not mean restoration. In fact, if Jesus is the branch (and our understanding of course declares that Jesus is indeed the branch); then the nation wasn’t restored, it was renewed. It looks different. Jesus restores the kingdom. But it wasn’t Judah, it was the kingdom of God. Jesus restores the people, but not the Jews. Rather, in Paul’s words, “first the Jew, then the Gentile.” All are brought together into this new kingdom of God that Jesus is restoring under the Davidic line. If this is true, then Advent starts with a single branch. But the promise of Advent is it that branch will grow into a giant new forest. And Christians today would make the argument that is exactly what has happened. The branch is planted. Let us prepare for the growth of the forest this month. Amen.