Scripture Texts: Psalm 33; Jeremiah 33:10-16; Luke 21:5-19
Advent is not just preparation for Christmas. Advent is something more.
At one level, we are preparing to celebrate Christ’s coming at Christmas. But we’re also waiting for Christ to bring the kingdom of God in its fullness. We’re waiting for the day of the Lord to come, the day when the things spoken of in Revelation—a new heaven and a new earth where every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We wait in the midst of an imperfect world, where God’s kingdom has broken through but is not yet visible everywhere.
We all know of the depravity or fallenness of humanity, and we know of the pain of sickness and death that is part of our life on earth. Certainly, Christ has given us hope so that we can endure these things — but we will still endure these things. Until Christ comes in final victory we wait for the Lord and patiently work for God’s kingdom.
In this time of Advent, we look back to the stories of our scripture that speak of God’s eternal plan.
But we know humanity is seduced by sin and we are terrible at waiting.
We all know that children, as they wait for Christmas, are full of so much excitement and expectation for their presents that they start snooping. They want to know what is coming and they don’t want to wait for it.
Like children waiting for Christmas, we are restless in expectation for the coming of the kingdom of God. Perhaps some of our excitement has worn off, but we still cry out to God: Why don’t you intervene! We know what you said you were going to do—Why wait Take us into the house of the Lord.
We don’t have to go very far in scripture to find an example of how human depravity inhibits our ability to wait.
After the people were rescued from slavery in Egypt, Moses went up the mountain to receive the tablets containing the ten commandments. Evidently, Moses spent a lot of time on top of that mountain. The Israelites were waiting… and waiting… and waiting… like children annoyed with their parents for taking too much time on a shopping trip. Resistance to waiting is a natural human response.
“So When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”1
They gathered up all of their gold rings and melted them down and poured it into a mold.
They broke the very law of God before they even received it.
Like people at the base of the mountain, we’re impatient because God needs to do something, anything to bring us out of the pit of systemic evil that we’re in. And to find out what’s going on, we need to go a bit further in Scripture. The prophet Jeremiah tells us why things aren’t going well.
In one word: greed and injustice.
Look at the judgment oracles of Jeremiah. First from Chapter 5:
“Search the squares of Jerusalem and see if you can find one person who acts justly and seeks truth. How can I pardon them? They have forsaken me and sworn by those who are no gods. Their iniquities have turned you away and your sins have deprived you of good.
Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery;
therefore they have become great and rich,
28 they have grown fat and sleek.
They know no limits in deeds of wickedness;
they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper,
and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
29 Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord,”2
Likewise, Jeremiah 6:6 says that God will need to act because there is nothing but oppression in Jerusalem.
This oppression takes many forms, but one of its principle forms is the unjust accumulation of wealth. The Lord says in Jeremiah 17: “Like the partridge hatching what it did not lay, so are all who amass wealth unjustly; in mid-life it will leave them, and at their end they will prove to be fools.”
These words of God still hold true. Humanity is fallen. Some do things out of concern for others, but most do not. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve probably been both the victim and the perpetrator of the injustices Jeremiah speaks of.
All this brings us to Jeremiah 33. Those who have been oppressed will experience relief and those who have been oppressing others will experience hardship.
The land that has been neglected in the exile will once again provide pasture for shepherds who will guide their flocks. The days are surely coming! The promises of God will be fulfilled and a righteous branch will spring up for David, executing justice and righteousness in a land that was full of injustice and suffering. In those days, Jerusalem will live in safety.
We may be tempted to lose hope, as we read the oracles of judgment earlier in Jeremiah—we may be convinced that nothing will change. The human condition will rule forever… But that’s not what Scripture teaches us. A righteous branch will rise up. Safety and security will return. The oppression of the rich and powerful who profit off the work of others will cease and the poor, the working class, will have fields to tend to and a harvest to reap.
But still… we’re waiting, waiting, waiting.
Fast forward 600 years or so… and Jesus begins to prophecy about the largest symbol of economic inequality of his day: The Temple. Adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God — but it was really the privileged who we profiting off of the poor. Just think of the widow who gave all that she had in the temple. The money was being mismanaged. It wasn’t going to helping the community of God, it was filling the coffers of the rich.
Jesus knew that the temple would not endure as long as many expected. In a few decades, it would be destroyed in a war. Things were about to get very bad. It was already difficult for the common people, but there were going to be trials and tribulations for those who followed Christ as they were persecuted and further oppressed.
Jesus’ students wanted to know when will this take place? What do we need to look for?
He warns them: There will be persecutions. wars and insurrections will take place. Nation will rise up against nation. There will be earthquakes famines and plagues. But these are signs that the end is not yet here. (Like the first century church, we see these signs and know that the kingdom is not yet fully here)
Their instruction from Jesus is to wait… endure these things. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” And as they endure, Jesus will give them works to speak, testifying of what God is in the process of doing. Before it happens, make up your minds. Choose this day who you will serve.
But if you chose to follow the king of kings, Lord of Lord, the prince of peace, the everlasting God — testify to what God has done and to what God is doing.
As you endure the hardships and the growing pains of being in this imperfect world of violence and economic oppression: testify with the words of God.
What is that testimony? It’s the story we’ve been given. Stretching from Genesis to Revelation. But keep in mind especially those words of Jeremiah 33:
The days are coming when God will fulfill the promise that was made to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, to Moses, and to all of us: a righteous branch will spring up bringing justice and righteousness. There will be peace—shalom, the kind not experienced since the seventh day of creation. All who follow will live in safety. The Lord is our righteousness.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
1 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ex 32:1.
2 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Je 5:27–29.