Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Midweek Advent 3, December 14, 2005, Jer 23:3-8

Advent 3, Midweek, Jer 23:3-8, Dec 14, 2005
St.  John’s, Howard SD
Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.  I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.” (Jeremiah 23:3-8, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah had gained a reputation, and it wasn’t good.  “The complainer,” he wasn’t the kind of guy you’d invite to one of your Christmas parties.  Beside the fact that he never attended social events, (he said God forbid him to attend any at all, no matter what the reason) whenever you found him in a group of people he was always shouting out his doom and gloom.  It was a real downer for any gathering for Jeremiah to show up.  He also had other ‘social deficiencies.’  He had no family, he was well of marrying age and yet, no wife, no children.  According to Jewish custom that just made him weird.  Even his own relatives refused to claim him, and his friends’ made a plot to have him killed.  He was more than the black sheep from his hometown of Anathoth.  He sat in prison for a lengthy time because he had the gall to tell the King to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar’s army, who were pounding at the gate demanding tribute.  “It was God’s will!” he said.  For much of the time in his ministry, Jeremiah’s words were ignored.  He didn’t have popular things to say.  
Jeremiah didn’t like his role as prophet ‘against’ Israel.  He pleaded with God not to be given the burden he was carrying.  He himself mourned for his beloved Jerusalem, at the fate that was coming to it because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people.  But he continued to speak what God wanted him to say.  Weather it was popular or not.  But, always tucked in Jeremiah’s message of God’s displeasure at Israel, was a little fragment of hope, a ray of light that shown through, that told of God’s great love, and God’s plan to save his people from the problem they’d gotten themselves into.  Today’s text is one of those little fragments.  Right before this text he condemns the Kings of Israel, as the ones who have lead the people astray.  “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”  They had allowed the people to slip away from the true worship of YHWH, and some had even promoted worship of false gods.  And now God’s people were now going to pay the consequences.  They would be scattered over the whole world, separated from their land and separated from each other, just as they were already separated from God.  But, God’s warning was ignored, and so was His promise…  The promise is what we really want to concentrate on today.  
God’s promise to the people, who weren’t listening, was that, even though they would be scattered, God himself would gather them again.  It would be such a significant thing in the lives of His people that they wouldn’t talk about the Exodus from Egypt any more, but they would remember their return from being scattered.  It would be a ‘new’ exodus, a new event to remember God’s salvation of His people.  And Jeremiah tells them this Good News in wonderful, easy to understand terms.  Even though they would be scattered, God would be their shepherd and gather them together again.  The people that Jeremiah was talking to, they understood what a shepherd was, this was a picture they could understand and relate to.  There were shepherds all around them all the time.  A simple walk outside the city walls would find shepherds keeping watch over their flocks.  And don’t forget one of our favorite passages of scripture was also very likely one of theirs.  “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want...” They already had a beautiful example of God as their good shepherd.  The Psalm told them how he would lead them, take care of them, and bring them home.  And Jeremiah explained that that is exactly what God is going to do… again.  He was going to lead them home from exile, back to their beloved city.  He would supply them with new shepherds that would care for them properly.  Then they would not be afraid any more.  Even though there would be the exile, God, their good shepherd, would gather them together again, and lead them home.  
But, Jeremiah’s beautiful words went unheeded.  In fact at one point in time they were burned line by line by the king.  As he tore each line from the page…  First, it seemed, the people would have to face the exile, then they would understand and appreciate God’s good news for them.  
So what does all this have to do with advent? What does something that happened nearly 3000 years ago have to do with us… sitting here in St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, South Dakota, at the cusp of the 21st Century?
“‘The days are coming’, says the Lord.” Jeremiah wrote.  Right in the middle of his proclamation to the people of Israel.  “The days are coming…” it was like an exclamation point, or a neon pointer.  “Pay attention to this!  It’s about more than just returning from exile.  It’s about more than replacing bad kings with good ones.  It’s about the time when God himself will come.”  Do you remember what the word ‘advent’ means?  It means ‘coming.’  Right in the middle of telling the people about how God was going to deliver them from exile, how he was going to return them home, he tells them about how God himself is coming.  
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
You see all of the sudden Jeremiah was talking about more that a regular king, more than a regular shepherd.  He was talking about the promised Savior, the ‘righteous branch’ from David.  The King who was greater than any of the kings they had previously known.  This king would make it possible for them to live in safety.  He would bring them righteousness, that is, he would make it possible for them to be counted right in God’s eyes.  
What Jeremiah told the people of God was more than good news following bad news.  It was more than telling them that even though they would have to go into exile, they would eventually be able to return.  He was telling them about the promised Advent of God.  He was telling them about the coming day, when God himself would come and save them from their sin.  Jeremiah was sharing with them the Good News about the coming of Jesus Christ.  That is the very heart of Advent.  
Tonight we have gathered to tell the Good News about the coming of Jesus Christ.  The Righteous Branch has come.  We have seen the Shepherd / King.  The story is impressed in our minds; Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem, the Angels, and the Shepherds; the baby lying in a manger.  The days have truly come, just as God said they would through Jeremiah!  And it is Good News.  But he didn’t just come to give us a ‘cute’ holiday… a day to think of little children singing and laughing.  The Good Shepherd came for a reason.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15, ESV)  The baby whose coming we remember, whose coming we look forward to celebrating, is the Lord our Righteousness.  His purpose, his plan was to save the people of God.  
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, ESV)
Jesus Christ, the baby in the manger, the Good Shepherd, the True King of Israel laid down his very life, to bring to us the righteousness of God.  The cross and the cradle are forever linked…  He came to us in the cradle.  He saved us through his death on the cross.
That’s the Good News for Advent.  That’s the Good News Jeremiah was telling the people who weren’t listening to him.  It’s the Good News the he’s telling us.  Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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