Several years ago a minister mentioned that many of the prophecies in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the New Testament. One of these prophecies is mentioned in Jeremiah 33:14-16. The prophet Jeremiah mentioned that God would provide a descendant to King David. This descendant, who was Jesus, would bring justice and righteousness to the earth.
The beginning of the church year is the beginning of consideration of the end of all things. Jeremiah’s message is urgent and is also a call for people to listen to him. The coming of Jesus is the arrival of the end. Human history and providence meet to reveal the Word made flesh, through whom all things were made, all things are guided, all things are brought to their consummation in God. Jesus is the centre of all things, the purpose in all time, and He directs all things toward the heart of God.
Jeremiah’s message is one of reassurance. We need this reassurance in order to absorb what will follow throughout Advent. Many messages in this season of Advent are filled with words of doom and gloom. A good example of this is found in Luke 21:25-36. God’s new era will emerge out of the Israelites’ history and life experiences. He will fulfill His promises in ways that are in line with His previous promises.
Jeremiah spoke this message to a people living with disaster, uncertainty, and guilt over their unfaithfulness to God. The prophecy was a beacon of hope during a dark time in Israel’s history. The Israelites had lost their humanity. Israelite kings were supposed to reign for God as His anointed, modeling for the people the justice and righteousness of God and caring for the people as a shepherd. Many of the kings led the people in destructive worship of foreign idols, used their position for their own advantage, and depended on the strength of military power and foreign alliances to secure their position.
In his best moments as a king after God’s own heart, King David was the shepherd king, a king who led the people to be the people that God had intended them to be. This is the type of king that the prophetic hope longs for. Not only is the king to execute justice, but the king is also to lead the community to be a people who actively do justice themselves. Thus, not only will this king be called righteous and just, but the people will also be called righteous and just as well.
The passage from Jeremiah, like much of the Old Testament, has righteousness and justice going hand in hand. Righteousness refers to uprightness in the eyes of God, which is to be in right relationship with God and with each other. Justice is not about retribution as we so often diminish it in our society; it is about restoration. Specifically, it is about restoration to right relationship or community. Even the retributive acts of God that Jeremiah so often speaks of have restoration as the goal.
By the time Jeremiah wrote his letter, Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and the people would shortly go into exile. Jeremiah was in prison. The people were about to lose everything that gave meaning to their lives-the temple, the city, the king, priesthood, their homes, family, etc. God seemed to be silent, absent, and preoccupied with judging the people for past wrongs. Jeremiah 33:14-16 was written to give hope to the people. The coming Messiah would become righteous for the Israelites and for us. Jeremiah told the Israelites the same thing he tells us. We are to have hope in God, who will restore us. God does not give up on us no matter how far we stray from Him.
There are times when we wonder if God will answer our prayers. He is perfect, and He can’t do anything that is outside of His character. Everything He does is motivated by love. If we have to wait for Him to answer our prayers, then His reasons for making us wait are based on His love for us. If we are praying for His return and it is not coming when we want it to come, it is because of His love for us. He loves us so much that He wants to give us plenty of time to repent. Also, only God knows when Jesus will return. His timing is perfect. In His own time and in His own way He will fulfill His promises of restoration, salvation, and safety. These same promises are ours for today.
Advent is a season of waiting. We often find waiting a waste of time. We get jumpy if we have to wait for anything. While we wait we become fearful. That’s why we try to keep busy so those fears will stay below the surface.
What if we embraced our waiting and focused on spirituality? Advent gives us time to do just that, especially when we are anxious. Jeremiah wrote during another anxious time to a divided nation. The people hoped for a unified nation. While Jeremiah speaks about the future work of God, he also addresses the present situation for the Israelites. Can we trust that God has not forgotten us and left us on our own with our own fears and dread? When we look at the hopeless, present world situation can we trust that God sees it also and is giving us strength and a reason to hope? We need Advent to force us to slow down, catch our breath and watch and wait patiently. Advent invites us to look forward to God acting on our behalf not only now but in the future.
The phrase “the days are surely coming” means the day isn’t here yet. And while we may sit on the other side of this text and proclaim that the hoped-for shepherd king has come, we’d be missing the true message of this story if we ignore the deep pain and despair behind the text. What can help illustrate this is for us to consider that this hoped-for king didn’t come until some 500 years after Jeremiah wrote his message.
When God grafted Jesus into the human family tree, He gave us a branch that changes all of the other branches. Since we as Christians are part of that family tree, we are also changed by Jesus. Because He has changed us, we can be righteous. When God looks at us, He sees righteous branches and not bad branches bearing rotten fruit.
God knows that we can’t make ourselves righteous, however hard we try. That is why He gave us the promise of Jesus. Jesus, the Son of David, came to fulfill all God’s promises and to make us righteous—not by our power, but by His. He is the One who laid down His life for us, to remake us as clean, pure, whole human beings—people the way God meant us to be. That is what the cross was about. He took our brokenness upon Himself. He died from it, and then He rose from the dead, victorious over all that—and shares His Easter victory with us.
Advent is a time when God calls on us to embrace the message of hope that is the centre of our faith. It is a period of waiting in the darkness. It is a season in which we are caught between joyful expectation and the harsh realities of our present lives while we wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled. The discipline of Advent puts the church at odds with our modern culture in which the holiday season consists of bright lights, celebrations and packages tied with neat bows. There is no room for darkness and little patience for prayerful expectation when holiday carols blare from every speaker and the neighbourhood is glowing with displays of lights. Ironically, this experience of being out of sync with our surroundings may attune us more deeply to the nature of Advent. In Advent, we live in the unsettling tension between what is and what will be.
God promises in Jeremiah’s message that He will renew us-not just on the inside, but on the outside as well. He promises that He will renew the world. He will create a new future because of His forgiveness. This is the Good News that the church and the body of Christ are called on to spread to the entire world. It is the message of assurance of God’s promises that were raised to life in Christ.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1009)
- Guest, J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 19: Jeremiah/Lamentations (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1988; pp. 221-223)
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