Text: Jeremiah 33:14-16
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Nov. 29, 2015
Today, we begin a new church year. With it we are immediately confronted with the season of Advent. What does Advent mean for you? For me three words come to mind. Adventure, Anticipation, Arrival. In my mind these words are related.
Adventure of course shares the same root with Advent. There are all kinds of adventures.
Some we anticipate, others just arrive unexpectedly. I remember taking a U-Haul trailer filled with my books to Hampton, VA to be shipped to England when I was preparing for my Ph.D. I was anticipating embarking on a great new adventure. I planning to leave my car with a friend in Virginia and fly to Gatwick from Dulles airport outside of Washington DC.
However, before I dropped my 10,000 volumes of books off at Hampton, an unexpected adventure suddenly arrived. My car blew a water hose leaving me stranded on I-64. This was long before the era of cell phones. I had to unhook the trailer and leave my books abandoned on the highway while my car was towed 20 miles to be fixed. Would they be there when I got back? Would I get everything unloaded, boxed up and get to Dulles on time to make my flight? It was a bigger adventure than I wanted to experience!
For the Christian, Advent is the adventure of the anticipated kind. For the unbeliever it is the promise of the arrival of the unexpected. As the community of faith, we long for the arrival of the God whose coming makes a difference in our lives.
The prophet Jeremiah, whose words we read this morning, states our longing so well. Like all of the Old testament prophets, he uses vivid imagery drawn from Israel’s life experience to express this. He knows it doesn’t matter if we find ourselves in the middle of a scorching desert or in the midst of a gigantic storm at sea, God is there to change it. God can make our wilderness into an Eden, He can change the abysses of the Sea into a road that the redeemed might walk.
Jeremiah knows what it is that we long for, and tells us that we will find it in God. Just as God promised to restore the land of Promise to the Jews who were in exile, so God in Jesus has promised that he would never leave us or forsake us. It is Jesus, for whose arrival we look for in these weeks before Christmas. What is it that we should look for when he comes? I suggest three things
We hope, first of all, for someone to come to comfort us. Although Jeremiah prophesized before Israel was defeated and her people taken into exile, most biblical scholars believe that chapters 31-33 were written later, to encourage them while they were in Babylon. The prophet calls out to God to come to their rescue, as He had when he brought them out of Egypt, to restore them to their own land, and create in them an obedient people.
Jeremiah’s prophecy was preserved for us after the Exile ended because God’s people understood that these words belong to God’s plan as a whole, and not just to one of its parts. They recognized that human need is so universal, the prophet’s expression of hope so moving and his comprehension of God’s redemptive plan so powerful, that his words would speak to people in any place and time. His words speak to us today because we, too, have suffered loss.
In the time of Israel’s exile, God’s people had lost their homes in war, as has happened to people all over our world today. They longed for restoration. In the years before our Lord’s birth, Palestine was a Roman province, often ruled with brutality. The longing for political and personal restoration was great.
In North America we have been spared the violence of war. But as is on our news every day our world is still filled with violence. Today there are more displaced peoples due to war than any time since the second world war.
I look out across our congregation this morning, I know each of us have lost someone who is very dear, some very recently. If you are not grieving the loss of a loved one, you may be experiencing other kinds of loss. I know from experience that personal plans can often seem like a wilderness, with no track in the sand, no way ahead, no way back, no refreshment, no nourishment, no help.
The prophet’s word to us is to believe in God’s long plan. “Look to the rock from which you were hewn.” Look back to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who has brought you forth. Jesus Christ is part of that long plan. To people whose lives were in ruins he spoke of God’s love and care. He told us that if a single sparrow fell, God knew.
He talked about the flowers in the field and said that God would dress us even better.
He wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, and said He was the resurrection and the life.
Jeremiah longed for One who would come to comfort. In Jesus that person has arrived
Secondly, we hope for someone to teach us. There is a saying that we all know, a kind of modern proverb: “When all else fails, read the directions.” So many things we buy today have to be assembled, toys, furniture, computers, appliances. These kits all come with instructions, and the first direction usually is: “Before assembling read these instructions all the way through.”
I remember so well a Christmas of my childhood. I had asked Santa for a bike. Christmas eve came. No bike was under the tree. I was disappointed, but I did notice that there was a big square box, with my name on it. It not big enough for a bike,
I thought, but I was filled with anticipation. What could be in that box? At last Christmas morning arrived I ran down the stairs and ripped off the wrapping. It proved a bike after all, but it was in a box. I had to put it together. What an adventure!
It looked so easy. I dived right in. Soon I had parts all over the floor and none seemed to go anywhere. Finally, I cried out in exasperation, “Will someone please show me how this goes together?” My dad calmly handed me the instruction sheet. “Try following this,” he said. I did, and in no time at all, I was outdoors trying to ride through a Michigan snowstorm!
Life is like this too. It will go together right if we follow the directions. In the life of faith, where the world has a creator with a long plan, we need instructions from beyond ourselves; we need guidance from the manufacturer. We need to receive a set of directions with the kit. This is just what God gives. The Bible is the set of instructions that comes with the kit. We confess that in these writings we hear God addressing us, telling us how it all goes together, calling us to lives of obedience, loyalty, and service.
But Jesus is more than a written word. He is the living Word, the Word made flesh. He modeled in his life how we are to live. At the end, completely vulnerable, He taught us the way of the Cross. He died to show us how it all goes together. Jeremiah longed for One who would teach. In Jesus, that teacher has arrived!
Finally, we hope for someone to lead us. Jeremiah longed for a leader from the linage of their greatest King, David. In Jesus, that person has arrived!
During Advent, we normally look in two directions. We look backward to our Lord’s first arrival as a babe in Bethlehem. And we look forward to the time when He will return to earth as King of Kings. This morning, however, I suggest that we look in a third direction. Let us look within. On the night before he died, Jesus told his disciples that He was about to leave them, but that He would not leave them alone. He said, I will pray to my Father that He will send the Holy Spirit. He will be your Comforter, He will remind you of everything that I have taught you, and He will lead you into all truth. As we begin a new Church year, we begin with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit has come and resides in each of us. So as we begin a new church year, let us look upon it as an adventure and let us be filled with anticipation for all the unexpected surprises the Spirit has in store for us, so that upon our arrival of the end of the year, we might again say, “Great is our God and great things He has done for His people! Amen.