For those who want a change from the Gospel
Advent Sunday – Jeremiah 33:14-16
Today we move into the season of Advent. It’s a bit of a ‘marmite’ season – personally I love it, but it can be difficult to live through, for a couple of reasons. Firstly the ‘flavour’ of the season, that of quiet prayer, anticipation and penitence in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas is oddly out of sync with how the secular world spends the time. Already as I write in Mid-November the carols are blaring in Meadowhall and gaudy lights adorn houses round about. Advent will be marked by frantic shopping, made all the more difficult of course this year due to the toxic results of Brexit and Covid, as both hardship and inflation rise alarmingly. In Church we are still uncertain about what we can do safely, and our PM has not ruled out the possibility of another Christmas lock-down as Covid infections refuse to abate while, sick of masks and restrictions, people go about as though nothing were wrong. Christians seeking to celebrate advent well are really swimming against the tide.
There is also the kind of dynamic by which Advent can rub our noses in the disastrous times through which we’re living. In spite of its penitential feel it is not a joyless season, as we look forward to the coming of Jesus not just for Christmas but for life. Yet like the exiles of Psalm 127, we find it hard to sing the Lord’s song whilst living in this strange land.
If all this isn’t just me having a bad day, and you too feel something of this disorientation, living in a place where you just don’t want to be, then today’s OT might speak to you. At the start of the chapter we’re told that Jeremiah is in prison when he receives this oracle. He’s in prison for daring to say that the nation is under God’s judgement, and that Nebuchadnezzar, who is besieging the city, will conquer it and exile its people. How dare he say that? ‘Project Fear’ or what? The first five verses paint a picture which some viewers might find disturbing, and the cause of it all is stated plainly: God has hidden his face from the nation. As we might want to turn our eyes away in disgust from some of the scenes we are subjected to on telly (as I do at Call the Midwife) so God has had enough of looking at the way people are treating one another, and just has to turn his face away. The result is devastation.
But the vision continues, from v.6, in a different direction, that of restoration and healing, a vision which culminates in our passage with the promise of a new king. He will come in fulfilment of God’s promise, for he is faithful, and will spring from the royal Davidic line. Apart from that we’re told very little about him, either here or in a parallel passage in chapter 23. The only thing we need to know is that he will be righteous, in other words incapable of doing anything wrong or bad. The result for the city will be salvation and safety.
Sometimes it is when we most need good news that we find it hardest to hear it. Many of us will have suffered, during times of great grief or depression, from cheerful ‘comforters’ who tell us that everything will be fine, and we should just look to Jesus. One can’t help but wonder if some of those who heard or read this oracle wanted to tell Jeremiah exactly where to stick his scroll. Words which are well-meaning and designed to encourage can actually cause bring more hurt than joy. And so all this Advent talk of Jesus’ return to bring righteousness, destroy evil and make everything right again can have a hollow ring to them as life continues to be a hostile experience for so many. To be fair Jeremiah does tell people that things will get worse before they get better, but paradoxically the harder we find it to hear good news, the more we need to hear it. This Advent, with all the extra problems it brings, is a time when we need more than ever to hang onto the Christian truth that King Jesus is getting ready to return and bring judgement on everything and everyone who has set their hearts on evil and destruction. However difficult, that must be our prayer this Advent – ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come and reign!’