Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10;1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
December 2, 2018 –First Sunday in Advent
We begin a new year of worship with the First Sunday of Advent. The greens have been hung and the colors of our paraments have turned to purple. The Lectionary is based upon a three-year cycle of readings.
In year A we read from the Creation narratives through the journey through the desert to the Promised Land. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses. In Year B we read of the consolidation of the nation of Israel, of David…and we just heard his last words last week.
In Year C we read of the fall of the Northern Kingdom, then the Southern Kingdom…then the Exile and the Prophets. We are in Year C this year.
Gospel Lessons focus on John and Matthew in Year A, John and Mark in Year B and Luke in Year C. This is the year of downfall, exile, the prophets and Luke.
We begin with the Prophet Jeremiah who saw clearly and spoke faithfully and was punished severely for the truth he warned us with. In our reading today, we are clearly in the midst of the downfall and Jeremiah is still telling us faithfully…if not fearlessly …what we need to hear.
He now stands in a wasteland inhabited neither by domestic animals nor people. Think, for a comparison, of Europe or Japan after World War II.
As the one principal nation in all the world whose industrial base was largely untouched, it was necessary for the United States to help rebuild the nations that had been battlefields.
The Boomers grew up thinking that was the way things always had been and always would be. We had saved democracy and then we had saved the people who had raised up the totalitarian powers that had threatened democracy. We were a nation of heroes even to our enemies.
We were the most powerful nation in the world, protectors of all that was good and rescuers of the underdog everywhere. Little did we know of the want of the Great Depression. We were oblivious to the friends and brothers and daughters who would never be seen again or the many families who would never be together again.
And I don’t know that anyone understood the terrible price in anxiety born of haunting memories that would manifest itself in what we came to see…30 years later…as PTSD. Things were good…better than we had ever known them… but the tension was right under the surface.
We finally felt secure in a world that had known nothing but insecurity for six long years, from 1939 to 1945. But it had ended with a bang that was so bright and hot that the specter of it still haunts us today. Humankind could end life as we know it one the whole planet.
We have set up international peacekeeping bodies to prevent war and to fight poverty…which is one of the prime movers instigating wars…because it was unthinkable that humankind would ever permit itself to slide into another world conflict. We thought we were beating our swords into ploughshares…at the time…
Jeremiah speaks to just such a nation…his nation…in just such an unthinkable day…his day…after the devastation has befallen them. Even in the midst of devastation all around him, though, he utters a word of hope.
It is as if he were speaking to us and for us. His great nation, Israel, was the light of the world before the Assyrians conquered the north and the Babylonians overran the south…just as America was…and still is the light of the world.
Yet, that great nation of God’s chosen people has become the vassal state of a foreign power. No one could have imagined it before it happened any more than we could imagining such a thing to us…as in ‘US’.
The things of this world are passing, to be sure, but God is everlasting, and the truth of those who listen to the word… and watch for the Word…of God is always fresh and new and full of hope.
Like Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones, Jeremiah hears the God of truth and love always saying …and saying once again: “The time is coming when I will fulfill my gracious promise with my people.”
God does not fulfill the divine promises for God’s people. God fulfills them with God’s people…people who are faithful…people who want God’s kingdom…not theirs…to come and God’s will…more than theirs…to be done.
Jeremiah is one of God’s people. He has seen it coming and he has tried to warn, advise, encourage and save God’s chosen people.
For his trouble, people who find Jeremiah’s counsel inconvenient and disruptive of their own plans have tried to kill him, have had him arrested and kept in dreadful conditions, and have shunned him from the ranks of what they claimed to be righteous men.
The same thing happened to Elijah and Isaiah and Paul. The same thing happened to John the Baptist. And it happened to Jesus, too.
The world pushes back against those who seek justice, love mercy and only want to walk humbly with God. Let us not forget that it is a dog eat dog world.
But let us remember, too, that no matter what we say…no matter what we do…the truth is still the truth and Jesus still loves you.
Jesus tells us this today. Things have been harsh before we got here and they will harsh again after we leave…maybe even while we are still here.
It seems like things have to get tough before our hearts can be softened enough to welcome the truth into our days. Then…only then we will see the Human One… other translations read ‘the Son of God’ coming on a cloud with power and great splendor.
Everything you hoped was true may vanish. But God’s word will not pass away. Jesus tells us that…and Jeremiah does, too.
So it says somewhere in the Bible that in the midst of life we are in death. It sounds today like the converse is also true: In the midst of death, we are in life.
As one truth puts an untruth to death, another truth comes to life. Perhaps it is as if we were peeling layers from an onion, but I think in the case before us today, the onion does not get smaller as each layer is peeled away. It gets larger, brighter and sweeter.
We need to remember…and our readings today call us to remember …that Jesus was born in the meanest of circumstances in the darkest of times for his people… and perhaps, for the whole world.
It was a time of peace, with the Pax Romana, but that peace was imposed upon his people. They did not choose the peace they had.
It had come to them from a land they had never seen. It was enforced by a godless nation of pagans who worshiped the earth so much they were happy to put to death anyone who could see beyond it.
They were so heartless that they turned mass executions of believers into mass entertainments in their arenas and coliseums. They could kill whoever they wanted to, but they could not kill the truth…or hope…or love.
It was for the prophets to see beyond the desperate circumstances of their people to the hope that had been handed down to them by the love that had always been promised to them by the love that had always been theirs.
I officiated at the memorial service for Myrtle McCammon, Don McCammon’s aunt, who had grown up in Huntley and spent her professional life teaching first grade in Livingston.
Her good friend was a widow, my friend Eleanor, whose tatting is on our tree this morning. It was Eleanor who shared with me that the greatest joy of Myrtle’s life was when a child began to read.
You told them what the letters sounded like. You showed them what the words looked like. Then you read to them.
Then you asked one of them to sound out the words in a sentence. ‘See Dick run’ was a bit of a miracle when it came from the lips of a small child for the first time.
This is the kind of joy Paul writes to us about this morning as he tries to describe his excitement at the way the Word he has shared with them has transformed their community.
“How can we thank God enough for you, given all the joy we have because of you before our God?” He does not ask for any credit for doing this because he has only passed along what he was given, without even asking, by the Lord Jesus Christ.
His compensation is more than generous, by his lights, just knowing that the world has been made a better place because the Word has taken root in new, rich soil.
Jeremiah knows that the devastation around him has been brought about because the people wanted to believe what they wanted to believe. They didn’t want truth. They wanted comfort.
But where there is no truth there is no comfort, and where there is no justice there is no peace. Jesus came to tell us that, too…to give us the love of those simple, welcoming words…and to die for the love God has for us all.
We have been sent a gift, by the prophets, by the apostles, and by God in the life of truth and works of love in Jesus Christ. It is a gift we can only keep by giving it away.
My friend Eleanor and her friend Myrtle enjoyed their retirement years by taking tours around the United States. One day, Eleanor told me, they were eating in a diner in Washington, D.C. and visiting about what they had done and seen that day.
Some people at the table next to them were listening to them and one of them said, “You’re not from around here, are you?” They replied that no, they weren’t. “So where are you from?” they asked.
Myrtle and Eleanor said, “You guess first and we will tell you.” One of them said, “It’s probably someplace way out west.” Myrtle and Eleanor nodded. The guy said, “Ohio, maybe?”
These words we feast on today come to us from somewhere farther away than Ohio, but they are words that carry the gift of truth with them wherever they are heard.
We say we want the truth to be near to us but we have to construct an idea to understand that truth. It’s like a road map we have received from someone who has been there before.
Jeremiah and Jesus and Paul hand us the map to the treasure of truth today as we begin our journey into Advent, from the wasteland of want to the promised land of hope, from fear to love.
Their map is made of words that will never pass away…never lose hope…never stop loving us…and always give us what we truly need this day.
O Lord, where is it that you want to send me? What is it that you want to do through me this day? Amen.