Jeremiah 33:14-16 / Advent 1C / 2 December 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
Expectations. We have them. We have them for the people around us. Others have them for us. Ever hear it? “You didn’t live up to my expectations!” Ever say it? Or at least think it? Parents have expectations for their children. Children have expectations for their parents. We have expectations for the government. They may not be great expectations, but we do have them, otherwise we wouldn’t be disappointed. You can’t be disappointed if you don’t have expectations.
And then there’s God-sized expectations. Expectations we lay on God. We expect Him to be there for us when we need Him. To alleviate all suffering, no matter what the cost. To right all wrongs, avenge all injustices, reward every good, punish every evil, redirect all storms way from our neighborhood. Bring rain when convenient, sunshine on demand, and 180 gallons of free wine would be nice for the daughter’s wedding.
Well, maybe that’s a bit over the top. But we do have expectations. The Israelites had expectations. They were God’s “chosen people.” His holy nation. Selected, protected, peculiar, holy, set apart from all the other nations. A people, a land, a covenant, a Law, a Promise. No other nation in the history of nations was quite like Israel of the Old Testament. And no other nation will ever be like it again in this world. God’s finished with nation building. Now it’s about the kingdom.
When things went wrong, when Israel grew faithless and idolatrous and adulterous, God punished His nation, His people. He sent the Assyrians to ransack the northern kingdom. He raised up the Babylonians to capture the southern kingdom, to put the king, the “son of David” into chains, to destroy the temple, God’s house, to cart the people off into exile.
Jeremiah prophesied during those latter days of the south. He looked ahead to the coming destruction and exile. He warned the people of what was coming. And like people hearing the sirens of an approaching storm, they ignored him. In fact, they actively tried to silence him. He was depressing. Bad for morale. Unpatriotic. God would never let such a thing happen. They had Jeremiah put under lock and key to shut him up. And it was while Jeremiah was confined to the courtyard of the palace guard that the Word of the Lord came to him.
He spoke of desolations. Jerusalem and all the towns of Judah utterly laid waste. And he spoke of restoration and healing and resurrection. Death and resurrection would be the way of Israel. Exile and return. Destruction and construction. Death and life. Where the streets were deserted, they would be filled. Where there was silence, there would be music and joy and laughter. Where the pastures were empty there would be flocks and herds. In the place of death there would be life.
That’s the build up to today’s reading.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” God keeps His promises. Even as He permits destruction and desolation and death, He keeps His promises. A righteous Branch. A sprout from King David’s family tree. A Son of David. He will do justice and righteousness in the land. “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety.”
The Israelites clung to that promise. When they lived in exile along with the likes of Daniel and Esther, they clung to those promises of God that a Son of David, a righteous Branch would sprout from David’s line and deliver His people. They believed that there was a coming day when Judah would be delivered and Jerusalem would live in peace and safety. They longed for it, they hoped for it, they lived in expectation of it.
Then came the decree of Cyrus and the return to Judah, the rebuilding of Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah, the temple rebuilt. Not as good as before, but still…. They were back, and yet not back. Not really. It wasn’t the same. It was kind of a cheap copy of the glory days. When the old timers looked at the rebuilt temple they beat their breasts and wept and said, as old timers are wont to say, “It isn’t as good as the old one.” And it wasn’t. No ark. No glory.
And no freedom, really. Borrowed land. Tenants under Persia and the Greece and then Rome. But the faithful Israelite never forgot the words of Jeremiah the prophet, the promise of a righteous Branch from David’s line. One who would do justice and righteousness and bring salvation. They remembered and looked forward in hope even in the darkest of their days. The expected something greater.
There were great figures, messiah types who came along. Judas Maccabeus, who rescued the temple from the hands of the Greeks. There were others who gathered their armies of well-intentioned holy warriors bent on liberating Israel from her captors and bringing in the kingdom of God. The royal robes were always at the ready, kept in the temple. Every Israelite always had one eye on the horizon, watching expectantly for the coming One, the son of David, the messiah, the righteous Branch who would do justice and righteousness in the land.
Then comes Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on top of a borrowed donkey. His disciple form an entourage as they enter the city gates from the Mount of Olives. They hail him as a king. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” It was true. Everything they said was true. This was the One, the righteous Branch of David’s line. The Pharisees understood what was going on too. They tried to stop it, to silence it. But even the stones of Jerusalem would cry out.
What did they expect? What were the expectations of Jesus’ disciples that day? Most likely it was holy war, the coming of the kingdom of God, the establishment of the throne of David, the cleansing of the temple. And, in a sense, that’s precisely what happened. But not in the way they expected. Jesus rode into the city to suffer and die. He came to do justice to your sin, to do righteousness where you would not and could not. He came to execute an exchange – your sin for His righteousness. He came to go the way of Israel, to be Israel reduced to One, the righteous Branch of David’s line, to be chopped down and burned in the fire of God’s wrath against our sin. He came to do holy war, not against nations or people but against Sin and Death and devil and all the powers of darkness that threaten to consume us. He came to die.
We have this notion hard wired into us. The strong man. The leader. The mighty one. We like our leaders big and broad shouldered. That’s why Putin in Russia is always appearing on horseback or shirtless or doing manly things. The Russians like that in their leaders. And we’re no different. We have broad expectations of our leaders, projections of what a proper and respectable leader should look like. I think we might be surprised at how short the founding fathers of our country were. Or how many of the great figures in history actually looked in real life. Or the great figures of the Bible – Moses, David, Paul, yes even Jesus. I think we’d really be surprised and our expectations would be turned upside down.
I find it curious that nowhere in the Gospels do we get a description of Jesus. Nowhere in the epistles. Nothing. We don’t know how tall he was, whether his hair was long or short. Forget all those pictures you saw in Sunday School and all those bulletin covers and bad religious art. We just don’t know. We do know that the prophet Isaiah said that the suffering Servant would not be much to look at. In fact, men would hide their faces from him, though that was probably more of a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion.
The only description we get of Jesus is in the Revelation, and then it is a terrifyingly unearthly picture. And it’s better for us that we don’t know, and that we don’t see Him. Faith is about hearing, not seeing. This righteous Branch who does justice and righteousness is not for us to see, at least not yet, but for us to hear and to trust. He is mighty to save.
And this is the name by which she, that is Jerusalem, that is the Church the bride of Christ, will be called: Yahweh is our righteousness. The correct pronoun of that last sentence is “she” not “it.” She. The Church. The Bride. She takes the name of her Bridegroom. His name is Yahweh is our righteousness. And so is hers. And yours, as one of the Lord’s baptized.
His righteousness is yours. His gift to you. Applied to you. Not something you do, something He does. Not something you earn, something He gives. And that’s not what we expect when it comes to God and righteousness and salvation. We expect that we have to do it. And He does it. We expect to have to earn it and prove ourselves worthy. And He wins it for us and worthies us.
Advent is a season of expectations. The expectations of the holiday season, of the coming of Christmas, of family and friends. Reasonable and unreasonable expectations. Advent is a bit like an expectant mother with all the hopes and fears and anticipations of the coming child. Advent is a season of watchful waiting, like Israel in exile, waiting and watching for the righteous Branch of David to appear.
Once He came riding a donkey to die on a cross to be your Righteousness. Now He comes to you here and now by water, bread and wine to give you His Righteousness. Soon He will come in power and glory at the end of the days to raise you in Righteousness. Your King will come at the dawn of the new creation. Expect Him. Wait for Him. Hope in Him. You bear His Name: The Lord is our righteousness.
In the name of Jesus,