Jeremiah was a prophet at a very troubling time in the life of God’s people. The mighty power of the Assyrians was fading and with it other world powers rose up to exert their dominance. Most notably for the land of Judah were Egypt to the south and the Babylonians coming down from the north. Seemingly trapped in the midst of it all was Jerusalem. The kings set up there would play political games seeking security in the strength of men rather than God and it would ultimately prove to be disastrous for them.
But to these people caught in the middle, to the chosen children of God Jeremiah would come. He came to speak to them the Word of God, he came to show their failures and curb their unfaithfulness but he came to give them hope as well. He proclaimed to them a message of advent, a message of an arrival, a Word of promise that God would raise up for David a righteous Branch and in his day Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely (Jeremiah 23:5-8). Imagine the wonder and hope that came with such a Word. God would bring salvation and security to them. As his people stood wondering which army would lay waste to their homes and their temple they are told of one who would come to bring life.
The people of God were being torn at from both sides and the Word of the prophet was one of hope that would come from God alone. Often the church in our day can be seen as an embattled scene. It is not the fear of military force that presses upon us rather it is the more subtle and far more effective tools of cultural appeasement that tear at her. Our doctrines are regarded as old fashioned and out of touch and so we are reminded that we need to get with the times we need to adapt and grow. Our liturgy and hymns are regarded as stale, and not very entertaining or relevant today.
The great temptation is to always be something other than what we are to do things differently to look different and act different and be what the culture wants to be. For then we will be liked, then we will be embraced and loved. And even when we resist; even when we manage to stay our ground, to act on principle rather than popularity, even then we are not out of the battle. For not only is there a war for the center of the life of the church but there is a war that is constantly raging within each and every one of us, a war for the center of our hearts.
When trials and suffering crash into the promises of God we begin to doubt. We struggle with the Word we’ve received and the hardships we’ve known. We’ve seen others, friends and family members drift from the faith, and we weep for them and we wonder about ourselves. There never seems to be any down time, any chance to simply relax to just let it all go and enjoy life. A sinful world tears at us luring us into the depravity of its ways, our own sinful hearts pull at us calling us to get our own while we can to just take care of ourselves first and foremost. So as St. Paul said, “The good that I would do, I do not do, and the things I do not want to do, I keep on doing.”
The advent that Jeremiah preached was one that would redefine the people of God. It would actually change them from a people who cried out, “As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,” to a people who could say, “As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.” That is the coming of the Righteous Branch of David would change them from a people who would only celebrate how God delivered their ancestors to a people who knew of his hand of deliverance in their own day. Salvation was not just a history lesson it is now an ongoing reality.
And that advent promise proclaimed by Jeremiah is the same advent reality declared to you today. For that Righteous branch has come. The long awaited messiah came in the child born of Mary, he came and embraced us as his brothers and sisters, he came and did what we could never do. He paid the price for our sin, he lived the perfect life, he defeated the grave itself. And in these great deeds he redefines who you are. No longer are you enemies of God, no longer are you sinners in his eyes. For in the coming of the promised Branch you are saints, you are children, you are righteous.
Jeremiah says that this one will be called the Lord our righteousness and so he is. He is our righteousness and he comes to his own, he advents with us this very day. He comes in Word and Sacrament, he comes ridding not on a donkey but carried in bread and wine and the spoken Word. He comes declaring you to be free, to be his own, to be forgiven.