Our Righteousness

My wife and I have this little joke, well truth be told I am not sure she knows it is a joke. It is more like an ongoing comedy that gets played out with a commonly repeated phrase. You are probably familiar with it yourself. It goes like this… I will catch her in the middle of coming home from work or as she is heading out to take the kids to piano or she is editing the podcast, lining up speakers for an event, or squeezing some time in to write and I will ask her how she is doing. She will reply by telling me what she needs to get done, and I enjoy that, I like to know what she has going on. But then she will say she just needs to get through this one thing, and everything will be a little easier. Do you know what I mean? I just need to get through Thursday and then it will be easier. I just need to finalize this last appointment, just need to take care of that last issues, just need to fix this one thing and then, then I will get some breathing room. The joke of course is there is a never-ending list of things needing to be done. We all parcel out our lives through the events and tasks which make up our days and we think that just beyond the next hump there is something new, something profoundly different. But the truth of the matter is, it is just more of the same.

The times and seasons of our lives roll on and we can often feel like we are stuck in a movie we have all seen before. We know where it is going. We know how it will all end. We know what is in store for us tomorrow and next Tuesday and next week and most likely next year as well. While we do find comfort in the routine of our lives, it can also make us feel trapped, like we are in a place we do not want to be with no idea how to get out of it. And if we are honest, for a lot of us there is something lacking in our routine, something of which we are not proud. Then you add to this the fact that we worship the Creator of the heavens and the earth. We are believers in the one true God, the One who established the times and seasons of the world. You begin to wonder if this is all there is. Surely our God has and can do amazing things. Will He then just allow us to roll through the routine, roll through life trapped in a prison of our own making?

“Behold the days are coming,” declares the Lord. What a glorious statement that is. Behold the days are coming, days that are different, days when something utterly new comes to be, days when God fulfills His promises. We hear those words, behold the days are coming, and we perk up, we lean in a little bit, we long for what is coming next. What days? What will come? Our God is at work. Our God who spoke into creation all we know is doing a new thing and He is calling us to take heed, to pay attention. God uses these words to announce that He will be fulfilling His promises. The timeline of history does not just roll-on uninterrupted. God says He will, “…cause a righteous branch to spring up for David, and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 33:15). A righteous Branch, a new shoot from the lineage of David the great king of God’s people. This righteous Branch will change everything. It gives direction and hope and purpose to our days and moments and seasons of life.

The righteous branch the prophet Jeremiah longs for is the righteous Branch we celebrate. It is the child born of Mary, the One who rides into Jerusalem humble and sitting on a donkey. He is the One who the crowds greet by shouting out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38) This righteous Branch is the great advent of our God. Not a visitation of a heavenly being or some theophanic vision, no, this is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made. And He interrupts our routines, our seasons, to do something new.

So, the righteous Branch has come. God fulfilled His promise. He comes to rule with justice and righteousness. In His advent, He becomes the image we aspire to be. He is the measure of love. He is the example of charity, forgiveness, and grace. The Advent of our King takes ahold of your moments, it gets into the routines of your life and gives them purpose. There is a better way to live. There is a more holy way to spend your hours, weeks, and months. And for a while this is enough, this gives us focus and drive and some sense of accomplishment in our lives. We are not just rolling along with no end in sight. No, there is an end. There is somewhere this is all leading and our King, the righteous Branch, will lead the way.

And right there, we have done it again. Just as the coming of Christ is a testimony to the faithfulness of our God, so our handling of His arrival is a testament to our sinfulness. For we so easily take hold of this magnificent gift and with all the holiness we can muster up, with all the righteousness we can spare, we lift Him up as the example by which we too will work our way into eternal life. We turn our Lord into the new lawgiver, into the One who will teach us the best path through the drudgery of our days so we will receive glory like His. We so subtly and slowly stop receiving the promised righteous Branch as our Savior and instead use Him as the guide for how we can save ourselves. And in so doing, instead of being set free from the prisons of our own creation we use our Lord as another lock on the cage.

What began as a way to give meaning to our days, ends up spiraling us down into an endless abyss of impossibilities. For you cannot be good enough, faithful enough, righteous enough to earn your way into the promised land. As an example, our Lord is too grand, too perfect, too holy, and pure in every way. You will always fall short. So, your moments, your hours, days, and weeks will become not just a misery of routine but of disappointment as well. But your God is faithful to His promises. Your God does not abandon you to frailties of your own works. He does not come to simply show you the way to everlasting life, He comes to deliver that life to you, to give that hope to you, to make the promises of God to you. So, when the prophet Jeremiah speaks about this righteous Branch, he says, “This is the name by which He will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:16).

The Lord is our righteousness. That is the name of the righteous Branch, which is the title of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is your righteousness, not the pathway to your righteousness, not the goal that you need to obtain. No, He Himself is your righteousness. After all, He is the One who lives that perfect life, He makes the sacrifice, He suffers, dies, and rises for your salvation. This is the new thing that has happened which changes all the moments of your days. For you live and move and have your being in the righteous Branch. He is your righteousness.

In the waters of Baptism, you were clothed with His righteous garment. There you died and rose again to a new life. There you were embraced as a child of the most high God. There Satan was driven from you, and you were declared to be the saints of God. As you continue to gather together, as your routine brings you repeatedly to the place where His Word is proclaimed, you are fed with His gifts over and again. You are not left to fight the good fight on your own or to struggle up the pathway by yourself. No, the same One who clothed you in righteousness now feeds you with the same. He continues to give to you His own body and blood. He continues to proclaim forgiveness into your ears. This is not a matter of how well you can live, how upright you can be, or how faithful you look to the world. It is not about one day being able to say you have made it, that you have overcome. No, He has overcome. He is your righteousness. He has done it all for you. This is the new thing which has happened.

This then is your confidence. This is the hope and assurance by which you now live. Every moment of every day, you are embraced and upheld by your righteous Branch. Behold your King has come!