Then there is the one about the teenage son who backed his father’s car right through the garage door. When his father asked him what happened he said, “I don’t know. I just put it in “R” for “rev” and hit the gas!” When we’re driving we need to know the difference between “Reverse” and “Forward,” or “drive.” As we begin our season of Advent we need, also, to keep our Reverse and Forward in good balance. Advent is a time in which we look to the rear – look back 2,000 years to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. But it is a time in which we look forward and prepare our hearts and minds for his coming – not just this December 25th, the date the church arbitrarily chose to mark the anniversary of his birth, but beyond.
The first part of this sermon is going to be the “R” part – the part where we look in reverse, sort of a Biblical history lesson. And this first part is going to be expository in style, so you may want to get your Celebrate inserts out and follow me as I look at those three verses which comprise our first lesson from Jeremiah. (The second half of the sermon will be more inspirational, so I’ll wake you up when we get there.)
First of all, let’s remind ourselves who Jeremiah was. He was a prophet who lived 5 to 6 hundred years before the time of Christ. At the time, the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms; Israel to the North and Judah to the south. Jeremiah prophesied in the southern kingdom of Judah and warned them that if they didn’t get right with God, bad things would happen. Jeremiah lived to see his prophesy come true when Babylon conquered the nation and took her citizens into bondage in the year 587 B.C.
God was speaking through Jeremiah’s mouth when he gave the warning. This is the first verse in the first reading in your Celebrate insert: “The days of the Lord are surely coming when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Now, just what was the promise the Lord had made? Well, the basis of that promise can be found in 2nd Samuel when God makes a promise to King David in which he says, “Your house and your kingdom (David) shall be made sure forever before me; throne shall be stablished forever.”
So, God’s promise was that there would always be someone in the lineage of David on the throne of the nation. We also hear, each year at Christmastime, God’s promise from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was David’s father. So, the promise is that the family dree of David will rule forever.
But does God keep God’s promises? 400 years after King David there wasn’t much left of his dynasty. The nation had split in two. The only king left in the line of David was King Jehoichin who was taken prisoner into Babylon as both kingdoms fell. So there was really no kingship left. What about the promise?
That leads us to the next verse from Jeremiah I would like for you to consider: Verse 15 from your Celebrate inserts: “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” In those days. Remember from the previous verse that God had said, “Those days are surely coming when I will fulfill this promise.” So, he is saying that, yes, this promise will be fulfilled in those days.
Notice that “In those days” also begins verse 16 – the last verse I will have you follow from your text: “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ ”
This, then, is the nature of God’s promise as Jeremiah brings it to us. But back to the question “Does God keep God’s promises?”
Well, I have been making much of those promise statements which begin with the phrase, “In those days.” Do those words sound vaguely familiar to you? Especially this time of year? How about the story which begins, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” It is the beginning of the story of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and giving birth in a lonely stable to the Christ child. The same phrase used to preface God’s promise to Israel is used to begin the story of the birth of Jesus. Now, both Matthew and Luke indicate that Jesus was a direct descendant of King David. Thus, the Old Testament promise of God to the nation of Israel became fulfilled in this quiet birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
God keeps God’s promises.
OK. That’s it for this long expository part of the sermon. Please wake up your neighbor if necessary.
Let’s shift our car from reverse to forward. Here we are on the first Sunday of our Season of Advent. We’re looking forward to Christmas. This event looms in the not-too-distant future for us. Christmas 2018 is the “tomorrow” for us. But soon it will arrive as “today” and then pass quickly into “yesterday.”
But there is a “forward” for us which doesn’t pass into yesterday in the same way Dec. 25 quickly becomes Dec. 26. We look forward to a time when Christ will come again “in those days,” at the end of all things, when our Lord will finally come to make all things new, gather the creation together, and reign triumphant over all the forces of sin, death, and all that is evil. The fulfillment.
How do we know when these things take place? Jesus mentions signs in the sun, moon, and stars – and on earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the seas and waves. Dark, foreboding things – in those days. Some read those verses and conclude that we are living in the end times. These things are happening now. But they were happening 100 years ago and 1,000 year ago and people concluded, then, that we were living in the end times. In every age there are wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquake. The question to ask is, “What are these things supposed to mean to us?” Well, Jesus says, when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
The kid who put his car in “R” for “rev” could have used a good driving instructor. I know a driving instructor who always told his students that the most important thing they can do when they are driving down the road is to keep their eyes focused as far down the road as possible. When they only look at what is three feet ahead of the hood ornament they cannot see what is ahead of that. But an eye focused way ahead automatically picks up anything in between.
This is what Jesus is saying to us about the kingdom of God. Put your car in forward and look ahead. Look way ahead. There will be a fulfillment, “in those day,” when the God who made good the promise to King David will make good his promise to us. He will make all tings new. And when we keep our eye forward, ahead … on that … we will automatically see where God is in between here and there. We will see the forgiveness of sin, the deliverance from evil, the eternal life. It is the only way we can live today with hope – by visualizing the fulfillment, the “in those days,” when God will make all things new.
This is not “pie in the sky by and by.” It is allowing the hope of the future to inform our lives now. As in driving, when we look out ahead and focus, everything in between will come into focus, too: the troubles we may have now; stress, sickness, even our own deaths. When we raise our heads and look up with faith to that glorious day when God will fulfill what God started in the days of old, when we look way out to those days in the future, then the little span of our own lives are put into perspective. Or put into God’s hands. Let’s say it this way: When we can see that God has all of creation and all of history in his hands we can see that he has us in his hands.
Throughout Advent keep your eyes ahead, way ahead, “in those days.”