Reading by Eduard von Grutzner, 1889.
This past Sunday began the season of Advent as many of us, whether in a church service or at home, lit the first candle of Advent. This is a very important time in the Church as we start a new year in the Christian calendar and begin to turn our hearts and eyes towards Christmas in expectation of the arrival of Jesus, the light of the world. With that in mind, I begin my annual walk through the Sunday readings of Advent. If your unfamiliar with the hows and whys of Advent, I encourage you to go back and read this introduction I wrote last year. I’m going to kick things off this year with the Old Testament reading from Sunday.
“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.”
Jeremiah 33:14-16 (CEB)
The prophet Jeremiah is speaking these words to the nation of Israel as they sit in exile in Babylon. Having experienced the conquering of their nation, the destruction of Jerusalem and the desecration of the Temple, the Jews have to come to grips with what it means to be a people absent from their home. They have suffered utter defeat at the hands of a pagan, Gentile nation and they have begun to question whether the god they worship, YHWH, is good and if he is able (or willing) to keep the many promises he has made to them. Were they still YHWH’s chosen people, was their land still the Promised Land, would the line of their king David indeed “endure forever” (2 Samuel 7:16)?
This is the context Jeremiah speaks these words into.
“I will fulfill my gracious promise…”
“I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line…”
“Judah will be saved…”
“Jerusalem will live in safety…”
To the people of Israel sitting in exile, this must have been exciting words to hear. God would indeed fulfill his promise, David’s line would continue and their land would be restored and safe. They were not forgotten in this foreign, pagan land. God was still good even though the land of Israel and the Temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins. But, like many of us, I imagine they began to wonder, “What’s the next step? What must we do?”
This seems typical of our human nature. We want to know the next step. What’s our “action items” or when can we get this party started? What does the blueprint look like so we can start planning? When should we save the date? We like to live in the future, planning ahead and figuring out where we need to go and what we need to do to get there. This is what ultimately seemed to trip up the Pharisees. They believed in following so closely to God’s law so that they might be considered righteous and holy when God finally showed up with the Messiah. But, I think this verse is asking for something else.
If you read the verse closely, God is doing all the acting.
“I will fulfill…I will raise up…”
Judah is not responsible to save, instead it will be saved by God.
Jerusalem will not create peace and safety itself, God will secure its peace and safety.
We are not responsible for our own righteousness, instead we will be identified as, “The Lord Is Our Righteousness”.
God going to fulfill his promises and he is also going to take the responsibility to raise up the one who will help bring about the fulfillment of these promises. It is not the responsibility of Israel to bring about the fulfillment or to raise up or even be involved in the choosing of this “righteous branch” who will bring about the promised salvation and safety.
God’s got this thing under control.
“The Lord Is Our Righteousness”
Wait and watch just like Abraham who, “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
This is the underlying theme of Advent. Waiting and expectation are central during this time in the Church calendar. It’s tough for us in our fast-moving, on-demand, culture to sit, wait and patiently light candles. Can’t we just light them all on one day and be done with this thing?
To quote the great and wise Yoda:
All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. What he was doing. Hmph!
We can get so wrapped up in the future and what we need to do to get there that we rarely look around and see where God may have already been paving a path. We shouldn’t light the first candle of Advent just so we can get to the second. We should light the first candle and take a moment to enjoy the time spent with that first candle. Recognizing who we are with, where we are and what God is trying to speak into that moment. During this season of waiting and expecting, we should remember that we are not the ones responsible for our own righteousness. We are not the ones doing the saving.
We are a people waiting for a good and gracious God to fulfill his promises at just the right time.