A sermon preached at Springfield Christian Church on Jeremiah 33:14-16
How many times in life has someone made a promise to you?
It happens every week, if not every day, doesn’t it?
We’re at the dry cleaners and the woman behind the counter promises our clothes will be ready on Thursday.
We’re at work, and a co-worker promises us an expense report document by Friday.
We’re at home and our spouse promises to take the garbage out during a tv commercial break.
AND how many times in all of this promise making do we find ourselves disappointed?
Our son promises to meet us for dinner at 7 but calls at 6:30 to cancel.
Our best friend promises to come visit us for Thanksgiving but emails us a week before to say she has made other plans.
Our mother promises to stop nagging us about the way we clean our house and then gives us scrubbing brushes for Christmas.
And in many relationships the cycle continues and continues and continues.
I have a friend who always makes big promises to show up to help me with projects only to be at least an hour late. Sometimes she’s two hours late and even more often a couple days late.
It’s gotten so bad that now we refer to her as the girl who “will be late to her own funeral.”
Promises, you see, can be so easily broken. Our word (as much as we say it is our word) is not always our word.
And with this true, it can be difficult to internalize scripture passages like the one before this morning as it begins by saying “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made.”
Yet, we aren’t so sure about this type of bold faith.
We aren’t so sure about a message of restoration on earth.
For our world is just too unpredictable when tragedies like Paris happen on average Friday nights.
It’s just too scary when civilian planes get shot down in Egypt just because.
It’s just too full of broken dreams when national and state borders remain closed to refugees out of fear.
Our world, as we are experiencing it right now is not a place that naturally breads a lot of hope in promises when politicians and world leaders make them every day and break them the next.
To this sentiment, the original hearers of this text would be right there with us. They’d been beaten down in hopelessness too. For these hearers were a ragged, scattered group of Jews living during the Babylonian exile. And it was a time in Israel’s history when a mood of despair was much more the norm. They were refugees.
Their homeland was in ruins.
Their temple rituals no longer drew them together.
Their God, who used to be the ONE consistent thing in their life, felt distant and angry.
So for Jeremiah to speak in the positive about the fulfillment of a promise (when his previous messages were all about judgment) was unbelievable.
And Jeremiah said: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
The specific word of promise came to the house of Judah (known as the good child gone bad) AND to the house of Israel (known as wayward son) saying:
“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch to spring up from David.”
Or as commentator Kate Huey puts it: “Jeremiah doesn’t say that things might get better, or could be better, or that [they] should be optimistic about future possibilities. The prophet says that the days are surely coming – and you can count on it because God is the one making this promise.”
I want to pause here and say this, when we read text like this, especially during the Advent the temptation is to immediately skip to talk about the coming birth of Jesus. And it wouldn’t be Advent, of course, if we didn’t read scriptures like this. But how much do you and I miss out on IF we don’t stay with the text as it was created for it’s first audience.
And what a HUGE promise this was for the Israelites! For much like we all have our own version of “the good ole days” and longing for it, Israel’s good ole days was and always would be the reign of David.
So to promise that a righteous branch would come from David’s line was equal to THE best possible future these hearers could have imagined! For throughout the Hebrew scriptures being blessed from David’s line was THE chief sign of God’s favor.
And verse 16 tells us by which what time this branch will be called, “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Or in other words, the way the promise is going to be fulfilled through your merit, Israel. God is going to fulfill this promise through righteousness that could only come from the Lord.
As I was working on this sermon on the plane on Friday, coming home from Kenya heading back to the US, I was struck by the beauty before me at the moment of take off.
As our plane was descending into the clouds, a rainbow appeared just off in the horizon. It was a glorious, beautiful, rainbow, one of the most glorious ones I’ve ever seen.
And as I looked at it, with the word of “I will fulfill my promise” from Jeremiah 33 in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think about the story that begun in Genesis 6 that is probably very familiar to us. God sends floods to all the earth. God saves one righteous man, Noah and his family through that giant boat. Then after the flood is over says this to Noah, “Let this rainbow be a sign unto you of my promise that I will never send a flood to destroy the earth again.”
And it’s a promised fulfilled until this day, isn’t it?
A flood has never destroyed the earth again.
You see, in the eyes of God, a promise is a promise.
It is a serious thing. Promises given by God are not like the promises that fellow human being make to us and break so easily to us. Promises given by God are for reliable.
And just like it was a word for the Israelites, I believe there’s a message right here for us. To all of us today struggling with broken dreams, unfavorable lots and fair weather friends, God’s heart says to our hearts:
I will fulfill my promise to never leave nor desert you.
I will fulfill my promise to never tempt you beyond what you can bear.
I will fulfill my promise to never stop loving you.
And the list could go on with all the other promises made throughout scripture.
But here’s the thing about the timing of the fulfillment.
I am about to say something that I don’t like very much and I can imagine that you might not like either . . .
God’s promises are often not fulfilled in the time-table that you and I want them to be fulfilled in. But this does not make them any less true.
I’ll say it again. God’s promises are often not fulfilled in the timetable that you and I want them to be fulfilled in. But this does not make them any less true.
Again this is where faith comes in.
This, my friends is exactly what the season of Advent is all about, pausing to remember God’s timing—and it’s completely countercultural to what is going on out there on the city streets and in the malls which already pronounced Christmas over and put out Valentines decorations yesterday.
No, in the church during this season, we stay close to every moment, making the most of every single moment of what can be learned while we are:
And believing that God will indeed fulfill ALL of God’s promises to us.
For what we see in front of us is never the full story.
On Thursday, my husband and I shared a Christmas party (a little bit early) with the 100+ children who are a part of an orphanage in the Dagoretti sums of Nairobi.
One of the things I like best about the programs run by this children center is they believe that no child, no matter their age or disability is ever to be left behind.
There’s a group of young men, mostly in their 20s and 30s who have aged out of the residential center for younger children but are unable to care for themselves because of their extreme disabilities. So, a new house was created for them called the Hardy home.
One of my favorite of the members of the Hardy home is a man, Martin who is legally blind.
Over the past several years that I have gotten to know Martin, he’s always asked for one thing when it comes to Christmas presents with a bright smile on his face. “I want a talking watch,” he says. “I want a watch that tells me the time.”
Of course, my husband and I were listening to Martin’s repeated requests for a talking watch. But come to find out they are hard to find.
No shop in Kenya sold any. And no jewelry store I ever went into in the US ever had one in stock. So years passed. For the past several years, I kept asking Martin, wouldn’t he like something else. Actually trying to prod him toward something easier to find like cologne or a computer game . . .
“No.” He kept saying, “One day I’ll get a talking watch” he proclaimed.
So we kept looking. And finally, this year, thanks to an extensive online search, we found one. We couldn’t believe it. It was a battery operated, talking watch.
So when the moment came to present the gifts at the Christmas party, you should have seen the joy on Martin’s face and all of his housemates when the watch box was opened and it resounded, “It’s 2:30 pm.”
Martin so proud. We could hardly keep him sitting down. For all Martin wanted to jump up and down and up and down and say, “My talking watch, my talking watch.”
So for many of us participating in this moment of this gift, we also felt hope born in us anew.
If a young man with disabilities in a remote part of Nairobi with no means of income can wait and hope and ask for what he wants with such clarity, believing in his heart that ONE DAY it would happen, so could we!
And so can you, my friends!
We serve a God who fulfills all God’s promises.
We serve a God who never lets even death be the last word.
We serve a God who brings light to even the darkest of nights.
We serve a God who gives our terror filled world hope.
The days are surely coming says the Lord, when I will fulfill my promise.
So let’s not stop waiting, waiting and praying. It’s such an important season of the year to practice this kind of hope.
For as Edward Hayes wrote in A Pilgrim’s Almanac, “Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace.”
Do you desire more peace, more love, more joy for our world?
For the days are surely coming! Let us hope together believing in the One who will and does fulfill promises.
Thanks be to God.