Word of the Week

Waiting with the Prophets

Advent 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16

stores-open-at-christmas-eveI’m proud of you for being in church today for the season of busyness is upon us. No longer in the causal days of fall activities, and not yet to the Sunday before Christmas (where everyone seems to feel the call stronger to go to church).  Seemingly it feels like a not-so special day. But, it is in this post-Thanksgiving, early December date that the excitement of the Advent season begins, the four Sundays on the liturgical calendar of the church where we stop and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.  This year, we are approaching Advent together as we “Wait With . . .”

Many of us have the “hurry up” part down. Maybe not the waiting . . .

We know how to get things done.

Many of us braved the crowds this weekend and headed to the malls to get the first or second round of our Christmas shopping completed like Kevin and I did. Oh, what insanity.

Many of us took that climb into the attic or on the top shelf in our garage to get our Christmas decorations down and have our house look like a disaster zone for many hours until it all started to come into order.

And, then some of us timed ourselves to see how many Christmas cards we could write before we knew the responsibilities of life and work got to us again this coming week filling our kitchen tables with stamps, address labels and cards galore. There always seems to be something to do this time of year.

But, wait?  That’s what we are talking about today?

This is not just our forte. By nature we are an impatient people. We like to have things OUR way, when WE want it, don’t we?

When will the train come? How long will this grocery line take? How many more miles till we get there?  When will my life get better? When will my husband or wife change? When will I get everything out of life that I wished for?

However, my desire for this Advent season both through the Sunday worship services and the Wednesday night worship services that you and I have the ability to redefine what it means for us to wait for Christmas.  And this year instead of focusing on the typical Advent words like hope, joy, peace and love—we’re going to stick with what it means to wait with others.

We’ll wait together for Christmas to come as part of our spiritual discipline of worship. We’ll hope to see this waiting period not as wasted time or meaningless time. We’ll hope to see this Advent not as punishment . .. “Can’t it just be Christmas already?” We hope this waiting period becomes an opportunity to feel in our bones the urgency of the season, urgency to position our lives through a posture of waiting to receive the love that is ours to have in the kingdom of Christ.

Today, as we begin, the exhortation scripture leads us to begin with is to wait with the prophets, in particular the prophet, Jeremiah.

Who is Jeremiah?

Jeremiah is known in Biblical history as the weeping prophet, an emotionally charged, unlikely spokesman who was called to ministry about one year after King Josiah of Judah began making his reforms in the temple—a key moment in the history of the nation.

I say an unlikely spokesman because Jeremiah was the least likely kind of guy to expect himself called to God’s service.

If you think throughout scripture, all the great leaders or prophets made excuses to God when they were called, some were too young, some were too old, some said they simply didn’t know how to lead. And the same was true of Jeremiah.

He told the LORD that he did not know how to speak, for he was only a child. But, scripture tells us that all of this changed when the LORD reached out his hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth reminding him that he put words in his month. There would be no excuses; Jeremiah was equipped for all that was to come.

And spoke Jeremiah did, calling the people of Israel to a life that pleased God.

For the next 40 years he served as God’s spokesman—though when he spoke, as it common with those with spiritual gifts of discernment and prophecy, few listened.  But he kept on keeping on.

One chapter prior to our text’s opening for today; we hear the banner statement over and over again throughout the book, saying "the word of the Lord came toJeremiah_by_Michelangelo Jeremiah."

And this was the context: corruption of the kings of Judah went from ok to worse after its good king Josiah. God allowed invaders to come in the country.  The fall was upon them.

So at this present time, already hundreds of Jerusalem’s residents had been forced by Babylon’s king, Nebuchadnezzar into exile. Soon others would be forced to go as well as Babylon was growing stronger by the day.

We know that it was the 10th year of Zedekiah’s reign, another one of Judah’s kings known for his corruption. Though King Zedekiah had struck a deal with Egypt to hold off Babylon a little bit longer in the previous chapters, thinking he’d provided for himself the security he craved, this too would soon fail.

Above all, it’s a storm of confusion all around as they refused to listen to God.   However, the worst had not happened yet, but any person with common sense could see that hardships were even going increase.

But to everyone’s surprise: this is not the time when the weeping prophet wept.  Oh, to the contrary, at this seemingly impossible juncture, Jeremiah gives a word of hope.

Look with me again at verse 14:

“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. 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 the land.”

It’s a promise. It’s a word of restoration. It’s word of the Lord that focuses their attention on their past and not just present that can have redemptive qualities, but on their future.

Seems strange, though, because the people were in mourning. Grief broke out across the land. They were grieving about what could have been. Grief about what will never be. In particular, this grief had everything to do with the loss of David’s dynasty, the history of this family generation after generations leading the people. They were sad to now be even smaller and less significant than they were before. But, to this grief, Jeremiah says, “Don’t call this a tragedy just quite yet.”

Why? Because a “righteous branch” is going to spring forth from David’s line.

If we read this as and Messiah prophetic text (i.e. pointing our attention to Jesus), we see that the one would later be born in David’s city, Bethlehem with Joseph as his father (from the house and lineage of David), then the prophecy came to be. Of course, it didn’t come as the people expected. It didn’t come in the lifetimes of the people who heard this word first. But it did speak for a God who would go with the people through the rocky places of their journey as individual and as a nation and never leave them without hope.

It is true that some prophetic words are harsh throughout scripture, or seem harsh to our ears, but ultimately HOPE is the real motive behind any true prophet’s message. Prophecy is a loving gift of the spirit enabling us who are walking in the darkness of life to see light at the end of the tunnel.

And our exhortation this morning is to wait with prophets like Jeremiah and all the other prophets of our day and time. To wait with expectant ears around those of us whose giftedness is to hear God’s call and then share it with us.  To wait in the coming month in celebration of this righteous branch being born! The fulfillment of the great joy!

We don’t talk a lot about waiting with prophets or even the modern expression of prophecy very much in church because when we simply say the word, prophet, we’re afraid. We’re afraid because of all of the negative experiences we’ve had with folks in our world claiming to know God’s plans, only to have their predictions fall on their face.  We’re afraid of the Kool-Aid, literally.

But what a shame this is. For I believe the false prophets among us have destroyed the good reputation of what is most needed in our time, those who are willing to tell us the truth. Those who are willing to look at what seems like a “bad situation” and give us hope, just as Jeremiah did with Israel.

Have you ever experienced a person with prophetic gifts? And by this I mean a person who told you the truth—not just in every day conversation, but truth-telling at a deeper level, truth-telling that cut to the heart of a situation you sought to hide or ignore?

We love to speak ill of prophetic types (as much as we like them) because it is true their role is to tell us what we don’t want to hear.  Or simply stated, prophetic types can be annoying. They are really good at cramping our style.

In college I had a friend full of these kinds of gifts, prophetic ones. She was a dear to me, however, I didn’t have thick enough skin for her honesty quiet yet. But I would have much to learn.

One afternoon in the middle of my junior first semester, well into the bulk of my education certification coursework, I sat in our shared apartment with this friend. I was practicing my handwriting for my cursive writing class and next up was cutting out letters for my bulletin board making assignment. And this friend took one look at me and the pile of art supplies around me and said, “You’ve got to get out of that major. You’ve got bigger things to do in the world than displaying good handwriting or pretty bulletin boards.”

It was hard to hear of course—I’d planned my whole life around being a teacher and to drop the major mid-way seemed like career suicide.  And not that there is anything wrong with being an elementary teacher, but it wasn’t me.

But, I knew she was right.  I needed her to tell me the truth. I needed to get off the couch and think about going to seminary. And you need those people in your life too.

Where would I be today without that friend? I can imagine, you’ve had prophetic voices that have guided you, re-directed you and  lovingly told you to listen to God afresh also. And without them, you wouldn’t be here today either.

What a great reminder, then this week of Advent is for us to wait with the prophets among us.  To give thanks for Jeremiah, his voice, his passion, his word of hope that we get to see fulfilled on Christmas Eve. And for us, to know that God’s word is alive and well and there are spoke people, given as gifts of grace that help us find our way. Because ultimately what Advent is all about is making more room for God in our lives. And, without prophets we might not know where to start cleaning out the spiritual closets weighing us down.

And, an opportunity to know God is here today—here at this table—ready for us to receive what was broken for us, not just for the sake of being broken, but broken so that God’s light might shine in us and in our dark, dark world. Let us gather and shift our hearts to taste and see that God is good beginning. Let us wait for this prophetic word which is the living bread given for us. Let us eat together in expectation of a God who always gives us hope and never leaves us alone.