First Sunday of Advent – December 03, 2023

Posted on December 4, 2023, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

December 03, 2023

First Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-18
Mark 8:27-29

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

On October 7th of this year, much of the world was horrified when Hamas breached the border with Israel and attacked and killed innocent civilians, taking more than 200 people hostage.

When Israel struck back, there were immediate concerns about the level of destruction that it caused especially to innocent civilians. And there were calls for a ceasefire so that humanitarian aid could be brought in.

When terms were reached that led to a pause in the fighting, I think there was a collective sigh of relief, and people prayed it would somehow lead to a lasting peace. But it didn’t.

So, in this season of hope, we find ourselves hoping against hope as we pray for peace in that part of the world.

In here, in our readings over the last couple of months, we’ve been moving through some of the significant events on biblical Israel’s timeline. We’ve learned about how the kings didn’t do what the people hoped they would, and that things have been getting progressively worse.

The prophets have warned of consequences; some of which have already played out in what was the Northern Kingdom. And in today’s reading from Jeremiah, they’ve begun in Judah – the Southern Kingdom.

By themselves, the verses we hear today don’t give any indication that anything is wrong. They sound like any other reminder of God’s faithfulness to the people. But whenever a reading starts with, “‘The days are surely coming,’ says the Lord” we need to back up and read what comes before.

[1]And when we look at what comes before this in today’s reading, we learn that this isn’t a prophecy that Jeremiah speaks because things are going well. This promise is spoken during one of the worst disasters the people ever faced.

[2]Biblical Israel sat on a trade route between two massive empires, the Egyptian and Assyrian – until the Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonians. So, Israel was in constant danger of being conquered and even destroyed.

Those dangers were kept at bay as long as the kings paid the empires for Judah’s safety. But King Zedekiah had decided he didn’t want to do that anymore. So, after centuries of idolatry and oppressive practices of Judean kings and elite, God withdrew the divine protective power, and the Babylonian empire began to attack the city of Jerusalem.

In this part of Jeremiah’s writing, Jerusalem had been surrounded by the Babylonian army for at least a year. No food or supplies were allowed in. No one was allowed to leave. Access to water was becoming an issue. And so was sickness and disease.

Jeremiah pleaded with the king to just hand over the city. Take your lumps, deal with the consequences. Just save the people. Zedekiah refused and Jeremiah was charged with treason and imprisoned for making the suggestion.

The worst hasn’t happened yet. The city is still standing, but its destruction is all but imminent. The people are scared and starving. Exile is on the horizon.

And it’s in that moment that Jeremiah tells the people God has already begun planning for their healing. God will fulfill the promise God made. God will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David. God will be their righteousness.

Jeremiah doesn’t say these words to deny or minimize what the people are going through or what’s going to happen. He isn’t trying to give them some pie-in-the-sky hope for their future. He knows what they’re feeling in their gut. He’s acknowledged it.

It seems impossible for them to hold their pain and their hope together. But it’s what they’re being asked to do – to hope against hope. And they did it.

The exile lasted a couple of generations – the people returned after 70 years and 359 days, according to the historians. Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt. But there was never another Davidic king; Zedekiah was the last historical one.

Which is why the Christian tradition reads this prophecy as a prediction of Jesus. That may not be what Jeremiah had in mind, and it’s important for us to remember that. [3]But together with the prophecy of an eternal kingship for David, Christian scholars understand this one as Jesus establishing that line forever.

[4]That’s how we as Christians make sense of this. But our Jewish siblings have wrestled and reckoned with this prophecy in their own tradition and have come to different answers. And this isn’t an “us vs. them” thing.

[5]We claim the Messiah in our tradition, but we can never lay claim to the Levitical birthright or priestly office that’s lifted up here. So, if we accept that the prophecy of the Davidic line was fulfilled in Jesus, we also ought to accept that the prophecy of the Levitical birthright has also been fulfilled.

Taken together, this prophecy brings our two faith traditions together under a promise that God fulfilled in multiple ways. In no way does it diminish the hope God has given us in Jesus. It reminds us as Christians that God is present for us in the life and death of Jesus. That’s where our hope is.

That specificity is what anchors us. It keeps our hope in Jesus from being some untethered, unrealistic vision of what may come and instead challenges the reality of our present world and time. It shapes the way we live, because it challenges us to be honest about what’s going on with the suffering and the pain that people experience.

And to not weaponize the hope we have in Jesus by telling people who are suffering, “Just don’t worry – everything’s going to be fine.” Or worse, “Just believe in Jesus and everything will be fine.” But instead to name their suffering and the reality of the situation. And to be willing to say, “This isn’t God’s way. This isn’t what God wants.” And to ask ourselves if we’re willing to rise to the challenge and be a glimpse of the hope God gives to the world.

[6],[7]A few weeks ago, it was announced that, in solidarity with the suffering in Gaza due to the Israel-Hamas war, the main churches in Jordan, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem have agreed to cancel all public Christmas celebrations this year.

People will celebrate in their homes and religious services will be held. But there won’t be decorations on the tree in Manger Square, and other festivities of public tree lightings, markets, and parades will not happen.

By itself, this action won’t bring about the lasting peace that is needed and longed for in that part of our world. But it’s a public acknowledgement that things aren’t okay. And it’s an action that holds pain together with hope for the future. It’s a glimpse of the hope God gives.

Whether we’re willing to be a glimpse of the hope God gives to the world is sometimes a hard question to answer. It’s tempting to focus on only the good and happy things that we associate with hope – especially at this time of year. The Christmas carols, the food, the parties and other gatherings that we attend.

It’s easy to be that glimpse when we’re in that space and when things are going well. But our hope in Jesus asks us to ask the hard questions. To open our hearts to what’s going on in the world.

And it’s a balancing act. Because we don’t want to lose ourselves in either the promise of God’s hope or in the suffering of the world. We need to hold both together.

[8]Because when we do, we can envision God’s hope breaking into the places of hurt and undoing the things that cause them – the systems and ways of living that cause harm to people. [9]That envisioning and undoing doesn’t mean that one group or another will somehow be powerful or victorious, or that enemies will be crushed.

But it does mean that we see one another differently, and that we seek the healing for everyone that is so needed.

Holding the suffering of the world together with the promise of hope God gives to the world, is a hard thing to do. But it’s what we’re called to do. Because the hope God gives to the world meets us where we are, and ultimately heals the world.

Thanks be to God. Amen.



[3] Jeremiah 33:17; refers back to 2 Samuel 7