Sunday, December 02, 2018

THE Hope for Peace

[This message, for the First Sunday of Advent, was shared today with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Recently, a committed Christian, considering the tragedy, violence, and nastiness in the world and the upheaval in his own life, asked me, “Are there times when you wish Jesus would hurry and come back?” 

Yes, there are. 

I want Jesus to return and the dead to be raised. 

I want Jesus to bring an end to this sorry old, death-dealing planet.

I want Him to usher in the new heaven and the new earth in which the eyes of all will be fixed on God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the tears of everyone who has dared to believe in Jesus will be dried and we will live in peace with God, each other, ourselves, for all eternity. 

I want all of that very much!

Even secular, unbelieving people seem to yearn for some version of this new world that we know only Jesus can bring. On his LP released three months ago, Paul McCartney, sings this refrain, “People want peace / A simple release from their suffering / People want peace.”

This yearning isn’t new. 

In 587 BC, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah sat in a prison in Jerusalem. His crime had been to tell the people of his homeland, the southern remnant of God’s people Israel, that they needed to repent for their sin and trust in God. (The God that all the world can now know in Jesus Christ.) 

The northern kingdom of God’s people, Israel (or Samaria) was already gone, eliminated by a hostile foreign power. 

And, now Judah, which itself had endured decades of domination by foreign powers, faced the same fate. 

Not because Judah hadn’t had a strong army. 

Not because Judah didn’t possess economic power. 

Judah had enjoyed these things. 

But, Jeremiah and other prophets told the people, their land would be taken from them because of their three abiding sins: idolatry, injustice, and materialism. (Does this sound familiar?) 

No people, no nation, no church, can long endure if it spits in the face of God through idolatry and the injustice, and materialism that results

Just a short time before Jeremiah committed the verses in our first lesson for today to paper, Judah had been under the dominion of the Assyrian Empire. Then the Egyptians chased the Assyrians out. Then the Egyptian Empire crumbled and for a brief period, Judah had enjoyed independence and freedom. But even then, God’s people refused to turn from their sins and trust in God alone. While Jeremiah wrote down the new word God gave to him in prison, the renewed Babylonian Empire was near Jerusalem’s city gates. Jeremiah could probably hear the din of battle as he received the word of God. 
  • Judah was going to be conquered. 
  • God’s people would face the consequences of their rebellion against God. 
  • Their land would be taken from them. 
  • Their nation would die. 

Jeremiah had already warned the people of his homeland that it was naive for them to superstitiously cling to the bricks and mortar of the temple or the worthless words they offered up as "worship" to save them from destruction while refusing to let go of their sins and injustices to take hold of God as their only hope.

But as Jeremiah sat in the darkness of prison, he perceived the light of God bringing hope, not just to Judah, but to all the world. Beyond wars, sin, death, and heartache, God was going to bring something new and never-ending. God would (and will) bring everlasting peace to those who trust in Him

The Word given to Jeremiah in that prison cell includes our first lesson for this first Sunday in Advent, a Sunday on which we at Living Water have chosen to remember that even as we await the advent, the coming return, of Jesus to our world, we wait in HOPE

So, take a look at our first lesson, Jeremiah 33:14-16. We’re going to read it from the English Standard Version, which gives a better and more literal translation than the New International Version here.

It begins: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” 

All of us know what it’s like to have someone break their promises to us. All of us know, if we’re honest, what it’s like to be the person who breaks promises to others. Promises broken, intentionally or unintentionally, make our relationships with each other painful and difficult. 

But God never forgets a promise. God always does what He sets out to do

Sometimes though, as is true of God's promise of sending His Son back into this world to usher in the Kingdom of God in its fullness, we have to wait. 

We can get impatient. 

We can begin to think that God doesn’t care or that maybe God isn’t even there. 

The coming of God on the first Christmas, born to a virgin in Bethlehem, should tell us that we can depend on God keeping His promises

His death for our sin and His resurrection to give us life should tell us that we can depend on God keeping His promises

But, in the world in which we live, it can be hard to wait for God to act--hard to wait for answers to our prayers, hard to wait for God to bring loved ones lost to Him back to faith, hard to wait for God to help those who are hurting, hard to wait for God to reconcile our relationships. 

But God has promised us in Jesus, “I am with you always to the close of the age." 

He has promised those who trust in Him, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” 

All of this is true even when God seems to be taking his good, sweet time. 

The apostle Peter says, “ not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9) 

God never fails to keep a promise. 

And, God told Jeremiah--and through Jeremiah, us--that the promise of a peaceable eternal kingdom would come to pass. 

In the meantime, we’re to live in daily repentance and trust that the God we know in Jesus is giving us the time the world needs to come to know and believe in Jesus, the time we disciples need to tell the world about our Savior.

Our lesson continues: “In those days and at that time [we don’t know the days or the time, because as Jesus reminded us last Sunday, “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)], I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” 

Shortly after Jeremiah received these words from God, the descendants of David were stripped ot their throne and would never again sit on an earthly throne. But God had long before promised that a “son of David” would be the Messiah--God’s anointed, Savior King. God would make the impossible possible: A Savior born into the Davidic line, as Jesus was, when God the Father placed God the Son in the arms of his adoptive parents--Mary and Joseph, descended from David, would come into our world to make things right between God and sinners

When the Word became flesh, that is, when sinless God the Son, Jesus, came into this world, He did so with one purpose: To become the perfect offering for sin that no sinful human being--no ancient Israelite, not you, not me--could be and to win a not guilty verdict for those of us who are mired in sin from death. God makes us right through Jesus and our faith in Him. (Romans 3:23-24)

Back to our lesson, verse 16: “...In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” 

C.S. Lewis said, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” 

Jeremiah and the other prophets didn’t go to God’s ancient people and say, “You’re bad; try to be good.” 

They said, “Your bad is growing worse because you’ve walked away from God. It's time for you to make it a habit to keep turning back to God so that He can displace your bad with His good! Only God can make you righteous." 

It’s the Lord alone who is righteous and He alone makes righteous those who are bad. It's the God we know in Jesus Who is our righteousness! 

This God revealed in Jesus has even been known to turn renegade atheists into grateful believers...and then make them into reluctant preachers.

We long for the peace that will only come to God’s creation when Jesus returns to this world. But if we rely on our own goodness to prepare for that day, we will regret it eternally. The peace that passes all understanding belongs only to those who trust in the God we meet in Jesus, who have given up on trying to prove themselves, given up on being models of religiosity, because those are sinful, self-worshiping enterprises. 

The peace that passes all understanding belongs, even now in the midst of this fallen, confounding world, only to those who, day by day, let Jesus be their Savior. These are the people who can face the stuff of this world and look for the day of Jesus’ return with hope. 

They hope--we hope--because believers know that it’s Jesus, the Messiah born of the Branch of David, Who IS our peace (Ephesians 2:13-14)


[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]