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Audio file

Advent 1 C December 2, 2012.

“The Resolve of Heaven and the Future of the Earth”i

Jeremiah 33, 1, 10-16

© Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Advent.
Are you ready?
Are you one of those buoyant people who can’t wait to hang the
lights,
the boughs and garlands?
Are you one of those Adventy people who have already spent
mornings
writing lists of gifts and cards and parties, and groceries,
and horror! actually bought done of those things?
Are you one of those people who knows fine well that
“Somebody’s Coming!” and you’ve already made the bed and put on
the kettle?
More seriously, perhaps you are one of those blessed folk
for whom Advent and December’s decked malls
create the perfect marriage of
seasonal cultural and spiritual preparation,
anticipating a blessed celebration of birth, faith, and hope?

Well, then, this sermon isn’t for you,
(so read the funky star on your bulletin cover,
sneak a peek at your lists in your purse or smart phone, and
join us later.)

This sermon is for people who aren’t ready for Advent;
who don’t dare to hope that “Somebody’s coming”
who will make a difference in this benighted,
apparently Godforsaken, storm-and war-ravaged world.
This sermon is for those for whom the word “December”
conjures frantic desperation.
It is for for those who have given up believing
in stars and angels and shepherds,
and devoted virgin mothers.
This sermon is for those who are longing
and yearning for a different present and a different future,
but have no clue where to begin.

This sermon is for you.
This Jeremiah text is for you.
Jeremiah is our odd, but perfect companion
for the “unready or unwilling for Advent” among us,
because if we think our world has gone to the dogs, look at
his.

He was born in a time of war,
grew up amid the air-raid sirens, and bomb shelters,
while Assyrians smashed Israel to smithereens.
He bar-mitzvahed behind the sandbags protecting Jerusalem
from the predations of Egypt,
and he’s now neck deep in a jail cell,
imprisoned as an agitator by his own king
for daring to warn Judah of the Babylonian wrath now sweeping
like a tsunami over the entire fertile crescent.

Written with pencil stubs on the walls of a jail cell,
script shaky and misshapen from manacled hands and a fervid
faith,
Jeremiah’s is the text perfect for our shaky Advent.

What was it he said again, about his world?
“Utter wasteland, empty and desolate, ghost towns of Judah,
and ravaged streets of Jerusalem where not even the dogs roam.”
Even though few in this room have experienced first-hand this
type of devastation,
we don’t have to imagine it.
Real life images of war, disaster and systemic corruption
flash nightly into our homes from all corners of the globe.
We know that even the mighty Big Apple can be turned to
darkened rubble
by the power of a storm surge.
We see towns, villages, nations terrorized by night-time drones
and missiles,
so much so that we have become a society that lives in
what one author has called a “state of chronic emergency,”
A state where hopes of “better, saner, safer, gentler”
is seen as utopian, or opiate delusions,
Not surprising then that for some
Christmas jingle bells and Advent wreaths and calendars and
parties
have been thrown out with other faux sateen mementos of
romantic escapism.
Jeremiah, welcome to our world.

Is this any way to start this “most wonderful time of the
year”?
It’s the way the lectionary starts it, even if Walmart plays a
different tune.
It begins Advent with a bald, bold look at reality, at the way
the world really turns.
But it doesn’t stop there.
You heard what Jeremiah said.

“The days are surely coming,
when those desolate streets (where not even the dogs roam)
will be filled with the voice of mirth, the song of gladness,
the festivities of birth and marriage,”
of jubilant, abundant living….. and so he waxes on…

Now, let’s be clear, from Jeremiah’s lips, yes.
But whose words is he speaking?
For this is Jail-house Jeremiah,
not noted for his party instincts, Jeremiah,
Jeremiah the Grouch.
These are not words likely to come from him, his heart,
without an overwhelmingly good reason.

Remember, that despite what the checkout tabloids would have
you believe,
God’s Prophets do not look into crystal balls, nor do they
time-travel,
nor does God move their hand to write words
like those robotic technologies that can perform surgeries in
Kazakhstan
controlled by the hand-eye movements of a surgeon in
Connecticut.

Jeremiah is not saying these things because he has some magical
ability to predict a future,
nor because in the earthly scheme of things it is likely to
happen the day after tomorrow.
No, his overwhelmingly good reason is different than that,
and is the one reason we most need to be concerned with,
those of us who are not ready for Advent,
as well as those of us who can’t wait.

His overwhelmingly good reason for decorating his jail cell
with the promises of God,
          with sugar plums visions of a city on a hill, golden in the sun,
          with tinsel word-garlands of sanity, and safety, justice and equity,
          and with the crowning star called ‘righteousness’ (now there’s a word)
          atop his scrap-paper tree.

His good reason for such uncharacteristic optimism is God.

“Days are surely coming” he says….
“Somebody’s coming,
someone fit to rival David” he sings…
“God says so!” he shouts to all who will listen, and those who
won’t.

“Despite all evidence to the contrary,
despite these chains on my ankles,
despite the city in ruins above me
despite the storm surge devastation,
despite the fallen house of cards of city-wide construction
collusion and corruption
despite the fiscal cliff,
despite the sabre-rattling on once holy, once promised land,
despite the militant posturing of our own day’s Babylons
despite the cancer diagnoses,
despite the arthritic hips,
despite the numeric decline of people coming to places like
this,
despite the….. well you fill in your own despite…..
despite, or perhaps precisely because we are in a world
teetering between longing and despair..

“Days are coming…. surely coming,
when birth and blessing, and justice and equity,
and God’s star of righteousness (there’s that word again)
will hang from your mantelpiece, with your name on it.”
Jeremiah says God says.

“Days are surely coming,
when in God’s future,
AIDS is consigned to the bloodied, bigoted pages of human
history,
Days are surely coming, when in God’s future,
homophobia is an archaic, unneeded word,
Days are surely coming in God’s future
when our world is no longer diminished
by racism and sexism, and exploitation of children.

Jeremiah is our text for today because he, typically,
dares to rant from his cell, rattle his bars,
dares to be adamant about the things that we are only tentative
about.

“These days are surely coming,” he says
because it is ‘the resolve of heaven for the future of the
earth.’
The days are surely coming because this God who speaks
is a God of irrepressible dreams,
of covenant fidelity,
of persistent presence, not in the halls of plenty and power,
among the peddlers of self-righteous, self-aggrandizing
entitlement,
but God is persistently present precisely and particularly
under the rocks of all sorts of the world’s oppressions;
God is present, Somebody’s Coming,
in the Sally Ann shelters, the Food banks, the legal aid
clinics,
the Refugee shelters,
the school halls housing the disastrously displaced,
in the prison canteens,
in the book projects and urban gardens
that feed the bellies and imaginations
of the world’s poorest kids.

The Days are surely coming,
Somebody’s coming
to bless and birth, to feed and nourish souls and bodies,
to give work with meaning for a living wage,
to hold the hand of the sick and dying,
to nurture the young.
The days are surely coming,
Jeremiah says.
Somebody’s coming,
and God says,
Are you?
 
 

1Walter Brueggemann, To Build, To Plant: A Commentary on Jeremiah 26-52 (Eerdmans, 1991), 92. Cited in a recent post to WorkingPreacher.org. The phrase gave me the inspiration for the sermon.

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