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The First Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2012
The Old Testament: Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Sermon: "What's Coming?"

The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles

Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel

The Old Testament:

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 in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."

Jeremiah 33: 14-16

What's Coming?

Jeremiah 33: 1, 10-16

Have you ever wished you had kept your mouth shut when the subject veered off into politics and religion? I’m sure there were times when the prophet Jeremiah wished that he could have kept his mouth shut. Jeremiah always seemed to be on the unpopular side. When his friends were waving the flag, he felt the need to point out the nation’s flaws, and when everyone was criticizing the present administration, he felt the need to add balance. 

His inability to hold his tongue cost him dearly. He was banished for a time from the priesthood. He was physically beaten and publicly humiliated on more than one occasion. But still he came back for more. Why couldn’t he keep quiet?

After all, he could have enjoyed a peaceful life, a relatively comfortable life. He had the soul of a poet. He observed with joy the blossoming of the almond in early spring. He wrote of the migratory impulse of the turtledove, the swallow and the crane. He could have cultivated a garden, enjoyed the blessings of marriage and family. Why didn’t he? The answer is simple. The voice of God speaking from within would not let him stay quiet. 

On the other hand, why couldn’t his countrymen see the folly of their ways? He tried to warn them about the consequences of their greed, their disobedience, their disregard of right living. But they would not listen. And because they would not listen, God had let them have their own way, had let them choose their own path; a path that was leading to their destruction. 

Now his country was besieged. It would be the most normal thing in the world for Jeremiah to have said, “I told you so!” But he didn’t, because that wasn’t the message the Lord had put into his heart. Some who didn’t understand the source of Jeremiah’s inner fire would probably assume that he had mellowed. Perhaps he had, but the situation had also changed. Before, his people needed to be confronted. Now they needed to be comforted. Before, they needed words of judgment. Now they needed words of grace. Before, they deserved condemnation, now they required hope. 

Thus, from our First Testament lesson this morning, from the 33rd chapter of the book of Jeremiah, we hear this word of promise: “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 in the land…And this is the name by which it will be called; ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” 

Here Jeremiah announces the coming of the Messiah. The important words here are these: the days are coming. There is an inevitability about those words. Does it mean that those days are right around the corner as we would count them? Does it mean that there won’t be any heartaches yet ahead? No. But etch it in stone where it will never be forgotten, the days are coming. That is what this first Sunday in Advent is all about: the days are coming. Two particular things are revealed about those days that are coming; two things that Jeremiah mentions especially in verse 15, for which you and I long and hope. 

The first thing that we are told is coming is this: Justice. With the coming of the Messiah, there will be justice. This world clearly needs more justice. 

A famous gangster was on trial. There were many witnesses. The case was airtight. That was why the judge almost keeled over when he heard the jury foreman pronounce the verdict: “Not guilty.”
“Not guilty?” the judge gasped. “But how? By what reason?”
“By reason of insanity,” the foreman replied. 
“Insanity?” the judge stammered. Then looking squarely at the jurors he asked, “All twelve of you?”

That’s how we sometimes feel when we hear about some miscarriage of justice. There is something built into the very fabric of our beings that yearns for justice. Life is not always fair. Nevertheless, the days are coming, says Jeremiah, when the playing fields of this world will be made level for everyone. The days are coming when that which is unfair will be set right. For when the Bible speaks of justice, it is not merely talking about individual justice. God’s call is for a new kind of society; a society where all persons will live in dignity and freedom. 

Jesus said the days are coming when the last shall be first and the first shall be last. During this Advent season we are to take hope in those words. We are also to ask ourselves whether we are contributing to a just society or whether we are among those who are contributing to its injustice. The days are coming when there will be justice. That’s the first thing that’s coming, Jeremiah tells us. 

Here’s the other: Righteousness. As justice refers to the state of our society, so righteousness refers to the state of our individual souls. It is revealing that these two terms are so rarely linked; justice and righteousness. It is that old division in Western Christian thought between those who advocate a social gospel; the gospel of civil rights, concern for the poor, and social justice; and those who advocate a personal gospel of piety, prayer and high moral conduct. The days are coming when such a false dichotomy will be forever dispelled. Both justice and righteousness are attributes of the Reign of God. We do not have the luxury of taking our choice. We will have both. 

Just as justice seems to be an occasional thing in our society, so does righteousness. As someone has said, “These days, the wages of sin depend on the kind of deal you make with your book publisher.” 

So I have a suggestion for how to increase personal righteousness. And as Righteousness has do with our personal relationship with God, this is something that each of us can participate in. Consider this: we Anglican/Episcopalians are recognized and honored the English-speaking world around for one particular thing; we gave the world the King James Bible, the most widely spread and read book in the English–speaking world. Yet, in a recent survey of some twenty Christian denominations, something else has been discovered about us. While we are ranked as the most highly educated and literate of all American denominations, even a slight tenth of a point ahead of the Presbyterians, (they’re quite surprised by this actually, though we aren’t of course,) we rank dead last in Biblical literacy. Think of that, we gave the world the most read Bible ever, yet we hardly ever read any Bible. 

Recognizing this, this summer at the 77th General Convention, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies issued this challenge to us, “Resolved,…that every Episcopal diocese, cathedral, church and mission shall invite their entire membership, and people beyond their church, to read the entire Bible in 2013.” This has come to be known as the Bible Challenge. There is a companion devotional guide book and a website that will be posting the readings and devotionals for each day of the year in 2013. Our own Bishop Curry is so excited by this that he isn’t waiting until the New Year but is starting tomorrow. 

I’m going to accept the challenge for myself, and I invite you to join me, and I hope that you will invite others to join you. There will be more information coming this month so that you can decide and prepare. One thing I am sure of, the more of us who invest ourselves in just reading this book, the deeper our spiritual lives will become, and the stronger will be the righteousness of our souls. So, stay tuned; there’s more to follow.

The days are coming, says the Lord, when justice and righteousness will prevail. It is not enough on this first Sunday of Advent to think of just the peripheral elements of this season; such as lights and candles and trees and cookies; important as they all are. We are being called by the prophets to think about the very heart of the Advent message; the coming of the Messiah, and with his coming, Justice and righteousness. 

Jeremiah the prophet announced the coming of One who would bring them both into the world. That One is Christ. We are Christ’s disciples. On this first Sunday in Advent, as we await the celebration of the birth of Christ, let us commit ourselves to do justice around us, and do righteousness within us. 

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