Jeremiah 33:14-16 & Luke 21:25-36
(I wrote this on time, but with our move, never posted it. Sorry)
Advent is the start of the liturgical year, but in many ways, it feels like anything but the beginning. We look forward to Christmas. At least in the States, we are between Thanksgiving on the one side, and Christmas and New Years on the others. Winter has already begun, and we are in the middle of the school year. Advent is really a weird time to say: this is the beginning. In the passages from this week, we start right in the middle of God’s story, even as the passages point to a new beginning.
The Luke passage talks about the end of the age that Jesus’ original disciples were living in. By the time that the gospel of Luke had been written, it was pretty clear that Jesus was talking about the fall of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem temple to the Roman legions. In the millennia since, interpreters have posited that there is some other coming end that the words that Jesus used to describe the Roman desecration of the temple and violence against civilians will be equally applicable to in latter days. Be that as it may, Jesus’ hearers, and Luke’s readers, knew that they were both stuck in the middle of something and at a new beginning.
The hearers and readers knew that the Kingdom of Heaven was moving and spreading as never before, and that they church was growing because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. But at the same time, Jesus warned his people to not let their hearts be weighed down by the worries of this life (Luke 21:34) because they were still, very much, in the midst of life.
We, almost 2,000 years later, are still in the midst of life. There is ample distress among the nations, and I’ve often felt like fainting from fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world (Luke 21:25-26). But just as Jesus was born into a confusing and dangerous political situation with an occupying foreign power, a perfidious imposter-king and rising poverty and landlessness (See David Fiensy’s The Social History of Palestine in the Herodian Period: The Land is Mine), so he must be born again in us in equally confusing and dangerous times.
When God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah that a shoot would spring up from the cut-down root of Jesse’s tree, things looked bleak. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed and exiled over a hundred years earlier. The Southern Kingdom faced imminent exile and possible destruction. It is in the midst of this insecurity and fear that God spoke, saying, in effect, that this middle that you thought was an end is really leading to a new beginning. God will reestablish justice and righteousness, the people will live in safety and they will proclaim that the LORD is our righteousness! In the darkest hour, just before the worst fears of most of the Judahites came to fruition, God promised that the Babylonian sieges would not be the end. God remembers. God will make good on God’s promises. And God will restore with justice and righteousness through God’s anointed one.
Jesus did not come neatly at the beginning of human history. Nor does he only come at the end. He came to proclaim that “God IS with us” right where we are, right in the midst of all the difficulties, uncertainty, danger, intrigue and woe. Advent is not supposed to be a time of joy, but a time of introspection and purposeful waiting and preparing for the coming of the one who will lead us in justice and righteousness.