A Righteous Branch
14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
15 “‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’
Jeremiah came from a Levite tribe and training for the priesthood when God called him to be a prophet in the first year of the reign of King Josiah, the good king who tried to turn the people back to God and away from the detestable practices like child sacrifice that his Grandfather Manasseh had brought in.
I imagine it would be easy to be a prophet of God when the nation is being turned back to God, rediscovering the book of the law, as they did during his time, and enjoying God’s blessings.
But then King Josiah died suddenly 18 years later, and God made Jeremiah keep prophesying, through the reign of four more Kings, who definitely did not do what was right in God’s eyes, who did not keep righteousness (the up and down arrows i have spoken about before, our relationship with God) or justice (the left/right arrow, how we treat other people).
He was beaten, put in stocks, lowered once up to his waist in mud in the bottom of t a well or cistern.
And now his prophecy was the removal of the blessings of God, famine, and eventually, the destruction of Israel, unless the people would repent, and turn back to him.
And as you can probably guess, they did not. Even as the Babylonians were beating down the doors of Jerusalem, and carrying the people into exile in 586B.C. Jeremiah was still speaking AGAINST the people of God, calling them to repent.
But amazingly, even as God was pronouncing through Jeremiah his punishment and anger, he was still giving the people a way out, if only they would repent, (which they didn’t) and even when they were being carried off into exile, he was already foreshadowing, here in this text for today, a restoration, and the coming of a new kind of Kingdom, brought about by one who would come, not to DO righteousness but to BE righteousness, and to bring a new kind of Kingdom Justice.
Do you know the famous passage from Jeremiah that we use to point us to the love and protection of God over our future: Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Does it amaze you even more to know that these words were spoken by God through the prophet to a people who were not just feeling anxious, not just sitting around wandering what the future might hold, but to a people who were in exile, in a foreign land, treated as slaves, surrounded by foreign Gods, and understandably wondering where their God was, or whether he had turned his back on them forever?
What I want to take out of this today is this:
Just because God seems hidden doesn’t mean that God is silent.
And why do we need to know that?
Because here we are in the middle of a pandemic, with fears over our health and our livelihoods, with over 5 million dead, and more fears over our rights and our livelihoods and it seems bad enough now, let alone what the future is going to look like. There are heightened tensions in our society over every issue, and the political situation seems as bad to some as a Babylonian exile.
Just because God is hidden doesn’t mean that God is silent.
But now, God speaks through us.
Now it is us upon whom he calls to speak his truth into the world. His truth that a new Kingdom has come, a new righteousness has been revealed and there is a God of justice, and what is it that has done all this?:
This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’
And so year after year, whether it has been in the middle of world wars or great depressions or pandemics, or the equally distracting mess of tinsel and reindeer and snowmen and every single thing that seems to distract from the message of hope through the Messiah, God still speaks and the message is the same.
But now, instead of through a prophet, God speaks through a baby, though a church, through us.
Christmas is the ultimate sign that just because God seems hidden doesn’t mean that God is silent. The baby Jesus, born in a manger in secret, sneaking into this world to usher in this new Kingdom, is a declaration that the world needs now as much as it ever has or ever will have, that Just because God is hidden doesn’t mean that God is silent.
We have broken his covenant with us time and time again. We call this sin. Individual sin, corporate sin, just sin. But God has never broken, and will never break his.
God makes a point of this. Of his loyalty to his covenants, and the inability of humans to destroy them. In the verses following our reading in Jeremiah 33, God’s talks about his covenant with nature to make his point.: “If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed times, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken” (Jeremiah 33:20–21a).
The book of Jeremiah shows us over again how his people, even Kings, are great at breaking their part of the covenants God makes with them, to their own detriment. Yet here God talks, not about their faithfulness, but about his: He points out, rightly, that they cannot hope to damage God’s covenant with the created order.
Here, then, is the mystery: God’s promises to God’s people are as reliable as day following night. Judah and Jerusalem are limited in the good they can do, but also in the destruction. Where they have torn down, God is already preparing to build up. What they have plucked up, God will certainly cause to grow again.
And it is the same for us today. As bad as we think things have gotten, as bad as we have made them, we don’t have the power to break God’s promises to us, they remain, and the promise remains:
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Lift up your heads, the days are coming. Christmas Days is coming, Jesus is coming. The Lord our righteousness.
Just because God is hidden doesn’t mean that God is silent.