“How long?” the prophets lamented time and again. “How long?”
Jeremiah’s life and prophetic ministry was lengthy and challenging (to say the least!). First, he warned the people of Judah that the widespread injustice and inequality throughout the land would ultimately lead to destruction–but the people would not believe. Then, when Jerusalem was destroyed and its residents carted off to exile in Babylon he tried to reassure them of God’s continuing plan for them–but they could not grasp anything but the harshness of their existing situation. Finally, from exile he offered hope for their future with God–but they still were troubled.
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 NRSV
A core problem for Jeremiah’s people was their inability to comprehend God’s future for them. As such, they wouldn’t see injustice pre-exile, a righteous relationship with God during exile, or hope for what was ahead of them post-exile.
Some Christians read these words from Jeremiah and automatically substitute not only Jesus but Christianity as some sort of “replacement” installed by God. Yet that tragically misreads these prophetic words. Note that Jeremiah says that God “will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David.” There’s nothing in that to signify a new nation or institution. As well, it’s best to keep in mind that “righteous” in this context is not a moral consideration but relates to a divinely instituted relationship.
God promised a future way back then and God promises a future today. If only we can see beyond our present we can begin to grasp its meaning. Like pre-exilic Judah and Israel, our own nations passively allow widespread injustice and inequality. We Christians are apparently blind to the implications of this.
As another Hebrew prophet promised, God’s “Word” will not return to God empty. Divine promises will be fulfilled. Of course, the content of those promises may not be at all what we want or expect, but that does not negate them.
And so we begin our annual trek to Bethlehem in Advent by affirming the hope of God’s promises. They do not exist in a vacuum nor are they merely empty words. They can–and will–change everything.
*From the 2012 ForeWords archive
- Happy New Year! The First Sunday of Advent (thesacredpage.com)
- The Day of Redemption is at Hand — A Lectionary Reflection for Advent (bobcornwall.com)
- Restoration (Thriving in Exile) Of The Guilty (bloggingforwisdom.wordpress.com)