Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many people love a good whodunit. Crime dramas draw millions of viewers each year. What is it about crime dramas that makes them so popular? The thing about crime dramas is that justice is done in the end. The mystery is solved. The murderer is identified, apprehended, charged, and convicted. There is a collective sigh of relief. I think we can understand the satisfaction of seeing everything made right at last.
The desire for justice runs deep. We have all experienced it: that moment when you say, “That isn’t right – something needs to be done to make it right.” We all know that things are out of kilter: in the world, in our country, in our communities, in our families. In recent years we have seen those desires and cries for justice overflow into protests and social activism.
But we know all too well that “making it right” is difficult. We all know that justice matters, but we find it difficult or sometimes downright impossible to achieve it. Even when justice is done on a human level, our own ability to make things right cannot undo the damage that has been done. The Advent season opens with a promise to Jeremiah that God is not absent or inactive. On the contrary, he is powerfully at work to “make it right” again.
God Will Fulfil His Promises
Jeremiah’s world was in a state of collapse. Our text finds Jeremiah in prison. Prison was bad enough, but it got even worse for Jeremiah. He was forced to serve his prison sentence in the middle of a foreign invasion. Judah had broken faith with God and disregarded their social responsibilities to the vulnerable ones such as widows, orphans, and strangers. Jeremiah gave a warning that their situation was going to get worse before it got better. He warned the people of what was coming. And they just ignored him. In fact, they actively tried to silence him. He was depressing. Bad for morale. Unpatriotic. They had Jeremiah put under lock and key to shut him up. And while Jeremiah was confined, the Word of the Lord came to him. That’s the build-up to our Old Testament reading.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” God keeps his promises. Even as he permits destruction and desolation and death, he keeps his promises. A righteous branch. A sprout from King David’s family tree. A son of David. He will do justice and righteousness in the land. “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely.”
But all hope seemed lost. For nearly four hundred years, descendants of David sat on the throne of Judah, and God promised that’s the way it always would be. But the Babylonians destroyed David’s city, burned Solomon’s temple, and took David’s heirs into exile. The promises of God seemed to have come to an end. God stated his commitment to promises that looked like they had been made null and void by Jerusalem’s destruction.
But the Lord knew what he said and what he promised to do. The Lord cannot and will not try to wiggle out of what he has promised. God’s promises are spoken to give hope in a hopeless situation. All might seem lost, but God is still faithful. The house of David might be cut down, but God can bring life out of death. A branch will sprout. No matter how utter and complete the destruction of Jerusalem might seem, this was not the Lord’s last word concerning Judah.
While there are no invading armies on our doorstep (at least not in North America), like Jeremiah, many are experiencing great loss. There are cries for justice to be done in our day, and there is little hope that justice will be given. There are protests and activist movements with little hope of real impact. There is job loss, church decline, health concerns. It’s easy to feel as hopeless as the Israelites did. Even when all hope is lost, God keeps his promises. Even as he permits destruction and desolation and death, he keeps his promises. That is the word of promise and hope in this text.
David’s Heir Will Bring Justice
Many Israelites clung to that promise, even when it all looked hopeless. When they lived in exile, they clung to those promises of God. When they were released from Babylon and rebuilt a temple that was only a cheap copy of the original, they clung to those promises. They still clung to those promises when they were tenants under Persia, Greece, and then Rome. They believed there was a coming day when Judah would be delivered, and Jerusalem would live in peace and safety. They longed for it, they hoped for it. They never forgot the words of Jeremiah the prophet, the promise of a righteous Branch from David’s line. One who would do justice and righteousness and bring salvation.
Then Jesus came, riding into Jerusalem on top of a borrowed donkey. His disciples formed an entourage as they entered the city gates from the Mount of Olives. They hailed him as a king. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” It was true. Everything they said was true. This was the one, the righteous Branch of David’s line. The Pharisees understood what was going on too. They tried to stop it, to silence it. But even the stones of Jerusalem would cry out.
Jesus of Nazareth is the righteous branch of David’s line. God’s ancient promises to the prophet are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This means that Jesus is more than a king who rules in complete fairness, punishing the evildoer and rewarding the exemplary. Jesus rode into the city to suffer and die. He endured the greatest injustice because he always acted with justice. He came to establish justice, and that means giving us the righteousness that he demands. His life of righteousness and his atoning death satisfy the justice of God and make justice and righteousness available.
“The Lord is our righteousness.” Jesus’ righteousness is yours because sin has been dealt with through his cross. Even though you are unjust, God declares that you are now just through faith. It’s not something you do. It’s something he does. It’s not something you earn. It’s something he gives. And that’s not what we expect when it comes to God and righteousness. We expect to have to earn it and prove ourselves worthy. And he wins it for us and gives it to us even though we’re unworthy.
Then Jesus sends his followers to go out and announce his reign, his kingdom. The followers of Jesus announce that there is a God of hope who has sent his Son, Jesus Christ. To be the people of God means inviting everyone to give their allegiance to Jesus, the righteous king. We proclaim this good news in word and deed. We not only give the king our allegiance, but we also follow his ways and will. That means both that we’re justified and that we’re sanctified. We are enabled to live as Christ desires. We are given the Holy Spirit, who begins to make us actually righteous. Since he lived an exemplary life, we look to Jesus as the model for how to live—doing what is right and just. He shows us what living the right way means in life, giving us a model to follow. We love one another and our neighbours as ourselves, following the example we have in Christ. We do what is just and right on behalf of everyone. If Jesus is our model of justice and righteousness, we will seek to make what God says is just and right prevail in society. As we invite people to pledge their allegiance to Jesus, the kingdom expands. But it also expands as we begin to live and embody God’s justice in our churches and communities.
The prophecy is also for a future beyond today. “The days are coming,” says the Lord. This is the coming kingdom which Jesus instructed us to pray for: “Thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.” The promises of God call us to look beyond the present circumstances with its all the injustice we see. We are praying for the redemption of the world, confident that Jesus himself will step in and care for his people and make it right again. Jesus is our king, and he promises the radical defeat and uprooting of injustice. One day heaven and earth will be joined at last, and God will be king. And if we pray for his kingdom to come, we must, of course, be prepared to live his way.
Once Jesus came riding a donkey to die on a cross to be your righteousness. Today, he comes to you here and now with bread and wine to give you his righteousness. He sends his Spirit so that you may live and embody his righteousness in the world. Soon he will come in power and glory at the end of the days to make everything right again. Your king will come at the dawn of the new creation. Wait for Him. Hope in Him. No matter how hopeless you might feel, God will always come through for you.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.