Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jeremiah 33:14-16 Advent 1


We are all waiting for God to bring everything back to the way it is supposed to be. There are plenty of things wrong with the world—from the annoying to the deeply troubling.  All of it needs to be made right. Maybe you’re still waiting for $2 gas, and an economy where you can find a job or sell a house again.  But with all this talk of a fiscal cliff, a person might wonder if we will have to wait a little longer.  But there are more deeply troubling things than the economy.  I’m talking about loneliness, aging, and especially that constant, day-to-day struggle against sin.
In the Gospel, Jesus talked about waiting to be restored to perfection.  He was talking about the signs of his second coming to judge the world, and he said, “when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  He was talking about how he is coming back to finish what he started when he bought us to be the people of God with the price of his blood.  He is coming back to take his people home to be with him.  Everything will finally be the way it is supposed to be.  We are waiting to be restored to full health, and join all the Christian loved ones who have died before us.  We are waiting to finally be released from this life-long struggle with sin.
In the middle of all that is wrong with our lives and our world, I wouldn’t blame you if you would wonder sometimes if Jesus really is coming back to help you.  It may look like he has forgotten, and our sins make us feel like he should change his mind.  We still are far from being perfect enough to deserve to be his people and be rescued from all this.  When it looks and feels like God is not going to rescue us, it is hard to hold onto that hope.
The nation of Israel would have been thinking the same thing, and God gave them an answer.  They had sinned greatly against God for so long that he told them they would be taken away in captivity to Babylon.  At that time, they must have been wondering if God would still keep his promises to them.  Would he still send that Savior he had been promising?  Would he still be restoring everything that sin had made wrong about life and the world?  Would he still send that son of David to set up an everlasting kingdom for God and God’s people?  If we were not talking about God, we would have to say, “No way.”  But hear God’s answer.  Even as he was about to punish them for their sins, he gave them this promise in Jeremiah 33:
14 “ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of 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 Righteousness.’
Will God come to help us, and restore everything to the way it is supposed to be?  Here is your answer:

Theme:  The LORD is Our Righteousness.

1.  But how does that help us now, when our heart aches with loss, when we want so much more out of life but aren’t finding it, when we need God to help us overcome this sin or that sin?  If God is going to restore everything to the way it should be, we need to see a little bit of help now, otherwise we are going to doubt his intention help us at all—and that doubt itself is reason enough for God to decide to leave us in hell.  If you remember your Catechism lessons, doubting God is a sin against the 1st Commandment.  You shall have no other gods.  And the explanation that is given is that We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.   
These words of God will give us help now and hope for eternity, but we need to understand what it meant to Israel, so we can apply it to ourselves better. 
“ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.’”  When God spoke these words, he was about to destroy Judah and Jerusalem because of their sins.  It looked like God was not going to help them anymore.  But he said that he was still going to keep his gracious promise, and he was referring the Savior.  He had promised this Savior from Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel.  He had promised that it would be a son of David, who would rule over God’s people in an eternal, peaceful kingdom.  And now, in spite of the fact that he was about to punish the cities of Judah and Jerusalem, he graciously promised to bring them back and fulfill all those old promises about the Savior after all.  He had not changed his mind about that.  No, they didn’t deserve it anymore, but he was going to keep his gracious promises anyway.  That is, after all, the definition of grace.
Oh, but it looked so hopeless.  God had been dwelling among them in the temple to forgive their sins and hear their prayers, but the temple would be destroyed.  The Savior was supposed to be a son of David and a king, but no son of David would ever sit on the throne in Jerusalem again.  The Savior was supposed to be born in Palestine, but nearly all of David’s descendants would be living in the wrong place—in Babylon.  Nothing was the way it was supposed to be, but out of this hopeless situation God promised to give them a Savior.
“ ‘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.  David’s line had been cut off.  But God can bring hope out of that hopeless situation.  When you cut down certain kinds of trees, the stump will sprout a new tree.  God can do that with the stump of a tree, and he promised to do it with this stump of David’s family.  Even though no king of any kind would come from David’s family for the next 600 years, Jesus would be born into David’s family to rule over the kingdom of God forever.  It would be the kingdom of peace and everlasting security that God had promised.  But those Old Testament believers must have thought, we had peace and security under King David before, but we ruined it with our sins.  How will we keep the peace and security of this new kingdom?  And here is the beauty of this promise.  The name of this new kingdom where Jesus would rule forever is, “Adonai Tzidkaynu,” which means, “The LORD our Righteousness.” 
What a strange name for a kingom, right?  But it wouldn’t have been strange for a Hebrew.  The names they gave to their children and cities often had some meaning about that child or city.  For instance, Hannah named her child “Samuel,” which means “God hears,” because God had heard and answered her prayer for a son.  When God would restore everything under the Savior, and give his people a place to live in safety and security forever, that place would be called “The LORD our righteousness” because it would be founded upon the LORD’s righteousness.  In the old kingdom of Israel, God told them they would be protected if they would do good and righteous things.  In the new kingdom of God, the LORD our Righteousness, he has told us that we will be protected because of the good and righteous things he has done for us.  The people of Judah and Jerusalem would know that their sins would not make God have to punish them again, because Jesus would be their king, and he would be their righteousness. 
How would that help them in the present, as they looked forward in horror to the destruction of Jerusalem and exile?  It meant that they would always have hope for the future, and a reason to believe that God would still care for them and bring them to a better future.  It meant that the exile wasn’t going to take away their Savior or their eternal life in the kingdom of God!
2.  Now how is this promise going to help us today? 
“ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.’”  Even though God was punishing Israel and Judah, he would still keep his promises about the Savior.  That means, today, no matter how much you feel like God is punishing you, he is still keeping his promises about your Savior.  Your baptism still washed your sins away.  What Jesus said is still true when he said, “Because I live, you also will live,” and that means that everything that is wrong with your life now will be right in eternal life.  Everything will still be restored.  God has not changed his mind about that.
“ ‘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.  Out of a hopeless situation God gives hope.  It really doesn’t matter that everything good about your life may be passing away.  It doesn’t matter that this world is not fair.  Maybe this whole unfair world is going to crumble to bits after we fall off the fiscal cliff that we’ve been hearing about.  This week we remember the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, 1941.  Now, 71 years after Pearl Harbor, we may not be in as much danger of invasion by Japan, but we still have reason to fear a terrorist attack at any time.  In many ways, our world is less secure than it has ever been.  But it is in this crumbled world of cut off hope that our Savior was born, and he was born to rescue us from it.  His blood purchased us so that we would not belong here anymore, and neither would we belong in hell.  We belong with God in heaven, with the rest of the people whose sins have been washed away. 
But we may feel sometimes that our past rebellion will change God’s mind.  Especially when we see this world crumbling and we doubt God—because someone who doubts God doesn’t deserve anything from him.  But then again, we do belong in the kingdom of God, because the name of this kingdom is Adonai Tzidkeynu, “The LORD our Righteousness.”  Even our sins will not ruin our peace and security with Jesus, because it doesn’t depend on the good and righteous things that we do.  We have peace and security with Jesus because of the good and righteous things that he has done.  He will protect us, so that nothing evil will ever harm us.  He will care for us, so that all of our needs are met according to what he sees that we need.  He will see us through to the day when he returns and rescues us once and for all from all the sorrows of this world and even from death itself, so that we will live forever with him in his kingdom. 
How does that help us today?  The exile in Babylon was not the end of God’s grace to his Jewish people.  God was teaching them to fear his anger because of their sins, and at the same time showing them that even the worst sins would not change his mind about giving them a Savior to rescue them from this world.  Our current troubles are not the end of his grace to us either.  Once again, God is teaching us to respect his anger because of our sins by giving us these reminders that we are sinful, we are going to die one day, and we will all face the judge.  But he is also teaching us that our sins, no matter how great, do not change his mind about coming as our Savior to rescue us from this world and all our struggles.

Conclusion

In the season of Advent we begin another church year, another year of Jesus coming to us to bring us peace and security in his Word and the Sacraments.  The Bible may look like just an old book and a good one, but Jesus stands behind those words and gives you what they say.  When the Bible says we have peace and security in God’s kingdom, because the kingdom is based on the LORD’s righteousness, then it is true.  Jesus stands behind those words with the good and righteous things he has done for you.  You can still be sure that any time someone is baptized, Jesus will be there to wash away sins and mark that person as someone who belongs in his kingdom.  And your baptism still counts, because your sins haven’t messed it up.  It depends on the good and righteous things that Jesus has done.  No matter how badly you have sinned, when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated you can be sure that Jesus will be there to give his righteousness to you.  Even if God is making your life difficult right now, he hasn’t changed his mind about being gracious to you.  You still have a Savior from this hopeless world, Jesus, the LORD.  Even though we struggle and occasionally slide back into old sins our whole life long, the promise he has given you of eternal peace and security with him will never be taken away, because Jesus, the LORD, is our righteousness.  Amen.