Jeremiah was a prophet who lived before and after the fall of Jerusalem. Before the fall, he warned the people that because they had betrayed God’s covenant, their kingdom would be destroyed and the people scattered. Only a remnant of the people of Israel would survive. After this came to be, his next message became one of hope – that the people would be allowed to return to Jerusalem.
Today’s passage is a warning: “It is you who have scattered my flock,” the Lord says through Jeremiah, “[you have] driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So, I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.” Yet, even when declaring they will be punished, this passage is not without hope: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”
The people have failed to live into their covenant with God and they will be punished, many will live in exile – but that is not the end of the story. Jeremiah’s prophecy includes the promise that God will raise up from them a righteous branch from the tree of David and the remnant of the people who have been scattered will be brought back to Jerusalem. In Canticle 16, The Song of Zechariah, from Luke, this promise is repeated: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; * he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty savior, * born of the house of his servant David.”
Jesus is the righteous branch from the tree of David. Jesus is the one who will gather the people who, because of sin, are living in exile and call them into a new relationship with God. Thus, all the references to Christ the King. He is the descendant of King David who comes to restore the kingdom. It is not the kingdom that the people expect; however, it is the kingdom of God. It is the kingdom of light as is written about in the letter to the Colossians: “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
This is not, though, the message we hear in today’s gospel. In our gospel for today we are reminded of the price we pay for sin. Jesus is taken from us. He is tortured, mocked, and executed. Yet, even on the cross, Jesus offers hope and forgiveness to one of the criminals who is being crucified along with him. He asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into “HIS KINGDOM.” Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus is not the king the people expected and Jesus is not the king many of us want. We, like the people hearing Jeremiah’s prophecy of their return to Jerusalem, want our king, our Lord, to fix things for us. We want a king who will rule with great power. Yet, Jesus comes not as a king who demands obedience. Instead, he comes to invite us into a relationship with him, a relationship in which he offers us comfort, hope, and love. It is a relationship in which Jesus is willing to die for us. Kings in this world exercise power over their subjects. Jesus allows us to choose our own path. He shows us the way to peace and love, but we must make the choice to follow him if we are to experience it.
As the season after Pentecost comes to a close, these scriptures remind us of why God chooses to come into our world in the person of Jesus. The people of Israel, have lost their way, so Jesus comes to call them back into their covenant with God.
We know what Jeremiah says is true. We, as a people and as a nation, have lost our way. We are divided and people are suffering. Hope is not lost; Jesus is coming to live among us and teach us what it means to be truly human. This is our hope for the future.
The next four weeks we will be observing the season of Advent, the season in which we prepare for his coming. In our tradition, we do not do this by singing Christmas hymns and reading scriptures about Christ’s birth. Our focus will be on doing what John the Baptist came to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He then quotes the prophet Isaiah saying, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”
The Christmas lights are now lit on Main Street and Christmas sales are taking place. But in our tradition, Christmas begins on Christmas Eve. We take seriously – in our worship, the importance of preparing our hearts for Christ’s birth – for Jesus coming into our lives. Outside of our worship, we will shop, participate in gift exchanges, and Christmas parties. St. Paul’s will even have a float in the Christmas parade where our choir (plus others who wish to join them) will sing Christmas carols. It is not a problem to do both – to observe Advent in church and enjoy the holiday festivities. Our worship and our observance of Advent help keep us grounded in our faith amid all the chaos of the holidays. The holidays can be challenging for many of us for many reasons. I pray that you will find solace in the midst of it here in our worship where we are preparing the way of the Lord.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, as we await the coming of your kingdom, keep us mindful of your teachings. Help us follow your example and walk the way that leads us to truth and life. Keep us ever mindful of the needs of others and incline our hearts to your service that we might be a reflection of your love to people who are lonely and suffering. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.