(sermon note: 12-03 sermon note)
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil 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.’
For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt-offerings, to make grain-offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man in Germany who went into a confession booth one day. He confessed, “Please forgive me, father, for I have sinned.” The priest responded, “What is your sin my child?” The man replied, “During WWII, I took in a Jewish man and hid him in my attic.” The priest exclaimed, “Good sir, that is not a sin at all! That was a righteous deed you took upon yourself. You should be proud of your actions!” The man hesitated for a moment and said, “Well…I had him pay rent.” The priest simply stated, “That isn’t the most Christian thing to do. However, it is not a sin.” The man then smiled, feeling cleared of all wrongdoing. He got up to leave, but then paused once more and asked, “Father?” “Yes, my child?” “Do I have to tell him that the war is over?”
Hmmm…over 80 years of unfairly charging that poor man rent seems a little unrealistic! Surely, he would have caught on to the war being over by now! Nothing like a little dark humor to start the day off. Kind of like dark coffee…oh, so bitter yet surprisingly wakening! Well, that man’s initial act of kindness in housing that unfortunate Jewish man was, indeed, the right thing to do and deserves accolades. Heaven knows the Jewish community suffered greatly during the 2nd World War and any act of kindness was a righteous act indeed. No matter what your beliefs are on anti-Semitism, whether you believe the Jewish community deserved the atrocities leading up to and during that war, the Jewish community of Europe endured great suffering and we, as Christians, are called to comfort ALL who are afflicted. As the prophet, Micah, so succinctly tell us, we are to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” (6:8) In other words, we are to live righteously, always doing what’s right for ourselves, our neighbor, and our God. I suppose that old Jewish man would have had to pay rent, if not a mortgage, all his adult life anyway but necessarily to the same sneaky person. That’s where the injustice lies in that situation. We all have to pay some sort of “rent” for living in this world. We all give up something to live in this world whether we like it or not. And it has nothing to do with freedom. Even the freest among us give up something…dignity?…control?…time?…privacy? No, we all give up something to live in this world. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. We might have to give up something, but it can be in exchange for something good or joyful. We can know great goodness and joy in this world. What we give up can be miniscule in comparison to what we gain. Oh, the goodness and joys of this world! This is a good world…perhaps more accurately, it can be a good world. Remember this world began as a great garden wherein all life flourished and all needs were met. Sin entered this world and corrupted it but that doesn’t mean it was always a part of this world. Nor does it mean that it always must be a part of this world. We just haven’t figured out how to get rid of it yet. But we’re a clever people, it’s only a matter of time. Have faith in US and our ability to solve the mysteries of this world. Sin and suffering are great mysteries to us…for now. I have complete confidence that we will eventually figure out the purpose of sin and suffering and then figure out how to live without them. Friends, we WILL return to that great garden one day and we won’t be so easily tricked out of it. And I’m not simply referring to our heavenly home. This world will change, WE will change…these are two inevitable certainties.
Now then, we’ve once again strayed from our reading for today. Or have we? I think the prophet, Jeremiah, offered the Israelites, and us, similar words of hope. Heck, “hope” is the theme word for this 1st Sunday of Advent. It is a time of the year that is dedicated to offering hope. In these weeks leading up to Christmas, we await the birth or rebirth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And alongside his birth we are, too, are reborn. Our relationships with God and each other are renewed and replenished. Jesus will teach us how to live well and in right relationship. He will teach us how to live as Micah would have us live, continually doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly. And he won’t just teach us how to live, he’ll show us how to live. He’ll talk the talk AND walk the walk as we’ll reflect on the months ahead. For now, we simply celebrate his coming to us; his birth for those who have yet to know him and his rebirth for those who thought they knew him. Yes, Jesus not only talked the talk, but he also walked the walk and continues to talk the talk and walk the walk. We live in that great paradox. We know he lived 2,000 years ago; we hope for his return every year at Christmas, and we believe he is already among us every day. How can he exist in the past, present, and future? It sounds awfully paradoxical! No, it’s not paradoxical…it’s God! God exists in the past, present, and future!
In just a few weeks, Jesus WILL come to execute justice and righteousness in all the land, just as Jeremiah foretold. We can place our hope and trust in this. He is the embodiment of righteousness. All he says and does is RIGHT! If we but trust in him, we can rejoice in our righteousness. 1 John tells us, “if you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.” (2:29) We simply believe in him and welcome him into our hearts with gladness. When we do that, we become righteous before God and each other. Psalm 106 says, “happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.” (v. 3) There is great joy to be found in being righteous! Just listen to the prophet Isaiah, “those who walk righteously and speak uprightly, who despise the gain of oppression, who wave away a bribe instead of accepting it, who stop their ears from hearing of bloodshed and shut their eyes from looking on evil, they will live on the heights; their refuge will be the fortresses of rocks; their food will be supplied, their water assured. Your eyes will see the king in his beauty; they will behold a land that stretches far away.” (33:15-17)
We all have to give up something to LIVE in this world! Righteousness demands sacrifice but it also blesses life, true life. Let us await the coming of our Lord with eager hope and anticipation. God is good, most especially to us. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.