(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol.. 23, Part 1, Series C; orginal ideas; orginal introduction; Brokhoff, Woprkbook, Series C; Ideas for Illustrating, Concordia Pulpit)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you ever notice how everything in the world goes in cycles? Last Sunday was the last Sunday of the church year. This Sunday, Advent begins the new Church Year, which of course is cyclic. And so is the secular year, which will end December 31 and the new Year begin January 1.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that the leaves of our trees are now turning yellow, orange and brown, they are dying and falling to the ground. In the Spring, new leaves will bud out on those bare branches.
People we have known for many years pass away and are no longer with us. Our parents sell their home and move into assisted living. People who were once so young are now wrinkled and gray. We retire from a job we have done all our lives, and we feel empty. Our knees have to be replaced and still we have trouble walking.
The beauty of Jeremiah’s message in our sermon text is that it announces God’s deliverance from this cycle of change, death, and decay. “The days are coming,declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah saw that in the righteous Branch from David’s line, in Christ, the cycle of change, decay and death would be defeated. “Those days” to come would not just be more of the same old, but would be entirely new and never become old.
In Christ, there is that which is new and wonderful and unchanging — life forever in His redeeming death and His glorious resurrection. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Jesus who was seated on the throne in Revelation 21:5 said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
We are all a part of the cyclic nature of the world after the Fall of Adam and Eve, and each of us is shaken up and stressed out by different developments in our own lives, whether it is retiring from a job, or having to move into assisted living, or facing cancer treatments, or graduating from high school and agonizing over where to go next. Such things as these really shake up our lives.
Jeremiah would undertand our condition. He was shaken by a number of things in his world. First, God had called him to be a prophet and to speak God’s Word in a time when people refused and resented God’s messengers. At least twice there were attempts on his life. The refusal and violent reaction to his message caused him great anguish.
Serving as a pastor can be a lonely and stressful calling, and when the people work against you, and want you to leave, as we have seen in our own circuit churches, the stress level becomes almost unbearable. The center of a pastor’s life is his vocation, and so he can really be shaken by tension and rejection.
But not only was Jeremiah’s life shaken up by this inner turmoil, his world on the outside was about to collapse. The Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar, were about to conquer Jerusalem and enslave its population. The great Temple, the glory of Jerusalem, was about to be flattened, destroyed. So, as he faced great violence and destruction, Jeremiah was at the crossroads of his inner and outer world.
His duty as prophet was to announce that all of this was going to happen, and that this would happen because the people had so completely rejected the God who had given them the land, the temple, Zion, and Jerusalem. You talk about being shaken up and your world being turned upside down!! You talk about despair!
Into the violence and destruction of such a shaken world, God sends wonderful words of hope and life to be spoken through his prophet Jeremiah. Oh, how the people needed to hear these words of hope and joy. Speaking through Jeremiah, the Lord says, “Behold, the days are coming 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.”
This promise of hope that Jerusalem which had experienced violence, blood-shed anguish, and enslavement would once again dwell in security and enjoy the blessings God would lavish upon her. This great reversal would be brought about by the presence of the one who would bring justice and righteousness. David’s seed, Jesus, fulfills this wonderful prophesy precisely as Jeremiah promised.
This righteous branch of David is described so beautifully in our opening hymn: “Behold, a Branch is growing of loveliest form and grace. As prophets sung, foreknowing; it springs from Jesse’s race, and bears one little flower in midst of coldest winter, at deepest midnight hour.”
In the bleakest of times, amid destruction and bloodshed, comes this promise made to Israel and Judah and to us. It’s a bottom line promise, because it says even if we lose everything, including our earthly life, Christ’s death on the cross has bought us first class accomodations in heaven.
I can’t help but think of the incredible story behind the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.” Horatio Spafford wrote this inspiring hymn after all of his children perished in a ship wreck. His wife and children (one was only two years old) had gone ahead of him on a ship to France, the ship sank, and though his wife survived, all the children were drowned. After he heard the news, he thought, “My children do not still lie in the depths of the ocean, no, they are safe in the Father’s arms, and i will see them again, for it is well with their souls.”
He wrote our sermon hymn which opens like this, “When peace like a river attendeth my soul, when sorrow like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’
That’s Jeremiah’s message of hope for us on this first Sunday in Advent. Because Jesus loved me enough to give His life for me, “It is well with my soul! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.