Sermon for November 29, 2015

Sermon for First Sunday in Advent

November 29, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Jeremiah 33:14-16

Sermon Theme:  “A New Branch; a New Name”

 (Sources: Anderson, Cycle C, Preaching Notebook; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Online Jokes about Small Towns; Funny Names of Towns Online; Introduction to Jeremiah, Concordia Self-Study Bible.)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           Today’s sermon text is a very short, simple, but powerful prophesy from the Prophet, Jeremiah.  Through Jeremiah, God proclaims that He will fulfill the Promise He made, He will cause a Righteous Branch of David to spring up; He will save Judah, and Jerusalem will be safe; and He will give the Holy City of Jerusalem a new name.

This prophesy comes at a time when this capital city of Judah, Jerusalem, is doomed to defeat by the feared Babylonians.  In 605 B.C., the mighty Egyptians were crushed by Babylon, returning to Egypt with heavy losses.  That meant Babylon had a free hand in western Asia for the next 70 years, and could and did terrorize small nations like Judah.  In his prophesy, Jeremiah assures the people God’s Promise, made long ago, will be kept, and he speaks of a new name for Jerusalem.  It will be called “The Lord is our righteousness.”

What difference does it make what a city is called?  Social scientists have found that the name of a city makes a great deal of difference, both positively and negatively.

Years ago, Cincinnati was disparagingly called “The Sin (S-I-N) City,” – that is, until political and social leaders decided the name for their city was not what they wanted, so they cleaned it up, making it more morally pure.

Los Angeles was commonly called “the city of Angels,” which was a wonderful name.  But, in more recent times, L.A. seems to be the opposite of a city of angels – unless you’re talking about “Hell’s Angels.”

I grew up in Dime Box, Texas.  The name is very appropriate considering the size of the town.  A dime is even smaller than a nickel.  It fit all those “You- know-you’re-from-a-small-town-isms.”

You know you’re from Dime Box when the local phone book has only one yellow page.  You know you’re from Dime Box when 3rd Street is on the edge of town.  You know you’re from Dime Box when “A Night on the Town” takes only 11 minutes.  You know you’re from Dime Box when weekend excitement involves a trip to the grocery store.  It may be small, but it was a safe, peaceful, and a caring place to grow up in.

I’ve often wondered why so many American small towns have funny names, like Oatmeal, Texas, and Snook, Texas (which is just a few miles from Dime Box).  Canada has even funnier small-town names, — Skookumchuk, Bristish Columbia, and Punkey-doodles Corner, Ontario.  Like God Himself, the founding fathers of these towns had a sense of humor.

Because Israel and Jerusalem today are living in perilous times, and because we too in America are living in perilous times, we can identify with Judah and Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s day, and the prophesy and promise of God reach us with the same hope and joy Old Testament people received from it.

You know, Jerusalem is anything but safe these last days of 2015.  A holy city to three major world religions, it is divided by religious and ethnic strife.  In recent years, car bombings and homicide bombers have rocked the sense of security of every resident, and in recent weeks, by knife attacks, attackers slashing people to death.  Palestinian families wonder if their home will be bulldozed next.  Israeli households have gas masks at the ready.  Everyone carries a cell phone to be in immediate contact with loved ones in case of an emergency.

Paris is anything but safe these days.  Berlin is not safe.  London is under alert.  Brussels has literally been in lock-down for a week.  That’s not to even mention Syria and other places were battles are raging right now.  America is not safe, — New York City has stayed on high alert since ISIS threatened to blow up Times Square.  Yes, we should be able to empathize with the people of Judah.

Yet, instead of falling to our knees in repentance and lifting up our voices to God in one accord, there is a strange kind of passiveness in our country.  Perhaps it’s because of the fact that, while Judah was one of the smallest and weakest of nations, we are the most powerful nation in the world, and should have no worries.  Perhaps too many folks feel there is no need for God, or that there really is no God.

Our once great nation under God has come to this:  We will celebrate the “winter holidays,” not Christmas.  The government is not allowing manger scenes and Christmas trees in VA hospitals.  Christmas trees in the White House are to be called “Holiday trees.”  The greatest excitement this week seems to have been about the Black Friday mega sales of a couple days ago and the Cyber Monday super sales tomorrow, to celebrate a no-name Christmas by people who could care less about its meaning.

Today’s passage might fall on deaf ears, because many people don’t want to hear about God’s Promise to His people.  The Bible is full of God’s promises.  Some are already answered, some are not yet fulfilled.  Some promises may not be fulfilled for generations or even millenniums, such as the second coming of Christ.  There are many among us who have not been saved and have not found peace.  It is our job as individuals and as the church to spread the good message of today’s text.

The major promise in Jeremiah’s prophesy has been fulfilled,  — “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David.”  That righteous Branch was born in Bethlehem, only six miles from Jerusalem, and He died and arose again in Jerusalem.  The Promise of Christ’s return and ultimate salvation and safety with Him in heaven has not taken place yet, but we live in faith and hope in that Promise.

The picture language Jeremiah uses is very arresting.  The huge tree of David, which will be cut down by Judah’s enemies, will spring up again.  In other words, little shoots or branches will come up from the stump.  The people of Israel were a stump, a cast-off arm after the Assyrian invasion.  God’s promise is to take that stump and grow a new branch.

‘Wait a minute,’ you might think, as I did, ‘I once cut down an ash tree, and soon new shoots were growing out of that stump; however, its roots stopped growing, the shoots shriveled up, and the stump eventually rotted.’

But God’s tree is the Royal Paulownia, or Empress Tree, which is quite different from most trees.  If this particular tree is at least ten years old and well established when it is cut down, the stump will grow a new tree!  In a similar vein, starfish will grow a new arm if one of their arms has been damaged or bitten off.  God’s picture language is quite valid.

Finally, Jeremiah’s prophesy tells us that God will give Jerusalem a new name.  The Holy City, which has such rich symbolism for Jews and Christians alike, will be given a new name, — “The LORD is our righteousness.”  As the NEW Jerusalem, we Christians receive that name, too.

But what does “righteousness” mean?  The new Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus gives 51 synonyms for the word “righteous.”  It can mean “just” and “impartial.”  It can also mean “angelic,” “devout,””good,” “pure,” and “charitable.”  It can also mean “god-like” and “holy.”

For a Christian, it means, in all 51 of its connotations, that by grace through faith in Jesus, Christ’s “righteousness” has been imputed to us.  This righteous Branch of David has been sent to give us His righteousness in spite of the fact that we have lived sinful, evil and unclean lives.  Like Jerusalem, we, too, have a new name, “the Lord is our Righteousness.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.