This sermon was preached on the first Sunday of advent, taking the text of Jeremiah Chapter 33:1-16. It’s a good idea to read that first, and have it alongside you as read this post.
We were thinking last week about the power of promises – especially those made by world leaders, and how some have been responding by making promises of our own. Promises are, of course, only as good as the person who makes them. They are as reliable or unreliable as you and I are. The same is true of Advent, the season in the church’s year which we are now in. It’s a season of hope, expectation and promise – and that promise is only as good as the one who’s making them. Which is why the promises made by God in Jeremiah 33 are a good place to start.
God is speaking through his servant Jeremiah here – so He starts by establishing His credentials for making promises which can be trusted. The one who’s speaking is the author and creator of what we see around us (v2). That’s significant – the community Jeremiah was speaking to understood the world to have been bought into being by the words of God. This isn’t an issue of science and how, technically, the world came to be. The imagery of the Bible is consistent – that God’s words achieve something. So In Genesis 1 “God said ‘Let there be light’, and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). On it went – earth, stars, trees, plants, animals all bought into being by the words of God. Other prophets picked up on this – Isaiah reminds us that God’s words always get something done:
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
These, then, are God’s credentials for making a promise. His words aren’t just words, they get stuff done. What’s more it’s this God whose words speak planets into being, whose words establish truth, who invites people in. This is the God who says: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jer 33:3). We are accustomed to power and knowledge keeping the rest of us at a distance – whether it’s behind the ivory towers of the academic or the tinted windows of power. This God is quite different – He invites questions, requests, searching. Need wisdom? Ask. Need provision? Ask. Need healing? Ask. Need direction? Ask.
So confident of God’s desire to meet with us, we move on. But the next section of Jeremiah’s prophesy brings up short. This is a God who wants to bring people back to Himself – and He will use all the changing scenes of life to do it. The graphic and disturbing pictures of Jeremiah 33:4-5 should cause us to pause. If God’s people are to be an example to the world of what it looks like for God to deal with people, then that has aspects that are hard too. Living a way other than God chooses has consequences that are hard – and while He may not desire death and suffering, its a consequence of bad choices. The worst news would be, though, if the suffering were empty and pointless. It isn’t. Left to itself, it is pointless. Given back to God, used as a means and a provocation to seek him afresh, it becomes a blessing not a curse. Whether the suffering is our fault or not (in this passage the suffering is the fault of those to whom it’s addressed, but of course that’s by no means always the case), handed back to it becomes a means to draw closer to Him, an opportunity to seek Him afresh. His desire is to restore (Jeremiah 33:6-13), and He will. There will be community and family and marriage and economic life (the sheep and the shepherd, the bride and groom mentioned speak of these things); and the result will be joy-filled worship (33:11).
So to the promise itself. It must be important – it’s an exact repeat of the promise made in Jeremiah 23:5-6. The language is odd, picking up on David. David – the revered king, the giant slayer, a good and righteous man. The promise of God is that there will be one in David’s biological line, of the same stuff as him (the ‘branch’ of 33:15), but this time a truly righteous one. Why? Well, however great a king David was, he was still a murderer and adulterer. One who knew he was forgiven, to be sure, but still a broken man. Even the best of kings wasn’t righteous – so God would need to send one who really was righteous. When that happened, God’s people would truly be saved (33:16), they would be truly righteous. It could only come from a man born into the muck and mess of humanity – taking it on, but transcending and transfiguring it. He was to come in Bethlehem, and come to all people.
This post is adapted from the notes of a sermon I preached at St Peter’s, Mowbray, Cape Town on Sunday 2nd December 2012. It’s not an exact text of the sermon as I don’t preach from a full text. The sermon was not recorded.