>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, November 29, 2009. The text for this week’s message is Jeremiah 33:14-16.

We are going to start a series this week that will run through the season of Advent in which we will look at the Old Testament readings from the lectionary. I think there is so much that we can learn from the Old Testament if we just take the time to sit down and read it. So much of it informs what is going on in the New Testament; and so much of it is overlooked. Before we get to today’s passage, I want to talk a little bit about what Advent is, and then we’ll see what we can learn from Jeremiah 33.
First off, Advent is officially the beginning of the Christian calendar year. So, let me be the first to say it, “Happy New Year!” Okay, it sounds a little weird to be saying that when we still have a couple of days until December, doesn’t it? Regardless, Advent is the beginning of a new year on the Christian calendar. Advent is the time when we prepare and look forward to the birth of Jesus. And I think one of the neat things about spending Advent in the Old Testament readings is that, as we immerse ourselves in these Scriptures, we get a small taste of the eager anticipation of the people of Israel as they, too, waited for their Messiah.
We start today’s passage with a very small, but significant phrase. “Behold, the days are coming….” It doesn’t seem like much on the surface. In fact, if we were reading this passage, we might just skip right over those words and not really think about what they mean, or what was going on when they were said. In fact, we may have read those words a hundred times and never really thought about what they mean, but that would be a mistake, especially as we read the book of Jeremiah. “Why is that?” Well, I’m so glad you asked.
The phrase “the days are coming” is actually a relatively rare phrase in Scripture. It only appears 24 times from Genesis to Revelation. However, fifteen of those occurrences are right here in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a book that has its eye on the future. In fact, Jeremiah seems to have more awareness of what will happen than just about any other book in all of Scripture. And, believe it or not, this is a little different than most of the other prophets.
In the prophets, we often read about what will happen if the people stay on their current path. That’s what most of the prophets are about. It’s more the idea that “if you don’t repent, and if you continue down this path that you are going down, then this is what will happen.” However, Jeremiah is a little different. It is beyond the point of no return. No longer is it about what might happen if the people don’t repent, but what is going to happen because they didn’t repent. Jeremiah is sometimes referred to as the “Prophet of Doom” because he often had bad things to say to the people.
We know by reading through Jeremiah, though, that he was not crazy about this task. It was a difficult task that cost him everything – he didn’t exactly have a great life. When we read about Jeremiah, we see a guy who struggled with his task. It seemed like everyone was out to get him because of his message. At one point, he was even thrown in the bottom of a well. Whenever you have a bad day at work, just remember Jeremiah, and it’ll make you feel a little bit better. Whenever Jeremiah says, “the days are coming,” it is not a warning of what might happen, but a forewarning of what is going to happen. So, what is going on during this time that would make Jeremiah say something like what we see here in chapter 33?
After repeated warnings from other prophets were ignored, and after continuing to fall deeper and deeper into apostasy, the nation was going to be punished. It began in the 8th century B.C. when the northern kingdom, called Israel and consisting of 10 tribes of Israel, was conquered by the Assyrians. About 140 years later, the Babylonians conquered Judah, the southern kingdom. Jeremiah’s ministry took place just before the Babylonians came into Jerusalem and shipped the leadership of the nation to Babylon. In fact, the Babylonians were sitting on the front porch, on the verge of inviting themselves in.
So, when Jeremiah writes these words, the worst hasn’t happened, but everyone knew that it was coming soon. I’ve heard it said that Jeremiah wasn’t saying anything that surprised the people any longer. He was just saying what everyone already knew was going to happen. However, this is where we get into a different side of Jeremiah. Up to this point, he has constantly been earning his reputation as the prophet of doom, but beginning in Jeremiah 30, there is a positive tone to what he is saying. No longer is the message one of “here’s all the bad stuff that is going to happen,” but now, Jeremiah was preaching a message of hope. It’s not about the coming exile, but the restoration that God will bring about after this period of punishment.
There are promises of hope and restoration in these chapters of Jeremiah. The prophet buys a field, even though he knows the land is about to be conquered. He relays God’s promises of a day when the people will come back to the land and both the nation and the land will be restored. Not only will day-to-day life come back to some sense of normal, but the line of David will also be restored. The descendants of David will once again reign on the throne of the nation. So, while everything around them was bleak, Jeremiah gives a message of hope.
Let’s pause here for a minute and think about today’s culture. Where are we today in American society? Are we any better off than the people of Judah were at the time? What message of hope could we use at this point in our history?
There is a relatively new academic discipline, known as Cultural Studies, which is making some headway in the academic world. I’m not going to pretend to be some kind of expert in it, but I did do some reading on it this week. Cultural Studies basically tries to look at the big picture of a culture. It takes into account all sorts of different bits of information, such as pop culture, philosophy, art, political and economic climates, and uses these bits of information to look at the broader picture of a given culture. Now, I know that it sounds unbearably complicated, but realistically, we do this all the time without even thinking about it. We just don’t realize that we are doing it. So, let’s think about it for a minute. What is the state of American culture today?
Let’s start with contemporary pop culture. Compare today’s music with the music of 30 years ago. What’s different? And I don’t mean just the musical styling, but the content of the music. I think it is fair to say that today’s music gets away with a lot more than the music of 30 years ago. I am amazed at the lyrics of some of the songs that play on the radio, especially the music by individuals and groups that are popular with the younger crowd.
How about the movies? Now, I like going to the movies. I’ll see just about anything that has a lot of action and a lot of explosions. But, again, compare them to the movies of 30 years ago. Language is significantly worse than it used to be. For example, M.A.S.H. made waves in 1970 for being the first movie to include a certain curse word. Today, it’s permissible for this same word to be heard in a movie with a PG-13 rating. Trust me, I took a youth group to see a PG-13 movie that used it, with the senior pastor sitting in front of me, and the preschool director sitting right next to me.
At one point a couple months ago, Katie and I were talking about going to see a movie, and when we looked at the listings, there wasn’t a single movie that we wanted to see because most of them could be called “slasher flicks,” which we just don’t like to watch. But I can guarantee you one thing, in spite of the content, or perhaps because of it, those movies sold millions of dollars in tickets that weekend. I don’t think it is unfair to say that movies and music today are more permissible than they were even 20 years ago.
What about our television shows? So many of them not only openly discuss relations outside of marriage, but glorify it. I’m not saying that we should totally shun contemporary culture, but that we need to at least be discerning. We need to know what is going on in the world around us. In fact, we all need to be Cultural Studies scholars to some degree. Because the same people who love the stuff that contemporary culture is producing are the ones who we need to be reaching with the message of the gospel. By being scholars of contemporary culture, we at least have some common ground from which to start the discussion.
What about the world around us? How is it similar to the situation that Jeremiah was facing? Sure, we aren’t in any imminent danger of being conquered and exiled by a neighboring nation, but that doesn’t mean that things are going great. It seems like every time we turn around, we are hearing about a new problem with the economy. How many major industries have turned to the government for a bailout in the last two years? Whether you agree with the bailouts or not, they are reflective of a difficult economic climate in America.
We went from 4.8% unemployment in April 2008 to 9.5% last month. That’s nearly double the number of people who are out of a job in just 18 months. The numbers for the state of Indiana are fairly similar. Let’s bring it closer to home. Right here in Fountain County, we had around 5% unemployment in April 2008, and it was an astounding 11.6% in September, which is actually down from the 15.6% in July. I talked with Yessi Girdler at the Church of God last week, and she said that the food pantry serviced 150 families in just the first two weeks of this month.
Things are looking fairly bleak right now, and it’s not just “out there,” it’s right here in our own community. All of this tells me that we aren’t exactly living in the golden age of American culture, if there really can be such a thing. We may not have an invading army at our capital, but things are not exactly easy in America these days. However, there is hope.
In Jeremiah’s time, it was the promise of the Messiah. In our time, it is the same promise, but seen in a new way. For the people of Jeremiah’s time, they looked forward to the coming Messiah, the offspring of David who would restore the nation of Israel. In our time, we look forward to the return of Jesus. It is a promise that we can read about time and time again in Scripture, and God doesn’t make promises that He doesn’t keep. Every year, at Advent, we remember the fulfillment of God’s first promises of the coming Messiah. In doing so, we also need to remember His promises of the redemption that awaits all creation when Jesus returns and there is a new heaven and a new earth.
One of the realities of living in a world that has been torn down from sin is that promises can sometimes lose their meaning. We have learned that people will let us down. It is inevitable. Whether we mean it or not, we let people down, and they let us down. However, one thing we learn time and time again from reading Scripture is that God doesn’t let us down. God does not fail to uphold His promises. Perhaps that is a new concept for us. We may not understand why God does what He does, or why things happen the way they do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t trust in God. And really, that’s what faith is about. It’s not about understanding God; it’s about trusting in God.
So, in this Advent season, as we get caught up in all the different places we need to be to gather with friends and family and all the running back and forth, as we are standing in the ridiculously long lines at the stores or sitting in the traffic that seems crazier than normal, let’s remember that God has made us a promise of redemption. Let us remember that there is a reason behind all the craziness of the season. Let us remember God’s promises and trust in Him.