Saturday, November 28, 2009
Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent (November 29, 2009)
“One of Those Days” (Jeremiah 33:14-16)
With material from Joel D. Biermann in Concordia Journal 35.4, pp.403-4
Have you ever had “one of those days?” You know what I mean. One of those days where one thing after another seems to go wrong. You thought you were getting to the mall plenty early to shop and get those hot deals. But by the time you arrived, the parking lot was packed. You had to park in a space which seemed like it was two miles away from the entrance. You step in a big puddle on your way in and have to slosh around in wet shoes during your entire stay. When you finally get to your favorite store, that special gift you were looking for is already sold out. After a rather disappointing shopping trip, you head back to your car. You developed a nasty blister from walking in those wet shoes. Your head is pounding. Now you can't remember where you parked. When you finally find your car, you find that someone has backed into you They left a nice big dent in your bumper but conveniently forgot to leave a note.
Well, maybe those things haven't exactly happened to you in that order or on the same day, especially if you are one of those individuals (like me) who refuse to leave the house on “Black Friday.” But I'm sure that every one of us, at some point in our life, has had at least one day of constant misfortune … one day of futility. No matter what you did, nothing seemed to go right. You look back on it and say, “That was just one of those days!”
These days often feel like days of futility for reasons other than having a tough day at the mall. Daily we deal with the consequences of living in a fallen, sinful world: disease, disablity, disorder, doubt, and disobedience – others and our own – all bring what seems like futility to our lives. We are tempted to throw up our hands and declare, “Why bother?”
The prophet Jeremiah knew how hard life could be. He was commissioned by God to call the people of Judah to repentance and to face the invasion of the Babylonians and the exile of many of the residents in Babylon. And what did he get for this? Attempts on his life (Jer. 11:21; 12:6). Beatings. Locked in the stocks, with accompanying insults, spitting, kicking, and hair pulling (Jer. 20:2). Falsely accused as a traitor and thrown in prison (Jer. 37). Thrown down a muddy well (Jer. 38:6). You get the picture of a man, up to his neck in mud (as Josephus wrote), looking up from the darkness to the round circle of light far above his head, saying, “Well, it looks like this is another one of those days!”
Jeremiah certainly knew what it was like to have a really bad day. For Jeremiah, every day was “one of those days.” He was an eyewitness to the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. He wrote of his sorrows over this in the Book of Lamentations. That's why Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet.”
But in the midst of his hardships, Jeremiah also knew that God had something wonderful in store. This was the promise: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, 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. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The Lord is our Righteousness.'” Jeremiah yearned for the day when God would finally send this “Righteous Branch” who would spring up from the line of King David. In the meantime, all he could do was endure and wait.
The season of Advent brings us hope and anticipation. We look forward to the warm glow of Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. But Advent also looks beyond the First Coming of Christ to his Second Coming. We know that a Day is coming when Jesus will return and put a final end to this sinful existence … no more temptation, no more trials, no more tears, no more disease, no more death. But all this hope and anticipation does not erase the grim realities of life. Our challenges remain. Our pain still afflicts us. Whatever date the calendar says, it's just another “one of those days.” Like Jeremiah, we endure and wait. It's easy to relate to a guy like Jeremiah when we hear about his suffering.
But maybe we shouldn't so easily relate. Jeremiah's days seemed like days of futility. You and I, on the other hand, are living in the days that Jeremiah longed to see. We live in the days of fulfillment. The promise of the Righteous Branch to come was fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus is that Righteous Branch. Jesus is that royal descendant of David who came as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Zechariah prophesied his royal entrance into Jerusalem with these words: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zec 9:9) The people of Jerusalem sang out to him as he processed down the Mount of Olives, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” And then they echoed the words of the angels at Christ's birth, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
But Jesus turned out to be a different kind of King, one that the people didn't expect. He didn't come to execute justice and righteousness in the land by conquering the Romans, who were the occupying force at that time. No, he executed justice and righteousness by living a holy and righteous life in our place and in the place of all sinners who ever lived. And what did Jesus get for all this? Much like Jeremiah, Jesus was also ridiculed, mocked, beaten, and finally nailed to a cross. The people he came to save executed him. But Jesus was no martyr. Jesus was not caught off guard. This was all a part of God's eternal plan.
Good Friday looked like a really bad day. But it was not just “one of those days.” It was THE day when the sins of the world were paid in full. God's justice over all sin was satisfied in the death of Jesus. And now, by faith in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, his righteousness is given to us as if it were our very own. Jeremiah said the name of this Branch would be called “The Lord is our righteousness.” That is indeed an apt name. He is the Incarnate Lord, God in the Flesh. And he gives us his righteousness as a gift. We have none of our own to claim. We can only claim the righteousness of Jesus.
“Those days” … the days for which Jeremiah hoped and anticipated … are right now. In the light of Christmas and Easter, today is one of those days … not of weary waiting, or dreary routine, or painful endurance, but a day of living in the reality of the promise fulfilled. We are not waiting for God to do something. He has already done it. And he is still doing it, even today. Jesus comes to us today with his grace and forgiveness in spoken words, water, and bread and wine which are his true body and true blood.
Waiting is a big part of our life. We wait at stop lights. We wait in lines at the store. We wait for our orders to arrive from Amazon.com. We wait for news from our doctor about our medical tests. We wait for the electricity to be restored after a winter storm. We wait for those persistent crocuses to push through the crust of the earth to show that winter is almost over. We wait for Christmas morning when we get to see what's inside those pretty packages under the tree.
We are very familiar with what it means to wait through Advent and winter and life. But are you only waiting for what's next? Are you only waiting for God to do something else? Are you only waiting for those better days to come? If so, then you might be missing out on the joy of living in these present moments of grace. We live in the light of the fulfilled promises of which Jeremiah proclaimed. The Righteous Branch, Jesus, has come and is the Lord our Righteousness. Therefore, you and I can learn to live faithfully and joyfully in this present reality.
Today is indeed “one of those days” … not one of those lousy days when nothing seems to go right … but “one of those days” in which God is active and present in our lives with his grace and power … “one of those days” that might have even put a smile on the face of “the weeping prophet.”