The Days are Surely Coming
Sunday, December 1, 2019
Pastor Megan Torgerson
“The days are surely coming”. Is that a promise or a threat? I suppose that all depends on what those days will bring and what that means for you.
On this first Sunday of December, the first Sunday in Advent, the first Sunday of the shopping season, the first Sunday with snow on the ground, it’s hard to ignore that Christmas is coming. But then, if those days are surely coming, we wonder: is that a promise or a threat?
For some of us, it will be such good news. The days are surely coming, and with them the promises of twinkle lights, Grandma’s famous cookies, our favorite carols, and beautiful concerts. We get to see family and friends, we get to share gifts given in love and kindness, we get to light candles against the cold nights and snuggle up by the fire. The days cannot come soon enough.
But for some of us, the days are surely coming, and it’s not good news. For the newly-sober, the Christmas parties and pressure to have a drink in hand will be too much. For those battling an eating disorder, the insistence on another helping – or the teasing about that extra cookie – will bring anxiety. For those trying to manage their thinly-stretched family finances, the reality of Christmas shopping looks more like shame than joy. Whether it’s being forced to listen to another diatribe from your racist uncle at Christmas dinner or facing the empty seat at the table left behind by a loved one recently dead, the days are surely coming, and it feels like a threat.
Some of us wait with excitement, some of us wait with despair, but we all wait. It’s not Christmas – at least, not yet. It is a time of waiting. It is a season of preparation. And you can either wait and see what happens or you can be an active participant in what God is already doing. If we are people of hope, people who anticipate God’s goodness – and we are those people – then we do not merely wait. We work with God as we are on the way together towards the future God desires.
We need the in-between times, the waiting times, whether we expect joyful things or stressful things. We cannot live in a world of instant gratification or self-fulfilling torment. We must wait. We must listen. We must get ready. While we wait, we do.
Today’s reading points God’s people towards a future time. Unfortunately for God’s people, it’s because the time they’re in is awful – filled with more threat than promise. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah received these words from God while he was in prison for telling the people the truth about the effects of their selfish, faithless, unjust lifestyles. They ignored God’s words, trusted themselves over God, valued money over human life, and disregarded God’s constant reminders to care for the poor, the orphan and the widow, and the foreigner. Therefore, judgement is coming. Just like the northern kingdom of Israel before it, the southern kingdom of Judah has fallen, and all that remains is the besieged city of Jerusalem where Jeremiah is imprisoned.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord. God warned that they would be leveled, exiled, destroyed, recipients of the very suffering they brought on so many of the least, last, and lost among them. But thank God, that’s not the end of God’s word. God also promises to love them beyond destruction. “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety,” God promises to them. Better things are coming. Don’t be blinded by the current circumstances. Pay attention. Get ready.
We are meant to be active members of the kingdom of God, preparing this world for the one who comes. When we hear that God will “cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; [who] shall execute justice and righteousness in the land”, we hear it as a promise of our coming Savior. This is good news. But just as we may hear it as a promise, we should also hear it as a threat. Because Christ comes also to reveal us for who we are: desperate, selfish, faithless, powerless, in need of a Savior.
See, when God makes the promise that the people will not be abandoned forever, God also promises that the new order of things will be one of “justice and righteousness”. The world won’t go back to normal after this time of trial. Instead, there will be a whole new normal. And if you’re going to be ready for that day, a day when the hungry have food and children have safe homes and the refugee is treasured as part of the community, then you can’t just wait for it passively. You don’t just wait for God to show up and assume that the old you is ready for the new reality. You work, so you’re ready for that day. Anticipation requires your participation.
This is what the season of Advent is for the church. It’s not just a series of mini-Christmases. In fact, it’s not that at all. Advent is completely its own time, one where we do not just anticipate, we participate. We get ourselves ready to welcome Jesus – yes, with lights and food and songs, but all those things are meant to point us to the real work, the work of reorienting our hearts and minds and lives around a God who calls us to care for the poor and the defenseless and the asylum-seeker. And as we do that, we prepare to receive our God who comes to us as the least of these, a baby, a refugee chased by a tyrant, fragile and small.
And so we do not merely wait. We get ready. The days are surely coming, and we will be prepared. So decorate your tree and send your cards and schedule your parties, but also spend time in silence and meditation and volunteer your time and money to those in need and pray that God would be known among us, because we do not just wait. We get ready. Anticipation requires your participation. The days are surely coming, and we will be ready to meet our Savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.