Today we begin to prepare for the birth of Emmanuel, of God being with us. The assigned passage from the Hebrew Scriptures is taken from the writings of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived during a time of great insecurity. His writings were meant to calm the people’s insecurities. The threat of and the actual destruction of Judah was imminent. Particularly the future of city of Jerusalem was a real concern. Things were anything but secure and the anxiety of the Jewish people was high. And Jeremiah tells of God’s promises to a frightened people. He says in the end, God will bring a safe, just, and peaceful future. Jeremiah tells the people of God’s promise to protect and restore God’s people. It is a promise of comfort and a source of hope.
Listen now for Jeremiah’s message to God’s people found in Jeremiah 33:14-16.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 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. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I looked righteousness up in the dictionary. It is one of those words we use all the time and if someone asked us its meaning we would have to describe it in terms of what is looks like or how it presents itself or what it is not. The dictionary said it means morally right or justifiable and virtuous or very good and excellent. And, I believe that those words are a part of the description, but not all. Being righteous is more than being very good. To the person of faith, it also has to do with living so others know the ethic of God. Righteous people are faith filled people who live out their lives as examples of their faith.
Jeremiah starts our Advent with the statement that the ‘Days are surely coming says the Lord….. This is a statement that was meant to calm people’s fears about the future. Jeremiah’s message is that what is now might be bad but what is coming is of God. The people should have confidence that even though things look awful now, God and God’s will will prevail. God is with us… we are never alone.
And this good future will involve this thing called ‘righteousness’.
This is probably why the passage is used for the first Sunday in Advent as we reset our direction, our focus, and prepare for Christmas. After all Advent is a time of waiting of anticipating, and in trusting in a promised future where God will be with us. And the promised future will involve God’s ethic, God’s call for justice and righteousness to come to earth. Righteousness….. just as Jeremiah promised it in his time of failed leadership and morality, it is also one of the first words of our Advent and it is the word used for Jesus’ ethic. John the Baptist used it in the Gospel of Matthew to describe the person of Jesus. At Jesus’ baptism, John said that Jesus was the fulfillment of righteousness.
We the people of the Hebrew and New Testaments, we follow a God of righteousness. And by following God, that means we live out and serve as examples of God’s nature. This means we are to strive to conduct ourselves in accordance with God’s purposes. We are to do good things. Doing Good things is doing God things. And following a God of righteousness means living out an ethic of promoting just and loving relationships.
Some say we are living in a dark age where caring for the needs of the self-have trumped the needs of the community as a whole. No wonder we approach Advent with a longing for a better time when peace will come on earth and there will be good will toward all God’s children. Living in times like ours can lead to near despair. But, near despair makes for a creative moment. When things seem dark, we begin to imagine a new world where all can live together in safety, peace, and righteousness. It might feel dark now but there really are flickers of light where righteousness is popping up. Much was said this past week on social media about the treatment of the immigrants tear gassed at our boarders. But out of that, groups of Christians going to the southern borders of our country to be welcoming witnesses to the immigrants who are arriving there. It is actually a fertile time for good will and righteousness to be blossoming in our world.
And these acts of goodness sometimes do not make headlines but are equally impressive and witness to a movement of justness and love.
One Presbyterian minister wrote in her blog: On election night last month, I was flying home and waiting for my connecting flight in the bustling Atlanta airport. I sat alone eating my dinner, watching pundits predict outcomes, seeing the ‘breaking news’ banner when polls closed. I looked forward to being obliviously in the air when definitive numbers were announced. I wondered if my hope for a less politically divided live together bordered on delusional. Behind me sat a woman working on her laptop. A young man in a janitor’s uniform came to empty the trash can adjacent to the woman’s table. She struck up a conversation with him. Her accent revealed her home before she told him she was from Minnesota. She asked him if he was in school. No. He had to work. He had a son on the way. “How exciting,” she proclaimed. “You have no idea how much your heart will expand.” She had an 18 month-old at home, she said. They chatted and eventually she got the young man’s name and address so that she could send him the baby clothes her son had outgrown. “Nothing fancy,” she said. “But good for everyday.” He thanked her, told her to have a safe flight. She wished him well. They went back to their respective work.
And the minister continued in her blog, I got up to go to my gate but not before stopping to thank the lady with the thick Minnesota accent. I told her I was moved by her kindness. She said, “We need to be kind to each other.” As the “breaking news” boomed about red and blue races, I agreed. Neither earth or heaven shook, nothing went dark, but a small exchange brought about a seismic shift in my attitude. Their shared humanity bolstered my faith and gave a glimpse of love and unity that is too often unseen.
I believe each of us can be the glimpse of love and unity that is hoped for each year at this time. As people of faith that celebrate God with us, we are indeed the branch of righteousness that can take root and blossom branches of righteousness this world needs so dearly. It is our call individually and as a group called Riviera to witness this justice to the world. And perhaps you are called to big ministries of peace and reconciliation like the people headed to the border to welcome the foreigners as we welcome the Christ child at Christmas. But I think that the small acts of love and kindness can start a movement as well. Just like the young woman from Minnesota, you can be a witness to God being with us in your small acts of love as well.
In a few minutes we will share communion with each other. In communion we are nourished spiritually and sent out to be God’s witness to a hurting world. Nourished and empowered by the belief that God is with us, we participate in bringing about God’s realm on earth. By our small or large acts of generosity, of kindness, and of modeling Christ’s commandment to love others as we love ourselves, we are the righteous branch that is growing on earth. I am handing out a calendar called the Advent of Kindness. I invite you to place it somewhere you will see in every day this month. You don’t have to do the acts of kindness in a specific order, and you can do more than one a day. But, let’s see how we feel about welcoming Christ again this Christmas when we cultivate and allow to grow that righteous branch of virtue and love. I believe, in doing so, we will truly be able to welcome Immanuel… God with us. The last item on the Advent of kindness list is to reflect how much joy this season of kindness has brought you. Let’s make it happen! Amen.