Jer. 33: [10-] 14--16 [suggested]
Thus said the LORD: Again there shall be heard in this place, which you say is ruined, without man or beast-- (10) ...sheep shall pass again under the hands of one who counts them-- said the LORD. (13) Verses 10--13 place today's text in context: the land is desolate, without people or animals. But that will change, God promises; "the good old days" shall be restored.
The promises or prophecies of God do not exist out of context. Jeremiah speaks to the Israelites after the destruction of Jerusalem and the people are on their way to (or are already in) captivity. In what state do we need to be in order to hear the prophecy of God?
Ch. 33 has a series of promises by God, and the entire chapter contains no "if you..." clause, as Deuteronomy does. These promises are unilateral and unconditional: they will(1) occur. See, days are coming-- declares the LORD-- when I will fulfill the promise that I made concerning the House of Israel and the House of Judah. (14) God just did not say when.
Are these promises to be understood in the physical, historical sense? Do they really involve the land, people and animals? Is the true branch of David's line (15) only another, stronger king who will restore the nation? The language certainly supports that conclusion. In those days Judah shall be delivered and Israel shall dwell secure. And this is what she shall be called: "The Lord is our Vindicator." (16) But can the promises be understood in another sense-- metaphorical or, perhaps, spiritual? If so, how do we re-interpret these words so that they do not merely refer to some person in Jeremiah's or Israel's future?
One thing is certain: all the promises-- within this chapter, at least-- must be read in the same light: either historical or spiritual. They were not assembled and connected without purpose; they all have a common context and point toward a single future. We may not pick and choose to suit our purpose or tradition.
[D]ays are coming... In those days... at that time... In those days.... (14..16) The initial impact of these words is ominous, foreboding: Doomsday, dies irae, is coming. And, indeed, it is. Forewarned is forearmed; never forget it. You had better be ready.
But the Prophet radically shifts our mental state-- three times!-- with prophecies of a better future: of restoration, justice, peace. Why such disparity of language? Just to get our attention? To get us to pay closer attention? To imply that there is more to these words than mere promises of God? Why does the Prophet think it necessary to shake our senses so hard? Does it have something to do with the message? Or with us, and our mind-set?
Christian tradition has long interpreted this portion of Jeremiah's prophecy as pointing to Jesus. Have these verses been wrenched out of the context of Ch. 33? Does the rest of the chapter support this singular interpretation? Or are we possibly-- just possibly-- missing something? Do we need to be severely jolted in order to see the truth and fullness of God's promises?
This is the first Sunday of Advent. What are we expecting to come? Jesus? Or the fulfillment of all of God's promises? Or even more than that? [M]y God, in You I trust; (2) says the Psalmist. Does this indicate the Advent of something more, larger, greater even than Christ?
- O LORD, I set my hope on You; (1)
O let none who look to You be disappointed; (3)
O LORD, be mindful of Your compassion
and Your faithfulness (6).
Yet this distinction may arise only from our own selfishness. The Psalmist and Prophet both knew that God's blessings for individual and nation are interdependent. The people cannot truly be blessed until every single person is, and the individual's full blessedness cannot occur apart from the entirety of God's children.
Yet, is that not the Advent Jeremiah foresees? Is that not the basis for the Psalmist's trust and hope? Does not the realization of all God's promises surpass the birth of a man-child in a dark and dirty stable? If Jesus' birth is all that we are looking forward to, then our hopes are in the past and we are fools, waiting for what has already happened. But Advent is yet "to come"!
- Before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes,
I will set portents in the sky and on earth:
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke;
The sun shall turn into darkness
And the moon into blood. (Joel 3: 3--4)
Most of us do not even think about the great and terrible day of the Lord.(3) We get up in the morning, have our day's business, meals and pleasure, then go to bed, devoid of thought or expectation of the second Advent. And maybe-- just maybe-- that is why the Lord delays....