The Days of Hope…Pastor Donna Doutt – Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:5-19
As you consider the world and its people, what is it that makes you weep? Is there anything that breaks your heart that tears you apart with either outrage or sorrow? Something that shatters all you believe in, and crushes your hope?
Our first lectionary reading this morning is from the book of Jeremiah, one of the greater prophets of scripture. Many of the prophets in the Bible are stereotyped as angry people who devote their lives to shaming and scolding others. But not Jeremiah. Of course, his job was to forewarn his people to the reality of what was going to happen in the event of God’s wrath. And he did just that, but it crushed his spirit to do it. It wasn’t happy news that he spoke to them, and he took no pleasure in it. He didn’t gloat with glee and say, “I told you so.” His heart was broken over the slaughter he knew was to come.
Jeremiah felt deep love and affection for his nation. That’s why he was so deeply broken when he realized exactly how sinful his people were, and the judgement he saw coming created a sense of anguish in him.
Biblical scholars believe that Jeremiah wrote his own namesake book of the Bible but also that of Lamentations. One of my Bible commentaries refers to Jeremiah as the “weeping prophet” because he represents a true messenger of the Lord who agonizes over the pain and suffering he can foresee.
And it did go badly. The nation of Judah is taken captive, dragged from their land, deprived of their opportunity to worship in their own temple. They are beaten, taken prisoner and face death as a people. Like Jeremiah who weeps for them with a broken heart, they cry out to God in anger and despair. They thought it was the end of times as they knew it. They were without hope.
Our scripture from Jeremiah today begins with “THE DAYS are surely coming…”
Almost all of the stories of Jeremiah have to do with the destruction of the nation of Judah and particularly the destruction of Jerusalem. But Jeremiah envisioned a restoration of the city and a return to joy and prosperity. And he tries to reassure them, and give them hope.
God has decreed, “THE DAYS are surely coming—‘when I will keep the promise I made to the families of Israel and Judah. When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right. That’s when Judah will be secure and Jerusalem live in safety. The motto for the city will be, “God Has Set Things Right for Us.”
“THE DAYS ARE SURELY COMING…” This is God’s promise to his people. THE DAYS OF HOPE are surely coming.
Our scripture from Luke this week also talks about “THE DAYS.” Verse 5 tells us, “When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, THE DAYS WILL COME when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Another apocalyptic prediction.
Verse 7 continues, “They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And Jesus tells them, 9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
Let me ask you this:Who remembers what you were doing on September 11, 2001? Did you hear it from a friend, the radio, or were you watching it on TV as it all played out in horror before us?
Who remembers the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 that killed 230,000 souls?
Do you remember the images of those struggling to survive from the rooftops of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?
How about the Camp Fire? The deadliest in California history, killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings. The blaze wiped out about 90 percent of Paradise, California and left tens of thousands of people homeless.
For all we know we could be living in the end of times. Every generation goes through this.
In this Luke scripture today, Jesus speaks of the destruction of the temple.But here’s something really interesting…as Jesus continues his instruction, he tells them, “12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.
“This will give you an opportunity to testify.” So is it that we must suffer first to be able to present empowering testimony?
What kind of testimony does a faithful person give in the face of death, betrayal, and the execution of loved ones? Most of us are accustomed to testimonies that praise God for good times, good things, blessings of redemption, healing, rescue, and salvation. What kind of testimony does one give in the face of great suffering and great hatred?
Mary Shawn Copeland is a Professor Emeritus of Theology at Boston College. She’s done some powerful writing about suffering and how that same suffering can provide an opportunity to testify to the hope of God’s love for us.
She writes, “Suffering always means pain, disruption, separation, and incompleteness. It can render us powerless and mute; push us to the borders of hopelessness and despair. The opportunity to testify during times of destruction, in part, the audacity to muster courage in the face of fear, the boldness to speak in the face of suffering. Great suffering changes some people and defeats others, but for those who endure, their very souls are gained.Suffering provides an opportunity for those who have been changed to tell of their hope.”
Just as God promised the people of Judah, THE DAYS of HOPE are surely coming. This is what Jesus was teaching in the Luke scripture of today.
As we observe this first Sunday in Advent, we mark THE DAYS differently from those who romp through the month of December as a countdown to Christmas, extravagant gift-giving, and the anticipation of champagne and hats and noise makers at end of the year.
Many of you may not know this, but for the church, and the Christian year, today…this first Sunday of Advent… is our new year. It begins with today. While many count December as the end of the year, for us it is a new year and a special and scared time that begins with the birth of Christ.
In a few short weeks, we will remember scripture from Luke 2:1 that says, “And it came to pass in those days…”
God began fulfilling the hopes of his people in a way that caught them off guard. No one would have guessed that this tiny baby, born to this poor, working class family was the answer to all of their hopes. The people thought their Messiah would come as a mighty savior warrior from their ranks. Never would they have thought this newborn was going to be their salvation.
God’s answer to humanity’s problem began in the least expected and least visible way. That story begins, “In those days…” And the birth of a child follows, a child who is the Son of God, who was sent here to give us hope.
But God had come to us, just as Jeremiah predicted. He is faithful to his promises, and He is the basis of all our hopes. The hope that Jesus gives to the world does us no good unless we accept him as our hope. We need to let Jesus live in us.
As we light our first Advent candle, we symbolize HOPE.
I think about the people who were crying to Jeremiah for hope, placing their faith in God. Then in Luke, we read story after story of people seeking hope. We hear about the demons cast out in Capernaum, the healing of lepers, the paralyzed, the blind, the deaf, the lame the deformed. We know that he raised the dead: Jairus’ daughter; the widow of Nain’s son; his beloved friend, Lazarus; Tabitha of Joppa. All people of hope. The crowds that followed Jesus. They placed their hope in the miracles that Jesus brought before them.
Our baby Jesus grows into a man and declares, “Luke 4:18-19 (NRSV) 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I long for THE DAY when all who call themselves Christians… who profess the love of Jesus Christ… remember to live for Jesus.
THE DAY is here when we have received with the birth of Jesus, a living hope that’s real to us every day. It’s living thing because Jesus is alive and offers to transform our hearts, minds, and actions daily. Jesus renews our hope when we seek him. And we seek Him here each and every Sunday, and hopefully you continue to seek Him each and every day of your life.
One of my commentaries says this about Advent, and our season of hope: “At Advent, God’s people summon the courage and the spiritual strength to remember that the “holy” breaks into the “daily.” Advent is not a season for passive waiting and watching. It is a season of wailing and weeping, of opening up our lives and our souls with active anticipation and renewed hope. “
I hope and pray that each one of you will remember that we are in a holy season, not just on Sundays, but on every day of this month until we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Let’s all please use this time to find in our lives the hope, peace, joy, and love that we can experience in our love of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
 M. Shawn Copeland, “Wading through Many Sorrows: Toward a Theology of Suffering in Womanist Perspective,” in A Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil and Suffering Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993), 109.
 Feasting on the Word, Advent Companion. P.ix