Scriptures: Jeremiah 33: 14-16 and Luke 21:25-36
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
What, exactly, is redemption? If we look at it through the lens of Jeremiah’s passage today, it is nothing less than salvation in the form of restoration of the Davidic monarchy and a restored Jerusalem, renamed, “The Lord is our Righteousness.” At the time of the prophet’s words, the ruling class and the royal families in Jerusalem had been deported to Babylon. Jeremiah speaks out of hope for a future that looks radically different from their current reality.
However, before the end of the prophet’s writings, the Temple in Jerusalem, indeed Jerusalem itself, will be utterly destroyed and the rest of the people, including Jeremiah, will be uprooted and resettled at the whim of the Babylonian Empire.
For the next 500 years of Jewish history, much happens to this scattered people. Eventually, under Siris the Great of Persia (yet another empire that eventually replaced the Babylonian Empire) a brief restoration of “home rule” is granted to an Israelite remnant, who travel “home” to rebuild their city. Finally a Temple is rebuilt and dedicated for God’s Holy Name.
This Second Temple is the one that remains present, with some remodeling by King Herod, up through the time of Jesus. But think of it from the Israelite perspective. At the time of Jesus they have their Temple, sure, but they are still a subjugated people, no longer have home rule, no longer have any political clout in the land, indeed really no land of their own at all.
“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. 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” (Jeremiah 33:14-15).
I can only imagine all of this is playing like constant background music in the minds and hearts of a hopeful people: Israel wants to be their own sovereign people again, with their own land returned to them: the way it used to be in what they saw as their golden age of King David. Redemption, in that sense, is actually somewhat akin to a cry for justice in the form of political revenge.
I suspect, however, that kind of redemption is not of God. Perhaps, just perhaps, our once and future king – the Son of Man and Prince of Peace – has a very different understanding of redemption.
Recall words from our lesson two weeks ago: The Son of David whom Jeremiah saw with a far-reaching hopeful gaze, himself gazes down across the square at the Temple, and speaks another prophesy that takes place only 40 short years later: “Not one stone will be left atop another, they will all be cast down.”
Let’s put on a different lens. In one sense, yes, Advent is about redemption. In another sense, Advent is very much about righteousness. Recall, too, my suspicion that for us and our present world conflicts, the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 symbolized not just a tearing into of the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of Temple worshipers, but a deconstruction of the barriers we as humans tend to build between all people.
Advent is the season that we use to help us prepare for our redemption that does come as a child (or better yet, THE Child) yes; but redemption is not fulfilled with Christmas. Redemption is a complete and utter restoration of the Kingdom of God – in radical ways we cannot even fathom from this side of humanity’s fallenness. Christ comes, yes, Christ eternally comes to everyone, in many different ways and at many different times, each time inviting us – willing us to open our hearts and believe.
Why? Because, in the eschaton, they will see “’the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory,” (v. 27) and that is a different story. According to the text, “it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.” The scripture goes on, asking us to “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (v. 35-36).
So how can we appropriate this apocalyptic message from our Savior? Commentator Wesley D. Avram writes, “Luke wrote with a deep and growing sense that Christian discipleship is a kind of living in between— aware of Jesus, waiting for Jesus, and coming to know this Jesus for whom we wait in the midst of an eventful, unpredictable, even tumultuous world, waiting to stand before him, yet not always knowing where he is.”
He goes on to write, “And with this the church begins a new year, asked to begin afresh, not just on a calendar, but in individual hearts, in relationships, in congregations, and in our yearning for a promise worth living for. Hearers of this passage are bidden to live lives of faithful, active waiting in the meantime because they hear again the name of the One who holds them in the ending time.”
A new year, a new chance to become who we are bidden to be. As we wait, let us lift up our hearts and open them for the Voice of the One who lived, died, and rose again for us; for it is at times like these that we indeed need a Savior, and indeed, a saving message can be heard, if we are primed to listen with all of our beings.
Amen? May it be so.
 Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.