Magazine article The Christian Century

In Distress

Magazine article The Christian Century

In Distress

Article excerpt

When Jeremiah was writing, Jerusalem was falling apart. Like many of our own cities it had become a place of injustice and violence. The armies of Nebuchadnezzar that had come to besiege the city, Jeremiah told the people, were instruments of God's judgment. "I have hidden my face from this city," God announced through the prophet, "because of all their wickedness." Small wonder that Jeremiah was charged with deserting to the enemy and confined in the court of the guard. So when Jeremiah announced God's promise of a "righteous Branch to spring up for David," he spoke to deeply felt longings, longings that many in our inner cities can feel today.

Yet Jeremiah did not say that things would turn out all right in the end. Instead, the promise specifies that this "branch" will "execute justice and righteousness" in the land, and because of this Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will five in safety. There was no army strong enough to protect Israel when its life was riddled with injustice, just as today there is no security system that will finally protect us when justice is not being done around US.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah promised further defeat. I will strike them down, said the Lord. The enemy will come, and more will die. Strong language! Jeremiah could not say "Don't worry, be happy," for injustice had reached a point at which defeat and suffering were inevitable. But notice that just when the future appeared darkest, Jeremiah gave his most potent and exciting promise. A ruler will come in David's name, and this branch will be called "The Lord is our righteousness." Jeremiah gave evidence of his faith in this future by buying a plot of land from his cousin.

Often in scripture the promises of God come in the most difficult circumstances, as if God intends that we not live by the certainties we see and know. The Psalmist often cries out to God in the midst of intense distress. "To you I lift up my soul," David says, "do not let my enemies exult over me. ...For you I wait all day long."

In Advent we are meant to recall and experience this "waiting for God." We believe that Jesus came to fulfill Jeremiah's promise of the righteous branch. He fed the hungry, healed the sick and gave himself a ransom for sin - in the words of Paul, he became our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). But in one of his last discourses to his disciples Jesus promises that there are events still coming that will be more distressing than those of Jeremiah's time. …

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