O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Rising out of Despair
Rising out of Despair
Based on Jeremiah 33:14-16
Preached on December 02, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, you who have been given a living hope, Happy New Year! That's right, the first Sunday of Advent is the first day of the Church Year. Today is the day Christians begin a new year - a new year in Jesus! Today we begin again living the life of our Lord, walking through the life of Jesus, which He has made our own in baptism. His life is our life, His seasons are our seasons. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. Happy New Year! A very blessed and happy New Year in Jesus to you.
Now what better way could our Lord begin His New Year with us than with the topic and focus of the first Sunday of Advent. Hope. Yes, this is how our Lord begins His work. By giving us hope. By promising that while things are not perfect for us, while they may even drive us to despair at times, there is always hope in Him. It is His first message. His first gift of the year, because He doesn't want there to be even a single moment in your life where you cannot find certainty in Him. He doesn't want you experiencing the hollowness of doubt or the pit of despair. So He fills even those places with the soft, steady glow of His hope. Hope is the first gift of Advent, the first glimmer of light.
The words of hope we hear from the prophet Jeremiah this morning, would have struck his original audience in a powerful way. The people of God that first heard Jeremiah's words did not simply say, "Oh, that's good." They did not hear his words and think, "Ok good, because I was beginning to worry." They did not receive his words and say to each other, "Well this is certainly something to look forward to." These people faced horrors on all sides. They didn't think that God would ever have mercy on them again. For they and their king had abandoned God and turned to idols. They no longer worshipped Him, but worshipped foreign gods. They forgot His Word and began practicing all kinds of wickedness, and when God sent prophets to call them to repentance, they treated them shamefully and killed them. Famines had begun to ravage the land. The Babylonian army surrounded Jerusalem, and God had told them that He would not protect them - that they would be conquered, their streets would be plundered and those who survived would be taken away to a foreign land, as their words and actions demanded. This period of Biblical history into which Jeremiah spoke marked the end of the kingdom, the end of the kings of Israel and brought on what is known as the exile, where God's people were taken captive and dragged away to Babylon.
These words of hope come to a people who have realized their mistake too late. A people who are hunched over, aching, shaking their heads as the tears stream down their face because of the terrible mistakes they have made. The end of the world is on their doorstep, and they are the ones who asked it to come over. An endless darkness is filling up inside of them, and they are the ones who invited it in. What once was a tall majestic oak tree, one whose branches nested many birds, and whose shade was enjoyed by countless animals, is about to be reduced to a flat, dead, stump.
When we hear about Jeremiah's audience we can't help but think of the Church in Canada today. We, too, have abandoned God and turned to idols. We no longer worship Him, but now worship ourselves, our individual preferences and desires, what works for us, what we think we need - these things now come before God and His Word. What have we done? Is it really a surprise that an army of the godless looks as though it is about to conquer us, when we don't know God's Word, or seek to learn it? Are we really shocked that the tall majestic oak tree is about to be reduced to a flat, dead, stump? Jeremiah's words seem to fit our situation very well.
But these words of hope go deeper still, for in the dark, hidden part of my heart I doubt whether God could ever have mercy on me, whether He could ever let me be in His holy presence. I doubt whether He could love me, because I don't execute justice and righteousness in the land. I get angry. I get impatient. I want my own way. I don't think about what He wants, and all of this I try to hide from Him. Despair is what greets me when I look inside. I, too, am the one who is hunched over, aching, shaking my head with spiritual tears streaming down my face. What have I done?
Yet it is into these besieged streets of utter despair, to the broken, hunched over one who faces exile, that these powerful words of hope come crashing in. "Behold, the days are coming, declares 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. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The Lord is our righteousness.'"
God will not let His people's sin and rebellion keep them away from Him. He will not let it separate them forever, for He Himself will conquer their enemies. He Himself will be their righteousness. Though their wickedness may carry them away, He will bring them back. Though they put themselves into captivity, He will set them free. Though their actions bring them shame, He will be their glory. For rising up out of the despair is a righteous branch, one that He has sent. Growing up from the flat, dead stump is a righteous king who will execute justice and righteousness in the land. One with a name that makes angels marvel, "The LORD is our righteousness."
God has made a promise worthy of this desperate situation. He has given us real hope. For He Himself is the promised King, the one who will spring up from the house of David. No more wicked kings. No more earthly prophets. The Son of God will come forth and save His people. He Himself will make them righteous by His own human blood. He Himself will change their shame to honor. He Himself will be all that they need, not only as their God, but also as their King. A man, like them, together, safe and secure.
It is easy to feel safe and secure when you are standing in the presence of a strong leader, one that you trust will use His power to do the right thing. One can have confidence in a man like that. But this king isn`t merely a man, He is the LORD our righteousness. He is the Supreme ruler of all things, and yet it is His blood that declares you righteous. It is His righteousness that covers you from head to toe. What can your sin do to you? What can your doubt do to you? What can an army do to you? For He is your king. Raised up for you. Reigning and victorious for you. He wants you to have hope so badly, that He has even included you in His Holy Name. The LORD is our righteousness. He has announced His Holy Name includes you, covers you, speaks for you. He does not call you to look inside yourself to find hope, for inside there is only despair. He declares His hope to you from the outside. He draws your eyes away from yourself that they may rest in your only hope - Him. He alone can bring hope to this desperate situation, and He has - He has taken personal control as King.
You are forgiven. For Christ has taken that pit of despair, and filled it with His own blood. He has put His promise in every place, every dark place, even the most hidden places - so that you may have certainty, that no matter how many times you have been ashamed, no matter how many times you have hung your head and tears have streaked your face, He has covered that too. His Holy Name lays over that too. The LORD is your righteousness. Trust no other word that your despairing heart may say. Nothing you do can make His righteousness dirty. But His righteousness has, and will always make you clean. That is why He is your King.
O Christian heart, whoever you are, your king is coming! He is coming soon. Humble yourself yet lift up your head, for His everlasting kingdom of righteousness awaits you. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr