Advent’s prophecies point to the hope to come



Tidings of both comfort and joy

By Chip Hardwick | Presbyterians Today

Jeremiah 33:14–16 is a lectionary text for the first Sunday of Advent.

The prophet Jeremiah. Engraving by Theodor Galle, 1613. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

There’s a reason Blue Christmas and Longest Night services have become popular in recent years. They recognize that amid all the shopping and get-togethers, the holidays need tidings of both comfort and joy. Comfort, because loneliness, grief and pain can be especially potent this time of year. Joy, because we need the hope of the gospel.

So, it’s no wonder that the Revised Common Lectionary serves up Jeremiah 33:14–16 as the Old Testament text for the first Sunday of Advent. Take a minute to read this passage now. Read of its promise made first — many scholars believe — to the faithful in exile in Babylon. Hear the good news that one day again God will execute justice and Jerusalem will once again be secure.

Jeremiah’s original audience needed this good news to answer the despair of their exile. They were hundreds of miles away from the Temple, now destroyed, where they believed God primarily lived. With relatives killed, hopes dashed and promises interrupted, Jeremiah points to the future and says “in those days” things will be different. His words of hope rang through in the fog of their despair.

To fully capture the impact of Jeremiah’s words, we need to put on a pair of trifocals — glasses that help us see close, medium and far distances. Only when we use these spectacles can we grasp the prophet’s words of both comfort and joy, and only then can we see how God fulfills the promises Jeremiah offers.

When we look through the part of the glasses that helps us see up close, we realize that before too long God’s answer to the Israelites’ prayers came when Persia overran Babylon. Cyrus the Great’s first act as the land’s new monarch was to send all conquered people back to their homelands. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah chronicle the Hebrews’ return, as the faithful rebuilt the wall around the city and the Temple inside its gates. In the middle of the exile, when hope had threatened to crater, God’s promise to the chosen people comes true.

When we look through the middle part of our trifocals, we see how God’s faithfulness becomes especially visible once again when the righteous branch springing from David that Jeremiah mentions sneaks onto the scene in Bethlehem, appearing only to lowly shepherds. The angels know it’s a big deal, however, when Jesus Christ is born. They know he brings the peace on earth and goodwill to all that Jeremiah proclaimed centuries before.

Jesus has been bringing humanity comfort and joy, just as Jeremiah prophesied. He established justice and righteousness in the land and brought salvation to Judah and to all. Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection sets us right with God and gives us hope for this life and the next. When we look back at Jeremiah’s words, we can’t help but give thanks for how Jesus has brought those words to fruition. And yet we still need those Blue Christmas and Longest Night services. (Longest Night gets its name as this service is often held on the eve of the winter solstice, when daylight is the shortest.)

Humanity’s sorrow and pain did not end when Jesus came to earth. Our pain and difficulty might be more tangible during the holidays, but all too often sadness stalks us year-round. Jesus inaugurated the reign of God, no doubt, but just as surely the world is not yet the way that God wants it to be.

That’s why we need to look through the top of our trifocals, to see yet further into the distance. In Advent, we not only give thanks for God’s coming as Christ, but we also look forward to Jesus’ return. At his second coming, his prayer that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven will finally be answered. In those days, there will be no more tears. In those days, all death and dying will come to an end. In those days, the impact of Jeremiah’s words will be fully known.

While we wait for Jeremiah’s words to come wholly true, we give thanks to God for their tidings of comfort and joy.

Chip Hardwick is interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Illinois.

Discussion Questions

  • Where do you see the hope of Christ around you?
  • What Scripture passage helps comfort you? Why?
  • How would Advent and Christmas be different if Christ’s return was discussed more?

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