Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This week we have moved forward in the history of God’s people about 100 years, from the time of the fall of the northern and southern kingdoms. In today’s reading from Jeremiah, we hear Jeremiah writing to people in exile.The Assyrians have been defeated by the new powerful kingdom of the Babylonians, and they have taken the king and his family, as well as many other leaders of the Northern Kingdom. Jeremiah is living in Jerusalem, which has been occupied by the Babylonians. But they have not been exiled yet. Jeremiah is writing to the people in exile, disputing other prophets. One was named Hananiah. He and others were telling the people that the exile was going to be over in two years. And as a result, God calls Jeremiah to dispute this prophesy.
Can you guess which if these prophets was more popular with the people in exile? Hananiah was! Jeremiah’s message was much more negative. He was saying the exile would last 70 years! And more than that, he advised the exiles to settle down in Babylon, build houses, get married, and have children… and pray for the welfare of the city they were exiled to. Wait, what? We should pray for our persecutors?
So, what is God so mad about? Well, as we learned last week, instead of relying on God, King Ahaz tried to make a deal with the Assyrians. The deal fell through and they were occupied. God is also upset because God’s people have turned to worshipping the false gods of the Assyrians. And now things had gone from bad to worse. The Assyrians have been defeated by the Babylonians, and they are the ones who sent the king, and his family, and all the leaders of the temple into exile. What a mess! God called Jeremiah to be God’s prophet to the people. After many years of trying to warn the people about their evil ways, Jeremiah is preaching God’s word to the exiles.
And what he tells them is not easy to hear. Settle in the place where you are. Make this place your home. You will be here for a long time. I'm wondering if this reading doesn’t say something similar to us. This is the first week of Advent, the time of waiting before Christmas. However, while we are waiting for Jesus, it is not an infant we expect.
Jesus was born 2,000 years ago and lived a human life in that time. He is no longer a baby in Bethlehem. We are not looking back in Advent, we are looking forward. So, we are waiting for the return of Jesus which we have been promised will take place sometime in the future - when all things will be made right.
Okay, Pastor, so what? How does Jeremiah’s advice apply to us? The concept of living our lives as followers of Jesus makes sense, and we are getting on with the necessities of life as we wait. What I’m saying is that this reading does have meaning for our situation today, in our lives now. No, we are not in exile, but we are in scary times. As many of you have already heard, there is yet another strain of the Covid virus that has been identified. We don’t know much about it, but it is frightening. And it seems that we are on our way out of this, then something happens and we feel like we are stuck again.
The people in exile in Babylon are definitely stuck: forced to leave everything behind, thrust into a culture they don’t understand, in a country that they have never been to. God's words in Jeremiah’s letter urge them to adapt to their new surroundings and make a life where they are, because they will be there for many years.
These words are for us, too. We need to continue to live in our new circumstances, making changes to protect ourselves and our families. We are not in exile. We still have our homes and families, but we too need to adjust to our present situation. We cannot go back to the way things were. We have to live and care for each other, and love our neighbors - not just the ones we agree with. The Israelites that were exiled needed to maintain their faith and also adapt. Including praying for those who have hurt them. So, this Advent, let us continue to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves in our new normal. Amen.