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Worship Theme: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord
Sermon Theme: The King’s Coming Makes Everything Better
They had been married for only sixth months, so it was understandable that she felt an ache in her heart when she looked at the empty spot on the couch next to her. Not that she couldn’t exist on her own. She was a talented, successful, and independent woman. But in that short half year she had grown accustomed to blending her hopes and dreams for the future with his. She realized how much she enjoyed having someone who shared in the household chores, the cooking, the errands, the laughter, and especially someone who had an open ear to what was on her heart and mind and an open heart to share his.
But corporate headquarters had sent him on assignment overseas. They were not sure how long the project would take. Four weeks had gone by. They stayed in touch daily by texting and FaceTime on the weekends, but he still didn’t know when he’d be coming back. Then one day his ringtone jingled in her purse. “I’m about to board the plane for the flight home.” She could hardly keep her hands steady on the steering wheel as she drove to the airport. What was only minutes in the concourse seemed like hours. There she stood, craning her neck, trying to catch a glimpse of him as he made his way past the exit check points, knowing that when he swept her up in his arms, somehow everything would be better.
This is the first Sunday of a new church year. It’s Advent. What does that mean for you? What does this pre-Christmas season in early-to-mid December mean for you? The end of a semester and the grueling task of final exams? Midyear graduation? Vacation? Family visits? Travel? Scrolling through web page after web page for holiday shopping? Rushing for last minute gifts? Office parties? Busy-ness? After-Christmas sales? Snow? Cold? How about this one – loneliness? Today’s first reading from the book of Jeremiah carries a message from God to kindle excitement and anticipation like that young bride waiting for her husband to come back from a long trip: “The King’s Coming Makes Everything Better.”
A better Sovereign
Advent is a time when people start hoping for nice things at Christmas. What do you hope for this Christmas? Peace on earth? An end to the political partisanship? COVID to go away? More video and phone games?
The Israelites of old hoped for a super-sovereign. “Sovereign” is a fancy word for a king. Jeremiah grabbed the microphone in the center of the ring and announced to the people of Jerusalem, “In this corner from the tribe of Judah and the family of David we have the kings of Israel, and in the opposite corner from the same tribe and family we have the promised King who is coming.” There were twenty kings who reigned over the territory of Judah, spanning three hundred forty-four years. After the first two, David and Solomon, the best I can say for the rest is that two of them were fair. The others ranged from weak to wicked. Check out God’s evaluation of those kings, “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice ... your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion ... Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done” (Jeremiah 22:13,17; 23:2). God gave Jeremiah the unpleasant task of announcing to the people and the kings themselves, “God is fed up. He has been patient with the royal family tree of David, but the tree is rotten and spiritually dead. So, God is sending in the chain-saw of Babylon to cut that tree down!”
Skeptics looked at Jeremiah and muttered, “This guy is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.” Others told him to his face, “Keep your trap shut!” Authorities, who were the targets of his message, took it a step farther and dumped him in prison. But the Babylonian armies did advance on Jerusalem, did burn the temple, did deport most of the people, and did wreck the city. The last king? The Babylonian soldiers grabbed him, tied him up, slaughtered his sons while he watched, then poked his eyes out, and hauled him off to Babylon. The hopes that many had for a great Israelite sovereign like David or Solomon ruling in Judah were shattered. They had no hope.
Now listen to Jeremiah’s unexpected additional proclamation, “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line.” What can grow out of a dead tree stump? We’d assume nothing. But God worked a miracle. From the dead family tree of King David, a Branch sprouted. That Branch was righteous, himself a miracle, God’s own Son in human flesh. And he proved himself to be better than any other sovereign because he did what no other sovereign could do. Jesus marched out in battle against Satan and broke the chains of sin that bound us to that old evil foe. That’s why the people who heard this promise of a coming King and believed it were filled with excitement and anticipation because the promise of a better Sovereign brought them hope.
What do you hope for this Christmas? How about hope itself? Not wishful thinking, but solid confidence that a Sovereign King came once to crush our worst enemy, that he comes now through his Word to assure of that victory, and that he will come again to catch us up into his permanent victory parade. A better Sovereign brings hope. Surely, the King’s coming makes everything better.
A better sentence
A sentence is a number of words strung together to form a complete statement. But if we were standing in a courtroom in front of a scowling judge with steam coming from his ears and fire from his lips who is looking at a rap sheet which has our name on top, the word “sentence” is going to be a pronouncement over us, and it won’t be pretty.
Through Jeremiah God pronounced a sentence against the people of Judah, “I will bring charges against you ... As a thief is disgraced when he is caught, so the people of Israel are disgraced ... They say to wood, ‘You are my father,’ and to stone, ‘You gave me birth’ ... Therefore this is what the LORD God Almighty says ... ‘I am bringing a distant nation against you ... They will devour your harvests and food, devour your sons and daughters; they will devour your flocks and herds, devour your vines and fig trees. With the sword they will destroy the fortified cities in which you trust’ ” (Jeremiah 2:9,26-27;5:14,15,17). How would you describe people condemned under such a sentence? One word would be helpless.
Now listen to Jeremiah’s unexpected additional proclamation, “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will establish justice and righteousness on earth.” He will make judicial pronouncements, not just displaying right-ness but offering it. He will change the sentence of eternal doom to a “not guilty” verdict. That’s the best help a helpless prisoner could ever imagine, especially if the prisoner knew he deserved to be on death row.
How do you think you’d fare lined up in God’s courtroom without Jesus? What kind of sentence would you hear? If you think, “God will look at me and say, ‘Well, you’re not too bad’,” guess again. I am compelled by these words of God to make an honest assessment of what I’ve done that’s wrong and what good I should have done but didn’t, and so do you, and that’s humiliating, shaming. On my own I’m helpless before the holy God, and so are you. But a death sentence on us is not the last word from the mouth of the eternal Judge. Jeremiah’s message about a king offers the greatest help we could ever dream of, a “not guilty verdict.” A better sentence brings the help we need most. Surely, the King’s coming makes everything better.
A better city
A city is a place where a bunch of people have decided to live in a prescribed area. Some hear “city” and get pumped up, thinking, “Theaters, shopping, Fiserv Forum!” Others get scared and think, “Parking problems, crime.”
When Jeremiah trudged the streets of the city of Jerusalem, like any city it was supposed to be a place of refuge, security, and safety. But even if it offered a low crime rate and walls to keep bad guys out, there was a cloud of rotten stink hanging over that city, and it didn’t come from a poor sewage system. The stink came from the festering, oozing, maggot-infested hearts of the people who had turned against God. So, God brought disciplinary action, and everything they treasured passed, their property, their possessions, their power as a big-time reminder, “Nothing on earth brings lasting happiness!”
Now listen to Jeremiah’s unexpected additional proclamation, “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” Jeremiah predicted a rebuilt city, with re-habbed homes and restored happiness. The people who thought Jeremiah was talking about physical Jerusalem and earthly homes remained depressed. But those who knew he was talking about spiritual Jerusalem and heavenly mansions had happiness restored.
Some flee the city. Some are moving back in. But the promise here is not about geography or our connection to a place on earth. It’s about our connection to God. A better city brings happiness. Surely, the King’s coming makes everything better.
What does Advent mean for you? Take to heart the pronouncement of the prophet and it won’t mean merely end-of-the-semester cramming, or slippery road traveling, or scrolling through shopping websites, or too many calories from too many holiday parties, or tears because of one more holiday alone. You can have the excitement and anticipation of a young bride looking down the concourse for her groom when you join Jeremiah and crane your neck to see Jesus. Let your eyes wander to God’s Word through Jeremiah and ponder what he announces, and you will see that the King’s coming makes everything better. Amen
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