The days are coming! This repeated phrase peppers the book of Jeremiah with a forward looking glance for a people who find themselves wondering where is God in the midst of suffering. This set of verses is a part of what is commonly known as the “book of consolation”, chapters 30-31, in Jeremiah. It is known as this because it offers hope to the people who are sitting in Exile after the destruction of Jerusalem. Throughout the last few years of Judah’s standing under Babylon’s threat, Jeremiah had told the people to change their ways and return to God in hope that they could avoid the devastating consequences of their northern brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, the people of Judah had not heeded the prophet’s words. In the 590s Nebuchadnezzar II began a program of warfare that left Judah and Jerusalem devastated and many of the people deported to foreign lands. Into this situation, the author of these chapters speaks a profound message of hope.
First, the prophet speaks to the people’s current situation and offers a word of possibility that is rooted in God’s work among them. “The days are coming” is not a word of self-help or wish fulfillment, but a declaration of hopeful imagination, as Walter Brueggemann puts it, that states that God is working to bring about a new and better future.
In our own life experiences, I wonder how often we have settled for the reality of life as it is instead of listening for the voice of the prophet claiming that the days are coming in which God will do something new. Unfortunately, I think we have feared sounding like a prosperity gospel or making claims we cannot uphold. Thus, we have settled for proclaiming a tame god that we can manage and who meets our limited vision. Jeremiah, however, boldly announces to the people of Israel in exile that God is not finished with them and is remaking their world in a new way. As we prepare to preach this text, I wonder what places in our own world are given over to a limited vision? What spots in our life have we excluded from the prophetic imagination of God’s renewing work? Where can we help people see that the days are coming when God will do something new. It may be through and in us, but it is ultimately God who will do this new and renewing thing. We must remember that hope is a powerful thing and we are called to proclaim hope for our people. However, we do not proclaim just any hope, we proclaim a hope rooted in the power of God who resurrected Israel from exile and, ultimately, raised Jesus from the dead.
Second, the days that are coming are not just any kind of days, but days that will be different from the past. The prophet announces that an old proverb will not be spoken in the new reality of God’s work. This proverb reflects an understanding of generational sin and its consequences. The sin from one generation, “the sour grapes eaten by the parents”, affect the next generation, “leave a bad taste in the children’s mouth”. However, in the days that are coming, God’s new work will put an end to this way of living.
One understanding of this is that of individual responsibility. That is, each person will be responsible for their own sins. For many of us, this makes sense, our contemporary individualistic context tells us that only our sin should affect us. However, in ancient Israel, where communal sin and the effects of one’s ancestors had bearing on one’s own life this was a radical concept. The idea that the shame of the past was broken and the present was reset was not only radical, but it also shattered ingrained ways of thinking about the ways one could live into the future. Perhaps as we think about preaching this text this week, we might try to think about cycles of destruction that are passed down through families, cycles that are not easily broken. We might think of how one who is caught in such cycles might hear this good news that God is bringing about a day of newness where that cycle is broken. We might think of our brothers and sisters who are caught in systems that consistently dehumanize and marginalize them. We might think about what it would look like for the good news to be proclaimed that those systems are broken and now they are freed to begin anew.
Finally, this text proclaims boldly the word that in these new days, the people of God will be in such a relationship with God that we will not even need to say to one another “Know God!” This will occur because everyone from the least to the greatest will know God intimately and will live freely in the grace and forgiveness of God. This ideal vision of new days are so hopeful that they are almost impossible to believe. However, this hope is exactly what the Good News calls us to proclaim. Many interpreters point out that for Christians this text points us to incarnate Christ. This is certainly a standing tradition with the Christian faith. We believe that in Jesus Christ we see the fulness of God proclaiming the reality of new days, broken cycles of oppression and sin, and a new covenant of intimate relationship with God for all people. This week as we proclaim this text, let us seek to not only speak these words of hope, but especially in whatever context we find ourselves, live these words by inviting all into the newness of hope found in Christ.