Jeremiah gives us a picture of what assurance looks like in the midst of chaos.
Israel was in a unique position during the time of Jeremiah. Assyria was probably at its hight of military and political power and they were situated directly to the North of the Hebrew Nation. To their west and south, they had their ancient enemies of Egypt as their neighbors. As you can imagine, tensions were mounting with every passing day. They could be overrun by Assyrian hoards as they sought to advance their empire or torn apart by an Egyptian skirmish in their efforts to establish a military blockade against the Assyrian threat. This present reality caused the Hebrew kings to lose longterm vision and give way to frantic tunnel vision.
In this midst of this mounting national panic, Jeremiah prophesied to King Josiah, warning him not to side with Egypt. He rebuked false prophets during Johoiakin’s reign, warning that a failure to obey God would bring the nation of Israel to ruin. He urged King Zedekiah not to go to war against the Babylonians. In the end, no one heeded Jeremiah’s warnings. By the time Jeremiah was around 35 years old and a mature prophet, Assyria was finally defeated by a coalition of peoples including the Babylonians. Things did not go according to the franticly made plan. The coalition of war did not usher in a peaceful time for Judah. Everyone in the northern kingdom was exiled to Egypt, including Jeremiah.
In the midst of this painful reality, Jeremiah speaks of The Lord’s declaration of fulfilling the gracious promises made towards Judah and Israel. Given Israel’s present turmoil, this would have been as utterly unbelievable as it was utterly needed to be heard. Good prophets always hold out a vision for people to cling to, even when its meaning is not yet able to be grasped. In the midst of leaders allowing present threats to the way things currently are to cause them to lose sight of God’s faithful promises, Jeremiah proclaims both warnings and assurance, in order that God’s people might be alert, maintain clear vision and allow God’s sure and ultimate promise of redemption to keep all things in holy perspective.
This is a perfect stage for Advent to begin its production among us. We currently live in a society that is tossed about between barbaric acts of violence, hate filled rhetoric, and fear mongering. Unfortunately, this is not new for our society. We can think back in our recent history when America responded to the events of September 11th, 2001 with similar fear and panic. It was assumed that war could be declared against murders rather than justice being pursued by different, more diplomatic means. What resulted was war against a nation of people who were suffering just as much under the tyranny of the murders on whom America came to seek vengeance. What was the outcome? ISIS. It only lead to more death, more violence, a worse problem then there was to begin with, and the longest continuing war in American history.
What if America kept the big picture in mind rather than give way to panic and fear? What if the U.S. responded their murderers like the Amish responded to their murderer who shot their children at school on October 2, 2006? The Amish responded with extreme forgiveness, making gifts for the gunman’s wife through the ling trial and even attended his funeral. Or the way the congregation of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina responded to its murderer in 2017? With extreme forgiveness. What if America responded to September 11th, 2001 in the spirit of forgiveness by sending aid to the destitute in Iraq? What if they clothed their naked, worked to feed their hungry, and donated towards their education programs?
The church is not a nation. The church is the body of Christ, calling all nations to the assurance of God’s promises that were raised to life in Him. Jeremiah beckons us even still. In the midst of our chaos, he reminds us to stay alert, to not let panic and fear define our journey and our response to our present circumstance. We are called to fix our eyes on Christ. He is the righteous branch of the Lord. Christ has been revealed to us. He is the one true King. It is his kingdom that is our big picture upon which we remain secularly focused and moving towards. Let Advent begin.