Sermon 12.2.18 Advent 1

Jeremiah 33:14-16                                                                                                                                                              Rev. Kenneth Frey
Advent 1                                                                                                                                                                                                12/2/18
Jeremiah 33:14-16  “Look, the days are coming”— this is the Lord’s declaration— “when I will fulfill the good promise that I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a Righteous Branch to sprout up for David, and he will administer justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely, and this is what she will be named: The Lord Is Our Righteousness. (CSB)
Can a sprout make us righteous?
1.  The promise of a sprout to save God’s people
2.  By giving them his righteousness
Happy New Year!  Yes, yes, I know that we all celebrate New Year on January 1, but for Christians the first Sunday in advent is the first Sunday of the Christian year.  Once again we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ.  Once again we await the start of something that actually started a very long time ago.  It was promised at the very beginning of the world and that promise was repeated and expanded for hundreds of years. 
It isn’t hard to make promises.  They slip out quite easily.  “Dad, it won’t happen again.”  “Yes, son, we will go to that ball game.  You can count on it.”  “I will remember to pick up bread on the way home.”  Promises roll off our tongues effortlessly.  But with God, promises are much more serious.  God doesn’t ever promise and not fulfill.  Today, we look at God’s promise of a sprout – a sprout to make us righteous.  But can a sprout make us righteous? 
The people of Judah had turned from the ways of the Lord.  They had rejected the cause of the widow, the orphan and the stranger.  They had chosen other gods, more congenial to the lifestyles they preferred to lead.  As a result, Jeremiah warned, they would find themselves abandoned by their God and would be exiled to a foreign land, away from everything they had known and trusted.  Their land would be conquered, their Temple razed, their priests silenced and their king, descended from great David, would be rendered impotent. 
But because of the Lord’s great love and because of his promise, he would send a sprout for them.  “Look, the days are coming”— this is the Lord’s declaration— “when I will fulfill the good promise that I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a Righteous Branch to sprout up for David, and he will administer justice and righteousness in the land.  About one hundred years earlier, God promised through Isaiah, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1)  Jesse was David’s father and though David’s family line would be cut down to almost nothing, God promised a shoot from that line.
Some olive trees in and around Jerusalem are thousands of years old.  An olive tree grows and expands.  The outside trunk of the tree is dead.  Still it continues to grow by sending out a shoot or sprout from the inside of the core of the tree.  God’s Old Testament people knew this and understood this example very easily. 
Here through Jeremiah God is repeating that promise.  Here he calls it a sprout.  In fact, God would repeat this promise using similar imagery throughout the prophets.  By the time of Zechariah, a couple hundred years after Jeremiah, the name Branch became a customary way to refer to the coming Messiah. 
But what can a sprout do against powerful enemies?  Modern Israel is an armed camp.  The tourist can hardly turn around without bumping into an Israeli soldier.  The reality is, it’s almost always been that way.  Israel is the land bridge from Asia to Africa.  Throughout ancient times victorious and retreating armies ravaged the land.  Peace broke out occasionally, but the normal condition was war.   Egyptian, Philistine, Syrian, Assyrian and Babylonian armies invaded, fought and finally conquered the land. 
If Israel thought these armies were tough, they were nothing compared to the power of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil.  With these dark and hideous forces the prize as not a hunk of real estate but human souls enslaved forever. 
But God promised a sprout from David’s line.  What can a sprout do?  Here I have a spout.  It’s a Brussels sprout.  What can this do for you?  I’m told they are high in protein and an excellent source of vitamin C.  So I suppose they can help us be more healthy.  But one little sprout, what can it do?  Not much really. 
God promised a sprout, not a mighty oak or a towering cedar but a tiny sprout from David’s line.  And in this Advent season we are reminded of just how God kept that promise with a baby born to a virgin and laid in a manger.  God didn’t promise a great king or a powerful general, but a sprout, a baby, a nobody, or so it appeared.  And what could he do?  He could administer justice and righteousness in the land. He could keep God’s law and stand up to the forces of evil.   He could be perfectly righteous.
As we begin to celebrate Advent and then Christmas once again, we know full well that not all the forced Christmas cheer in the world can cover up the gloominess of the surrounding world.  We celebrate “peace on earth” and “joy to the word” under the shadow of terrorism and political squabbling that threatens to rip our country apart.  But Jeremiah reminds us that even in the midst of life’s worst woes, even in a time of collapsing securities, God has a word.  God has a plan.  God has a gracious promise that he will fulfill.  God’s ways will not be stopped by unemployment, disease, poverty or even death itself. 
Let us stand fast in God’s promises No one can exile us.  No one can take God’s Word away from us.  We are, Paul said, “more than conquerors through him who loved us. . . . [and] neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
God promised a sprout.  What can a sprout do?  He can give us righteousness.  A number of years ago a book appeared on the market with the title Whatever Became of Sin?  It was written by a prominent psychiatrist.  He wondered why the word “sin” is seldom heard.  He asked why no one is guilty of anything anymore.  He wondered why hardly anyone commits sins today.  The book was greeted with yawns by the critics.  People no long take sin seriously. 
God does.
Those days when we push God out of our thoughts and don’t give him a moment of our time, that’s sin.  When we selfishly want things our way and don’t care about what others want, that’s sin.  When we lust or live for pleasure, that’s sin.  These are not just bad choices or mistakes.  They are sins.  And God takes sin seriously. 
That’s why he promised a sprout.  Because this sprout appeared small and weak, the evil ones of the world would have their way with it.  And he would endure their hatred and wickedness in our place.  God promised, In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely, and this is what she will be named: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.  Judah and Jerusalem, he says, will be called the Lord our righteousness.  Judah and Jerusalem stand for God’s people, what we call the church today.  We can understand this by thinking of the difference between a Christmas present and my Christmas present.  By putting that name on Judah and Jerusalem he is emphasizing that the Lord’s righteousness has become our possession.  And that righteousness which identifies us also gives us security against the devil, the world and our own sin. 
In the baptism rite we say, “Receive the sign of the cross on the head and the heart to mark you as a redeemed child of Christ.”  In baptism we receive God’s name and we are marked as redeemed.  We become the Lord our righteousness.  His righteousness covers us. And with that righteousness we are prepared to celebrate his first coming in Bethlehem and his second coming at the end of the world. 
God’s wants that day to shape and to sharpen our lives.  Watch for it, we are warned, so that we are not unprepared.  That day may be nearer than we think.  I saw on Facebook that a high school classmate of mine died this week.  Judgment may seem remote, but death is always lurking at our door.  That spot on the lung.  That stabbing pain in the chest.  That car’s skid ending in twisted metal and death.  We never know.  So remember your baptism.  Remember who you are in Christ, the Lord our righteousness.
If we can claw our way through the distracting noise of the season, we see that Advent is all about God’s promises.  In the dark nights of our soul, when tears sometimes blind us and our hands falter, the promises of God revive us with the assurance that the Lord is our righteousness.  That sprout has indeed made us righteous.