Ad Te Levavi, Advent I – Telling and Retelling the Word of Comfort

Lessons: Jeremiah 23:5-8, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 21:1-9
Hymns: 331, 332, 334, 335, 333

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jeremiah was a prophet sent by God to call the Jewish people to repentance. He called on them to turn from their wayward ways, to stop listening to the unbelieving world around them, and to stop taking a false security in that they are descendants of Abraham dwelling in the Promised Land. The Jews should have learned they could not take a false security in their family tree or where they lived because, about a century before Jeremiah began his ministry, God raised up the Assyrians who conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and deported many of the Israelites. God did this because they were consistently unfaithful, and He warned them many times. Now the Southern Kingdom is doing the same by taking a false comfort in having Jerusalem as their capital and the Temple in Jerusalem.

For about three decades, Jeremiah kept warning the Jews that God was going to destroy Judah and her capital if they do not turn from their sinful, unbelieving lives. Many ignored Jeremiah.

Jeremiah prophesied that the people would go into exile for 70 years as they suffer a similar punishment as their neighbors to the north. God fulfilled His threat and sent the Babylonians who plundered the city, destroyed the Temple, and deported many of the residents. It was awful, but they had their warnings. God exhibited impressive patience in calling on His people to turn from their sin.

Throughout the Old Testament, we hear God’s people telling and retelling past events. They told the stories of their forefathers. They repeated the Word of God and the great works God did among them. One thing God’s people and the prophets God sent referred back to frequently was the time God delivered His people out of bondage in Egypt. You heard it in our Old Testament reading. By repeating that God delivered them from their slavery in Egypt, they were reminded of God’s continual mercy. For the Lord rescued His people and brought them into the Promised Land.

This was continually repeated not only to talk about what God has done, but to explain what God is doing and what He will do. In the past, God delivered them from their bondage in Egypt. What God is doing is that He is still with them, He is still their deliverer, and He is the same merciful God who grants them Christ’s forgiveness which He would earn for them on the cross. And what God will do is fulfill His promise to send the Messiah, Jesus, who would become their sin and shed His innocent Blood to rescue them. God will also bring them to the better Promised Land of Heaven—the new Jerusalem.

What God has done, what He is doing, and what He will do—all told in that God rescued His people and brought them out of Egypt into the Promised Land—parallels our season of Advent, which we have just begun. Advent focuses on the comings of Christ. In this holy season of preparation, we hear that Jesus did come in the flesh some 2000 years ago to take away our sins, that Christ Jesus still comes to us today through Word and Sacrament, and He will come on the Last Day to usher us into the Promised Land of His eternal kingdom. So, we tell and retell the true story of what Christ Jesus did in fulfilling His Father’s promise to send a Redeemer who would cancel the world’s guilt. As we repeat the works of Christ, we also look forward to what He will do when He comes in glory on the Last Day.

As we study the Scriptures, we can find consistently a theme of “now and not yet.” For example, Jesus is our Savior now, but we’re not quite yet in the Promised Land of Heaven. Right now, as Christians, we are members of God’s family—members of His Kingdom—but we are not yet living in the perfection that we will enjoy when Jesus returns to bring us into His eternal kingdom.

In our Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah quoted the Lord, saying, “The days are coming when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them’” (Jeremiah 23:7-8). Here, the Lord is not only connecting the story of salvation with His bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt, but He is also letting them know that He will also gather His people back to the Promised Land after they are scattered again. For God has raised up the mighty Babylonians who were about to conquer Judah. So, just as the Jews were once in captivity in Egypt, soon they will be in captivity in Babylon. And just as God delivered His people from Egypt, so He will also deliver them from Babylon. Jeremiah prophesied that their time of captivity will be for 70 years. Then God will allow His people to return to the Promised Land.

The prophecy found in our Old Testament lesson also has a theme of “now and not yet.” The now is that God will punish His people for their unfaithfulness, but yet He will remain with them and allow them to return. They will rebuild the Temple and restore Jerusalem. But the “not yet” portion is that this prophecy speaks of the coming of Christ. Through David’s lineage, a righteous Branch will come, who will reign as King and deal wisely, and who will execute justice and righteousness in the land. Jesus will save all who believe, and He will impute to them His righteousness.

Even this has a “now and not yet.” For Jesus has come and He reigns even now, being seated at the right hand of the Father. But Jesus will return and reign over His people in the recreated, perfected heavens and earth. We will behold Him and will live in the presence of the Lord our righteousness.

Jesus certainly fulfilled the words of Jeremiah. As we heard in today’s Gospel, Jesus receives a royal welcome as He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. The crowds sing their hosannas to Him, for Jesus is riding on a donkey to take away the sin of the world through His innocent, suffering and death. Jesus is the Righteous One, born in Bethlehem as a descendant of David. By riding into Jerusalem, Jesus makes His triumphal entry, demonstrating that He is the King. He goes into Jerusalem to serve as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Matthew reports that our Lord’s triumphal entry fulfills what was spoken the prophet. This time we do not hear from the prophet Jeremiah, but from the prophet Zechariah.

Jeremiah’s ministry was largely before the Babylonian exile. Zechariah’s ministry is at the conclusion of their 70 year exile in Babylon. Along with Haggai, Zechariah helped rebuild Jerusalem and temple. He worked to bring the scattered Jews together again. Luther wrote, “He is truly one of the most comforting of the prophets. He presents many lovely and reassuring visions, and gives many sweet and kindly words, in order to encourage and strengthen the troubled and scattered people.” Zechariah prophesies of the Gospel of Christ. He even prophesies of how Alexander the Great will conquer regions surrounding to the Promised Land to make way for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He prophesies that the Gospel will be spread to all people after the Christ is sold for thirty pieces of silver.

Imagine being there. You likely grew up in Babylon, but you heard your parents and grandparents tell and retell the stories of living in the Promised Land. Then, when the new government, Persia, allows you to return, you go back. You find the Holy City in ruins. The infrastructure for orderly and healthy living is not there. Foreign people are dwelling there. Much of what you see is discouraging.

But then you hear the bold voice of Zechariah, telling and retelling of the coming of their Savior, Jesus, who will come and walk and live in the very places where they have now resettled. You hear the Word of God, going forth and accomplishing what God pleases.

In a time that appeared bleak and hopeless, the message of hope was boldly proclaimed, not only by Zechariah, but also by Jeremiah and all the prophets.

In the end you don’t have to imagine very much. We live in difficult times. There is much unfaithfulness around us. We ourselves face temptation and, out of the weakness of our flesh, keep on sinning. We are challenged by the hardship and even isolation that COVID-19 has brought. Many were alone on Thanksgiving for the first time in their lives.

But just as the Israelites would have hope in the coming Messiah, so also, we hope in Him. Jesus is still present among us, for He has made His entrance among us yet again through His Word as we begin this new Church Year. Soon we will be celebrating His birth and how He has come into our presence as our Immanuel who takes our sin away. We are in fact, never alone as God’s children.

In Bible times, many could not see the work of God taking place in their lives. But we can look back and see, as we tell and retell the Bible’s stories. In the same way, many find it difficult to see God at work today in our lives. But through His work in the generations preceding us, the Gospel has been preserved among us, and many now enjoy a blessed rest from their labors by being with the Lord.

You see, the bold voice—those words of comfort—the people heard through Zechariah is still heard today. God’s Word is still preached by pastors God sends. The promise of a new land with our Lord in Heaven belongs to us. Jesus has come to save. He comes today through His Word and Sacrament to save. And He will come to save by judging us righteous on the Last Day. And we will dwell with Him in His eternal kingdom forever. Thanks be to God! Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen