Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Advent (November 30, 2014)

JEREMIAH 33:14-16

In the name + of Jesus.

     Several times in these brief verses from Jeremiah, we hear the word “righteous,” or “righteousness.”  We often equate the term “righteous” with “holy,” and to be sure, they are related.  If something is righteous, that means that it rightly does exactly what God has created or designed it to do.  To better grasp what God means with the word righteous, perhaps we can consider what it means that something is not righteous.
     Everything that is not righteous falls into the category of evil.  When we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” many things come to mind.  It was not God’s design for genes to mutate so that people get cancer.  It was not God’s design for winds and storms to destroy homes and property.  It was not God’s design for ears to be deaf or to need hearing aids, for eyes to be blind or to need corrective lenses, or for limbs to fail so that we need walkers or wheelchairs.  These do not make you evil, but you are affected by such evils in this world.  Furthermore, it was not God’s design for people to bicker, complain, argue, or fight with each other.  It was not God’s design for people to covet and scheme to get what other people have.  It was not God’s design for anyone to post nasty or slanderous comments in social media or even to whisper them to one’s spouse.  Such things do mark you as evil, for God has not designed you to do them.  There is no one righteous in this world, and the whole world is no longer a home for righteousness.  Everyone and everything in this world have fallen under the category and the curse of what is evil. 
     There is nothing new under the sun.  The Israelites to whom Jeremiah preached were evil people living in an evil world, too.  Those Israelites demonstrated their evil hearts by their evil deeds.  Some had given up even trying to fight against their evil inclinations.  They took advantage of the poor.  They oppressed their fellowman.  They lied.  They cheated.  They were guilty of adultery and fornication.  And they chalked it all up to being just the way life is.
     The prophet Jeremiah was sent to call the people to repent, and to warn that judgment was coming upon them for their sins.  They were to be God’s people, but they were far from godly.  Though the Lord is long-suffering, he does not suffer our sins forever.  Destruction would come upon Jerusalem.  The temple would be razed.  The throne of David would be cut off and the line of David would be cut down to a stump.  And either death or exile would overtake the people. 
     The Lord would not revoke his judgment.  He does not delight in what is evil, but only in what is righteous.  He only delights when what he has created rightly does what it is designed to do.  In the midst of the evil that our Lord sees in our world, in our lives, and in our hearts, he makes a promise.  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.’” (Jeremiah 33:14-15)
     A righteous Branch would sprout.  From the throne and the line of David, which had been mowed down, the Lord would bring forth a new branch.  This Branch would be righteous, which means that he would do exactly what God had designed people to do.  He would execute justice and righteousness in the land.
     Now, is that good news or bad news—to know that this Branch which will sprout is going to execute justice and righteousness?  It is a comfort to know that he will not be crooked or shady in what he does.  But his righteousness also highlights our lack of righteousness.  We can see that what he does is good, right, and perfect, but it also demonstrates how far we fall short of being good, right, and perfect.  His very appearing proves that we are rightly condemned for the evil that dwells in our hearts and seeps out of our minds, our mouths, and our manner.  This would be fair and righteous justice.
     A righteous Branch will sprout, but he does not only do what is righteous.  He especially does what is merciful.  While the slaughtering of all sinners would be the faithful execution of the Law, that does not fulfill the Law.  Therefore, the righteous Branch, the Son of David, comes to fulfill all of God’s commands.  He is righteous in that he does everything man was designed to do.  He satisfies God’s commandments. 
     A righteous Branch will sprout, and “in those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 33:16)  Jeremiah does not call him the Righteous Lord, which he most certainly is.  Instead, Jeremiah declares that he is “The LORD is our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:16)  The righteous Branch, whom we know is Jesus, springs forth not just to do the Commandments, but to do them for us. 
     A righteous Branch will sprout, and he will produce salvation for you.  He does not use God’s Law to convict and condemn you.  He fulfills God’s Law to supply your righteousness for you.  In his name, you were baptized so that Jesus’ righteousness has become your righteousness.  For, this is what the Lord says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)  The very holiness that God demands of you Jesus has supplied to you.  When the Lord sees you, he sees the righteousness of Christ, and he is now pleased with you.
     As for the evil that has stained you and marked you, Jesus has purified you by his own holy and precious blood.  He has taken up your sin and iniquity.  Just as Jesus had satisfied God’s demands by fulfilling the Law, so Jesus has also satisfied God’s wrath by paying for the sins of the world.  And so Jesus fulfills the Law twice.  Jesus has fulfilled the Law with his righteous life—doing all that the Commandments have ordered, and Jesus has fulfilled the Law with his sacrificial death—suffering the curse condemnation that the Law proclaims against those who are evil.  Now the words of Jeremiah stand fulfilled.  “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely.” (Jeremiah 33:16)  Jesus Christ has saved you.  He has won the Lord’s favor and turned away his wrath.  Jesus Christ causes you to dwell securely.  Your place in God’s kingdom is not in doubt because it is in Jesus’ hands. 
     After the nation of Israel went into exile for their sins, the Lord returned and restored a remnant of Israel who would rebuild Judah and Jerusalem.  They would rebuild the Temple and restore right worship of their Lord—worship which looked forward to the righteous Branch which would sprout up for their salvation.  Their worship would also be reflected in lives that did what they were designed to do as God’s people—love and serve their neighbors as themselves.  The Lord God would be with them.  Judah would be saved, and Jerusalem would dwell in safety.
     It is the same for you.  For you, through Christ, are God’s chosen people—chosen for salvation and set apart for service to God and to your fellow man.  Each day, you strive to be righteous, doing precisely what God has designed you to do in love for each other and for all others.  You still dwell in a world of evils where things do not go as God has designed and intended.  You still pray, “Deliver us from evil.”   But you also get to live in the confidence that the Lord is your righteousness, that God is always with you, and that he will come again to deliver you from this world to the New Jerusalem, the home of righteousness.  Until then, the Lord will keep you secure in your salvation as he feeds you from this altar and consoles you with his word.  A Righteous Branch has sprouted, and you dwell securely in its shade.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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