Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“Days Are Coming”
Rev. Art Ritter
December 2, 2018
The days are surely coming, says 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. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
In May of 1966, the musical Mame opened on Broadway starring Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. The story was about the title character Mame, a high flying member of New York society in the 1920’s. Mame’s lifestyle was rather eccentric, bohemian, and intellectual, always frolicking in the company of her rich friends. Then one day, upon the death of her brother, Mame’s ten year old nephew Patrick arrived and she had to care for him. Mame tried to keep up her lavish lifestyle, even including the boy in the banquets and parties. But then October 1929 came along and Mame lost much of her wealth in the stock market crash and resulting Great Depression.
There is a scene in the musical where Mame and her nephew mourned their loss of brother, father, and fortune. There was a certain sadness in the loss of the security and joy of the past and a deep hopelessness in the fear and worry in the uncertainty of the future. In this difficult situation, Mame decided to do something to make herself happy. She choose to throw a party, decorating for the most festive holiday that she could think of. She began to sing what we now think of as the contemporary Christmas song, “We All Need a Little Christmas.” I would sing it for you but I don’t sound anything like Johnny Mathis. “For we need a little music, need a little laughter, need a little singing-ringing through the rafter. And we need a little snappy, ‘Happy Ever After.’ Need a little Christmas now.”
As we begin the season of Advent, our lives are confronted by times and situations that rival that gloomy hopelessness. While any age might be labeled a period of darkness, there is much in our current day that fuels a sense of despair. Mass shootings. Layoffs. Fire and flood and earthquake. Refugees and immigration policy. Dictators with nuclear arsenals. Politicians whose words seek to divide rather than unify, whose actions seem to fan our fears not assuage them. It is an uneasy feeling just turning on the world and national news at night or checking your social media during the day. It seems as if more people are angry and unkind and bold in their hatred. We know that many close at hand suffer from a lack of adequate food, medicine, clothing, and shelter. We know that many live in grief, worry, loneliness, and depression. How do we find hope in such a time? How do we live in hope in such a time? Certainly we need a little Christmas, the kind of Christmas that is more than decorations and presents and lights. We need a Christmas that really changes our world.
Today we hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived in a time in which his nation, the southern kingdom of Judah, was threatened by the neighboring superpower Babylon. Jeremiah reminded the king and his advisors that faithfulness to God was not found in actions of patriotism and military might. Faithfulness was listening deeply for God’s intention and then seeking it in service and sacrificial ways. For this commentary, Jeremiah was thrown in jail. The Babylonians conquered Judah and led many away into exile away from their homeland. The people lived in deep despair, longing for a return to the security and comfort of the past but realizing that their world and lives were out of their control.
Kathryn Matthews writes, “We sense that same longing today, in people who feel pushed down and pushed out, even crushed beneath the heel of modern empires of greed, materialism, militarism, and nationalism.” Joanna Adams added in 2006, words that to me seem perfectly appropriate twelve years later, “This Advent I feel an urgent need for the light that comes from God, and I do not think I am the only one…the clouds of anxiety about the future are hovering so low and close that you can barely see you hand in front of your face.”
But Jeremiah wasn’t through speaking the word of God. He prophesied again. “The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, “when I will fulfill the promise I made to Judah. In those days I will cause a righteous branch to spring up, and he shall execute righteousness and justice in the land.” Jeremiah’s words seemed to contradict reality. There was no king and no heir to David on the throne. The temple was empty and abandoned. Yet the prophet was convinced that some good day was surely coming. His prophecy pointed out the promise of God precisely in that moment when God was most missed, most absent. And Jeremiah’s words said that God’s presence was not just in some longed-for future, but in a close at hand day that makes a claim on present deeds. Lives should be oriented toward expectation, but not in simply waiting around for God to act. Righteous actions by the faithful would be the very thing that would inaugurate God’s new day.
Jeremiah’s vision of hope was an opposite approach from that which Mame used in the Broadway musical. Deep down inside we know that the magic wand of tinsel and presents and twinkling lights will not change things for us either. Jeremiah’s vision of hope was rooted in the core reality that we see in our God and in the presence of the Christ whose birth we await at Christmas. It is the power of creation, redemption, and resurrection- bringing a green bud of possibility after a long winter, new life in a stump that was cut off, peace and good will in the presence of a baby born into a situation of political and personal turmoil.
Days are coming. Advent is that tricky time of living between the “already” and the “not yet.” We have to hear this word from the prophet as if he is speaking to us today. Christmas comes when we believe God’s promise is real and is being fulfilled around us. Christmas comes when we make it alive in our world. If we want to celebrate a future hope we have to recognize that the future hope has a claim on how we live in the present. We have to love and act with compassion and goodwill, seeking righteousness and justice, confident that what we do matters and believing that in what we do, the coming new day of God is one minute closer to being.