In Exile

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 22:45 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When Jeremiah is relaying these words to the people of Judah, many of the people have already been taken into exile in Babylon. And while he is talking, Jerusalem is surrounded by the Babylonian armies, and God Himself promises that the city is going to be destroyed, along with all the houses on which the people set up shrines and idols, refusing to listen to God and turning away from Him. Then the people who don’t die are also going to be taken into exile.

And what does it mean to be in exile? It means to be separate, away, apart. It means to be away from your home, your land, and the temple, which means being away from God’s own promise, because He had attached His presence and His promises of forgiveness and salvation to that place. Advent is a reminder that we are still in exile. We are, in many ways, in the same place that those Judean exiles were. They were exiled because of their idolatry and sin, and so we have found ourselves in exile because of our own unbelief and refusal to hear the word of the Lord.

And haven’t you felt that exile from God and from other people and even from yourself? We are like people in an ocean on independent flotation devices, and occasionally we bump into other people out of love or out of anger, but we are essentially separate individuals. We have a longing to be reconciled: what we want to be with what we are, what we think of ourselves with what other people think of us, and—most importantly—what God says about us with what we feel. And while we have moments of security, for the most part we have never felt at home.

Advent reminds us that we are still in exile, but it also reminds us that the exile will come to an end. Right in the middle of the Babylonian exile, with many already there, and many on their way, God gives Jeremiah a promise for the people: look! The days are coming when I will make good on the promise—literally, on the “good word”—that I spoke to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, I will cause to spring up a righteous branch, a righteous shoot, a sprout, a new growth from the dry and dusty soil of Judah. And He will do justice and righteousness in the land. Because, God knows, righteousness and justice aren’t getting done as it is! Not in Israel then, not in the world today, not in the United States, and not by God’s people. Unrighteousness and injustice are the order of the day.

So God’s own righteous Son, the descendant of David, of the house and line of David, He appears in the world in order to do justice and righteousness. And He appears exactly where one would expect Him to appear. As Zechariah prophesied, the King from the line of David appears in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, and bringing salvation. It is to Jerusalem He comes, in humility and righteousness, bringing salvation and security. The exile of God’s creation will not end until there is full salvation and people dwell in security. Even when the people returned to the land after 70 years in Babylon, they still did not dwell in security. Even now, our security and our salvation is not visible to us.

But Advent is the time of longing and hope, both the trust in the One who has come, and the trust that we will see Him in His full glory. In fact, the word “security” in Jeremiah 33 is related to a word for trust. You trust the one who makes you dwell securely, and keeps you from the threats of your enemies. The one who comes in the Name of Yahweh puts His Name on you, to mark you for the day when we will see Him, and see our exile come to its end. The Name by which the dwelling place of God’s people is known is “Yahweh is our righteousness.” We are not our own righteousness. We have not accomplished our own justice. Yahweh is our righteousness, and the promise is that the Day of the Lord is coming, when all things will be made right and just. We are waiting for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells, which will be, in fact, where we will dwell securely.

Advent reminds us that that Day will come, even as it reminds us that we’re not there yet. So what should exiles do? What should we do, when we are not yet home, but we are not at home where we are either? God tells the exiles in Babylon to buy land, to get married, to have children, and to pray for the welfare of Babylon, because when things go well for Babylon, they will go well for the people of God who live there. And God tells Jeremiah, who is still in Jerusalem, to buy a field.

Both of these are a bit strange. If the people are going to come back from Babylon, why should they spend time investing in a foreign land? And if the city is going to be destroyed, why should Jeremiah buy land there? Both are done according to the promise of God. The exiles are to live where God has put them, living out there lives in a foreign land as the people of God. And Jeremiah is supposed to buy land as a sign that God would bring people back to buy fields and vineyards and land. But it had to be done in faith, because the Babylonian armies besieging Jerusalem would seem to say otherwise.

Here is Advent in a nutshell: we live in this land, in this world, in this age as exiles. We are not at home; we are strangers in a strange land. We weep beside the rivers of this Babylon. We build our houses, we get married, we have children, we pray for the welfare of the place where God has put us. But God has promised to make good on His good word, on the promise bound to a new creation we have only by faith. It is bought and paid for, but we only see its corruption and devastation. Advent is the reminder that we are not there yet, but it is also the promise that our long Advent will come to an end with the Advent of Jesus in His glory. The Day is coming, declares Yahweh, when I will make good on My good word. Your exile will be over, the creation will be set free from its corruption, you will be set free from sin and death, and I will bring you home.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/27/21

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