November 29, 2009

Jeremiah 33:14-16 – I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Psalm 25:1-10 – Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 – And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

Luke 21:25-36 – There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

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.”

Hope in Chaos

When I read this I am filled with questions. How did the original hearers understand this passage? What promise was made to the house of Israel? How will it be fulfilled? What righteous branch will spring up? Let’s sort this out.

Jeremiah (יִרְמְיָהוּ) is a prophet of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, during the reign of King Josiah. At least until the Babylonian Captivity in 587 B.C. He prophesied that Judah would be dragged into captivity because of their unfaithfulness to YHWH. He’s hard on idolatry and priestly greed. These prophecies land him in jail (33:1).

Luther Seminary Associate Professor of Old Testament Kathryn Schifferdecker reminds us that this passage does not appear in the Septuagint (possibly 3rd century B.C.). It is a later addition. says chapters 1-25 are Jeremiah’s prophecies against Judah. Chapters 26-45 are prose that often refer to Jeremiah in the third person. Some believe they were written by Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe. (Read chapter 36.)

In the midst of scathing prophecies that include corpses in the street, Jeremiah hints that better days will come, in time. Laughter will one day be heard again in the streets (33:10-11). Jeremiah cares about the streets.

The destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity meant the end of the Davidic dynasty. It was now a dead stump. Once a tree is cut down, what can be done? The temple was destroyed – the end of a civilization or maybe not?

Jeremiah promises a shoot will spring up. It will be a righteous branch of David. This shoot, a person, will execute justice in the land.

Imagine a beautiful old tree with much history. Your grandparents were engaged there. Your parents hung a swing and pushed you. Then someone cuts it down. Forlorn, you know you will never again sit in the shade of that tree. Your children will not swing from its branches. You return to the site after a period of time and see a shoot emerging from the stump – hope.

David’s line will never again occupy the throne. But Jews hundreds of years later will come to hope for a different kind of dynasty, a different son of David. The Jews will look for this anointed one, this messiah (in Greek, Christ, from chrism, anointing).

But for Jeremiah, for the corpses in the street, for the people eventually in slavery in Babylon, this is a long way off.

Schifferdecker reminds us that we are called to do the same. When the world seems in chaos, like after events in Paris, Beirut, and Bagdad, we proclaim hope. When the world seems bent on hate and when even the best of us respond to hate with hate, we announce God’s coming reign of love. When, gripped with fear, we seem ready to shut out our neighbor, the one in the ditch, the holy family at our door, no room in the inn, we are invited to announce God’s risky, radical hospitality.

This is our privilege: to announce the love of God which casts out all fear – the love that became flesh in Jesus, son of David, our righteous branch.