The Days Are Surely Coming
Dr. Randy L. Hyde
Sometimes, you just change your mind. You were going one place and decide to go to another. You had an opinion about something, and at the time thought it was a true conviction. But further reflection caused you to realize that in your heart of hearts you felt otherwise. You had a negative opinion about someone, and then got to know him or her and decided that your initial reaction was wrong.
Such things may not occur often, but every once in awhile you just change your mind.
Brides have done it at the altar. When it comes to the point where she is supposed to say “I do,” she says, “I don’t think so.” It happens all the time in movies, of course, but in Hollywood everything is exaggerated. In fact, in more than thirty years of officiating weddings, I’ve never had that happen.
But, one time I came very, very close.
I was called to the bride’s room a few minutes before the ceremony was to begin. She was having second thoughts… probably third and fourth thoughts too. To be honest, I agreed with her. Having gone through extensive pre-marital counseling with the couple, I had determined the groom wasn’t right for her. He was a manipulator, a user, far too verbal in contrast to her quiet personality. Frankly, I didn’t like him very much and thought the relationship was shallow and ill-advised. The bride, who was a member of my church, was shy and completely without confidence, despite the fact that she was a beautiful, beautiful girl… which was part of the problem. I sensed he wanted her for her looks, a trophy wife. For that and other reasons, I thought the whole thing was a mistake.
But, her stepfather stepped in and talked her into going through with it. My evil mind told myself that he did so because he had so much money invested in the wedding. He told her to follow her heart, but both the bride and I read his statement as really saying, “Do what I want you to do.”
I was prepared to announce to the folks gathered that Saturday afternoon that there would be no wedding, to proceed to the reception hall and have as much fun as possible under the circumstances. But under the pressure of the moment she gave in and said she would do it. The tears in her eyes when she made her vows were not from joy.
The marriage lasted eight months. She should have changed her mind.
Sometimes, circumstances change your heart. I won’t tell you who the politicians are involved in this little story, because of the nature of partisan politics these days. You might think I’m telling you this out of partiality toward one side as opposed to the other, and I don’t want that to happen…
A newly-elected senator showed up at a Senate prayer meeting. The speaker, a senator from the other party, planned to tell of his recent bout with cancer and how it had deepened his faith. Upon seeing his new colleague, however, he changed the subject of his devotional talk. Instead, he told the group of how he had previously hated this new senator and had said derogatory things about her. “Will you forgive me?” he asked. She said she would, and expressed appreciation for his honest apology. Since then, they have worked together on legislation, including a bill to protect refugees fleeing sexual abuse.1
This story also goes to prove that sometimes you change your message. Why? You get a revelation from God.
That’s what happened to Jeremiah. He changed his mind, he changed his heart, he changed his message.
Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Jeremiah, purveyor of bad news, who had the misfortune of being chosen by God to tell his people that they were going to be exiled into a foreign land. Jeremiah, who has built his ministry and reputation on bad news, is now given the opportunity to do a 180 and give his people a word of hope. Jeremiah gets to tell his people they will be going home.
Unless you are insistent on reading the King James Version of the Bible, you won’t find Jeremiah using the word behold in his message of hope to the people of Israel, as they are about to be taken into the Babylonian exile. But it certainly fits, doesn’t it? “Thus says the LORD of hosts…” he begins. But he just as easily could have said “Behold!” It’s the same thing.
Barbara Brown Taylor has recently published a book entitled Leaving Church. In it she tells of how and why she resigned as pastor of a small Episcopalian congregation in north Georgia. Judging from what she says, my guess is that because of her pastoral inexperience she tried to be all things to all the people all the time, and it burned her out. She seems to have a different take on it, however, and puts it this way…
“I realized,” she says, “just how little interest I had in defending Christian beliefs. The parts of the Christian story that had drawn me into the Church were not the believing parts but the beholding parts.
-‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…’
-‘Behold the Lamb of God…’
-‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock…'”2
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The story is told of one of those ubiquitous children’s pageants, the kind that are staged all over the land during Christmas. One little girl was supposed to deliver the angel’s message, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” Except, she couldn’t get past the first word. She forgot her lines. So she just said “Behold!” over and over again. Let me tell you, she could have done worse.
It’s a good word, behold. We don’t use it much in regular conversation because it has… well, a King James biblical connotation to it. It is a word reserved for seventeenth century scripture. But, I hope you will make it a central part of your Christmas preparation and anticipation this year. The word behold points to something that has not yet occurred. It has a spirit of anticipation about it, it looks forward to something that is yet to be, it is filled with promise. The word behold comes about when someone changes his or her mind, heart, or message.
It just so happens that in the case of Jeremiah, the One who has changed his mind, heart, and message is God.
We can’t be sure how it happened. We are only told what happened. “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah…” And in that simple statement, everything – the entire future and fortune of the people of Israel – turns around.
My hope for you this year – my hope for myself – is that our minds and our hearts and our message will be changed, and certainly strengthened – renewed, maybe? – because Christ, God’s ultimate Word, comes to us as never before. Is it too bold a wish that for us everything would turn around? That our lives would be changed by what we experience?
For us, Christmas is when God fills a manger with his Presence. For Jeremiah’s people, Christmas was coming home. And when Jeremiah’s prophecy came true, and the exiled Hebrews returned home, imagine how it must have felt. Homes would have to be rebuilt and lands which had lain fallow for decades would need to be re-plowed. But that didn’t matter. They were going home! Imagine “the laughter of homesick exiles dancing along the highway that would bring them home.”3
That is why we need to choose our roads carefully, the roads that carry us through this life to our final home. We journey down many streets that lead nowhere, and we discover, sometimes too late, that they are dead-ends. There is only one pathway that leads us home to the love of God. It is the pathway to the manger. It is the dusty trail of Palestine with the One who brought a new message of God’s love. It is the graveled Via Dolorosa, the way of the cross. It is the garden path that leads to the empty tomb of resurrection. It is the way of Jesus.
When you and I celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ each year, it is to do more than merely stimulate the local and national economy. It is to do more than just make our children and grandchildren happy. It is to do more than create huge deficits in our personal bank accounts. We celebrate to remind ourselves that God always keeps his promises, even if God has to change his mind to do it, even when it comes at great personal cost to himself. It is to remember that God has kept his promise to us in the coming of his son, Jesus Christ, so you and I might have eternal life. God has come to do all this even in the midst of all our uncertainties.
“The days are surely coming,” says the prophet Jeremiah. But that’s just a phrase, it is not a complete sentence. You may prefer “Behold!,” and that’s perfectly all right. Still, it is just one word. What’s the rest of the story? Listen… “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made…” Evidently, when God makes a promise, God does not change his mind. Instead, God changes us. When it comes to God, “a promise made is a promise kept.”4
What has God promised you? Listen to your heart – really listen – and perhaps now will be the time when God delivers his promises to you. It might just change your mind, your heart, your message. That would be worth asking for this Christmas, don’t you think?
Lord, in this season, we look with hope for that which is yet to be. Come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel. Amen.
1The Christian Century, November 14, 2006, p. 6.
2Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), p. 109.
3James A. Harnish, Come Home For Christmas: An Advent Study for Adults (Abingdon Press: Nashville, Tennessee, 1999), p. 15.
4Joanna M. Adams, “Light the Candles,” The Christian Century, November 28, 2006, p. 18.
Copyright 2006, Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.