Time of Fulfillment
The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH
AND THE MEDITATIONS OF MY HEART
BE ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT,
O GOD, MY ROCK AND MY REDEEMER. AMEN.
Time is like a river… and its current is swift.
No sooner does anything appear
than it is swept away,
and another comes in its place.
Roman emperor and philosopher
We got off the subject at our pastors’ text study this week – perhaps the texts were difficult or our minds were on Thanksgiving instead of the first Sunday in Advent or it just may mean that many of us are scatterbrained, I don’t know, but we started talking about time. Many people think of time as cyclical: “sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the years” or in the words of Ecclesiastes :
“A generation goes and a generation comes,
but the earth remains;
the sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hurries to the place where it rises;
the wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north,
round and round goes the wind
and on its circuits the wind returns;
all streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they continue to flow…”
Most world religions see time and history as cyclical.
One of the pastors at our study said it was the great contribution of the Jews to take a different view, to see time as linear. Apart from Ecclesiastes, I believe he is right. The Hebrew view sees history with a beginning and an end. The Bible begins, “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth.” And our Christian Bible ends with God proclaiming, “Behold I make all things new.” Our religion is linear. We see history with God at its beginning, with God at its ending and with the incarnation of our God right in the middle of time.
We see God in the past. I had a history professor in college, Dr Herman Astrup Larsen, who began every term by putting the word “History” on the blackboard and drawing a line through the “s”. History is “His Story,” God’s story. Because our faith is rooted in real events that happened in real places in real time, we study history, Bible history and church history.
This year our confirmation students are spending the first semester on Old Testament history and will go into the New Testament after Christmas. They are learning who Abraham and Sarah and Moses and David are, what they did, why they are important and will spend quite a bit of time on the life and teachings of Jesus.
It is important to know that our faith is grounded in the lives of real people, their joys and sorrows. The Bible shows us people who struggled to believe and obey just as we do. Sunday by Sunday we come to church and hear about events that happened two thousand, three or four thousand years ago and somehow in the retelling we are asked to make them come alive in our hearts and minds today. And it has been this way all along.
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In our first lesson from Jeremiah, the prophet has asked people to recall God’s saving events in the past, to remember the covenant God made with the people centuries before. Our religion has always focused on God’s saving events in the past.
But our faith is more than looking backward. It has to be. We need the presence of God with us now, today. This week in our confirmation class we read the twenty-third psalm and asked why it has meant so much to people and one young person said it was because of the assurance that God is with us even in our time of trouble:
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil,
for thou art with me,
thy rod and they staff they comfort me.”
Some of you saw the movie Luther when it was out this fall. Despite so many dangers and difficulties, Luther was strengthened by the assurance that God was protecting and guarding him. God was his “mighty fortress.”
Albrecht Dürer, a contemporary of Luther’s put this Lutheran assurance into art. His engraving, “Knight, Death and the Devil” is a classic expression of the spirit of the reformation. A knight in full armor is riding through a valley accompanied by a figure of death on one side, the devil on the other. Fearlessly, concentrated, confident, he looks ahead. He is alone but not lonely. God is with him.
We need the assurance that God with us. I was visited with one of you this week and the question came up about spiritual assurance. I think we’ve all wanted to say to God, “If you are real, then show yourself.”
I remember sharing what one seminary professor had shared with me, that he rarely saw God working in his life when things were happening but would look back and see how God had worked in his past. It is the expression of that poem, “Footprints” where God tells the person that when there was only one set of prints in the sand, it was then that God was carrying her or him.
It is wonderful that our faith is not based on feeling because we don’t always feel very spiritual or religious or even very assured of God’s presence. I know I have my doubts and worries. I understand what Rick Warren means when he says in The Purpose Driven Life that we either put God in the center of our lives and worship Him or we put worry in the center of our lives. God or worry – and I know I often choose worry, as if I have to solve my own problems rather than trust in God above all things.
Jeremiah wrote our text in the midst of the siege of Jerusalem. He had been preaching for years to the people of Judah to change their ways, circumcise the foreskin of their hearts, but they had not done so. Jeremiah had pleaded with the people for thirty-eight years but Israel would not listen. They ignored God’s prophet, they mocked him, drove him out of his own house, threatened him and finally tried several times to kill him. Finally Jeremiah came to understand that if there was to be healing for such a people, to would have to come form God Himself. He knew that only Yahweh could restore Israel to wholeness and faithfulness. According to the book, Jeremiah dictated all his oracles to Baruch the scribe in 605 BC, Jerusalem was laid waste in 587 BC and the people sent into exile. Yet Jeremiah was assured that in the midst of warfare and destruction and death, God was still with God’s people. God was in the present with them.
And God would be in their future.
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”.
The future is safely in God’s hands and that future is life and salvation. There is no condition to what God will do – it is not dependent upon the people repenting and obeying but only God’s faithfulness. As Christians we look back to see what the people in Jeremiah’s day would look for in the future – the coming of the Messiah. It is clear that Jeremiah is proclaiming that the Messiah will come, in fact the phrase he uses, “Branch of David” would become a title of the Messiah.
Christians confess Jesus as Son of David, Son of God and savior. Of the kingdom of Christ there is no end; of the priestly sacrifice of Christ there is no end. Jeremiah proclaims that one would come to sit on David’s throne and one would come to offer up priestly sacrifices. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us and for us. Jesus is the eternal king and great high priest. The prophecy of Jeremiah is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Messiah.
It has that we are all of us still B.C. It means that none of us has a perfect faith or is without doubts and fears. None of us is sinless but we fall short constantly of what God wants and expects of us. We all need a Savior who is Jesus. But in some sense we still await the Christ who will bring the kingdom of God. Judah is not yet saved and Jerusalem does not dwell in safety. We read the newspaper and watch the news and it is full of wars and rumors of wars, “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, people will faint from fear and foreboding.” We still look to the future with faith and hope. God has brought us this far, God is with us now and God will be with us to the end. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Past, present and future are all in God’s hands. Amen.
—Copyright 2003, James Kegel. Used by permission.