From Pastor Sarah Stadler
The days are surely coming, says the Lord. The days are surely coming.
When I first heard these words this week, I heard ominous music in my head. I felt a touch of fear, dread, scared anticipation. For what days are surely coming? The day I grow old and have no children to care for me? What days are surely coming? The day we receive a call from a nurse or hospital chaplain who tells us that a dear friend or parent or child is in the hospital because they were in an accident? What days are surely coming? The day a spouse or partner turns to us and says: This isn’t working. We need to divorce or separate? What days are surely coming? The day we receive an eviction notice or the day we are laid off from work or the day war or terrorism become real to us on a personal level? What days are surely coming?
The first people to hear these words of God from the mouth of Jeremiah probably had similar wonderings for they received these words at a time of great devastation. The Babylonians—a nation of people to the northeast of Israel—were at that time ransacking Jerusalem, destroying the temple, capturing half of the Jewish people, forcing them to Babylon, enslaving them. What days were surely coming? A lifetime of slavery, loss of identity, families torn apart. I imagine it was hard for the Israelites to find hope in that situation. All they could see in front of them was heartbreak.
Like the Israelites, don’t we all—at least to some extent—live not in hopeful anticipation but in dread? Don’t we all look to the future and sometimes wonder: what else will go wrong? When Ben and I lived in Iowa, one of our friends would regularly utter words that were both jokingly shared but also serious. He would say: I always assume the worst will happen so that I’m not disappointed. If something better happens, then, I’m delighted. When Ben came home one day and told me what our friend had said—it was the first time Ben had ever heard him say it, I immediately burst out with: Exactly! For I had long felt the same way. We are scared of being hopeful, aren’t we? Perhaps because being hopeful requires trust in a God whom we cannot see, requires trust in a love that is greater than our fears. We are scared of being hopeful because hope is so slippery. We can’t tie it down, sew it up, control it. We are scared of being hopeful because heartbreak is so painful, and we assume our hopes will be dashed. But what if they’re not? And what of these present days? Allowing ourselves to live with hope, to be present for what is now instead of anticipating the future with dread, I think living with hope allows us to really see and taste and touch and appreciate the gifts of this day. And in appreciating this day, we can ask without fear: what days are surely coming?
According to the word of God given to Jeremiah, 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. The days that are surely coming are days of justice and righteousness, salvation and safety. Those are the days that are coming.
Today is the start of another church year, the first Sunday in Advent, a time of anticipation, the time of the year when we rejoice in hope. Advent is not a time of celebrating the birth of Christ; that’s Christmas. Advent is the time when we rejoice that our hope is sure—since we know that Christmas is coming, that Easter will eventually come. Advent is the time when we rejoice that God delivers on God’s promises, that in the midst of heartbreak and devastation, that from violence and broken relationships, from death and despair, justice and righteousness, salvation and safety surely spring up. So, we really can trust in God, let go of our fear, and live with hope. Thanks be to God! Amen.