December 1, 2019 // Narr 2.13 Advent 1: Promise // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // First Congregational UCC, Ashland, OR // “Promises Made, Promises Kept?” // Jeremiah 33:14-18; I Promise (children’s picture book) by David McPhail

Intro

Promises, promises.

What is a promise? [various responses: a commitment, your word, a pledge…. ]

I appreciate Baby Bear asking, in that children’s story book, “What is a promise?”

When someone says, “I promise…” what do you feel?

[various responses: uncertainty, depends on who’s saying it (what their track record is), high expectations, comfort, “I don’t ever say it,” prefer “I will try,”]

Are there times and places where it is easier to trust in “I promise” than at others?

I can believe a lot of “I promises” if I was Baby Bear getting tucked into his warm cozy bed and sung a song. There are some times, though, when it is a lot harder.

II.

Let’s say you were in prison. Do you think
prison is an easy place to trust in promises?
In prison, even the things we think are
reliable can be yanked away, often without any explanation. The author of this
morning’s reading from the Bible writes from prison. The prophet Jeremiah wrote
those words [Worship Leader] just read, words of promise, from prison:

 “The days
are surely coming, says the Holy One, when I will fulfill the promises I made
to the house of Israel and the house of Judah… I will cause a Righteous Branch
to spring up for David; someone who will execute justice and righteousness in
the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in
safety.”

Where and
when Jeremiah wrote this promise matters a lot. A little political geography
may help. Ancient Israel was a little nation on a trade route squeezed between
two larger powers: Egypt to the West and Babylon/Assyria to the East.[i] The people here lived “in
constant danger of being conquered, subjected or destroyed,”[ii] and that’s exactly what
been happening if you have followed the context of the prophets we’ve heard
from these last few weeks. The Northern part, Israel, has fallen. And Judah is
really struggling, by the time we hear from Jeremiah. Babylon has surrounded
and besieged Jerusalem, and Jeremiah gets thrown in jail by his own government
for speaking the truth about how three kings in a row have “not only hurt God’s
people, but the land itself.” And it is
from jail that Jeremiah writes this promise.
(Pause)

III.

What is the promise? A righteous ruler and a
faithful priest. Someone to sit on
David’s throne. What’s that about? It’s a little weird, right?
[ask kid] Do
we have a king or queen or any kind of royal ruler? The king/queen thing can
trip us up. It comes from a time and place when most people could not imagine a
whole nation following God’s ways unless a powerful ruler made them do it. The
“kingdom of God” stands in for that land, that place, those people among whom
God’s ways of love and justice rule every conversation, every decision, every
day.

What is the promise? God promises to send a
leader of justice who will heal the whole land. Well, the truth is, this
promise still hasn’t been fulfilled, not literally. No king has returned to
David’s throne since the one who imprisoned Jeremiah lost to Babylon. In fact,
500 years after Jeremiah wrote, there was still no Israelite king or queen on
the throne of David. And yet two parents living under Roman oppression name
their infant child “God saves,” Jeshua.
We know him as Jesus. In Jesus, many
people saw that idea of a “king-dom” and the kind of person who would lead it –
not by force but by self-giving love.

What is the promise? That ancient definition
of “saved.” Recovery of the lost. Healing in the broken places. Shalom for all the land. Room to be safe and free,
whole and protected.  That’s the promise.

That is the promise. May we lean into it with the Spirit’s help this week. Amen.


[i] Rachel
Wrenn, “Commentary on Jeremiah 33:14-18,” www.workingpreacher.org

[ii]
Wren.