I hope you feel better. I hope your children are healthy. I hope I get an A in that class. Oooh, I hope she likes me. I hope to make a difference in the world. I hope their marriage makes it. I hope I get the raise. I hope…you fill in the blank. Every day we use that small, magical word—hope. It’s tough to live—or even make it through one day—without hope. But what is hope? Based on all the examples I just gave (and the lesson we’re going to explore today) I’d define hope like this: Hope is a vision for better days that changes us in the present. Break that down. Hope is a vision for better days. There’s something up ahead, around the corner, in sight, and it’s good. But that good future isn’t just abstract, because it reaches in and transforms us in the present – that’s the second part of hope.
So, for example, if I’m hoping for an A in a class, that hope will (at least it should) motivate me to study right now. If I’m hoping for a raise, I will work harder. If I hope someone likes me, I’m going to behave in such a way to make myself likable – you get the idea. Hope then is powerful…it changes you.
In our advent journey, which starts today, we meet hope a prophet of hope, a man named Jeremiah. Around the year 627 BC, when Jeremiah would have been about 16, God came to him and said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). Fast-forward 40 years and Jeremiah is God’s prophet, but times are tough, and this prophet of hope hasn’t been able to give much hope to God’s people. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and his troops had surrounded the capital city of Jerusalem, setting up a deadly siege, leaving the people inside Jerusalem on the brink of starvation (2 Kings 25:2–3). Zedekiah, the king of Judah, believed he could beat this Babylonian king, that was his hope. Meanwhile, Jeremiah told the king, “It’s over, Zedekiah. Just give up and give in. The king of Babylon will enter this city one way or another, so you can trust God and do this the easy way, or you can do it the hard way.”
King Zedekiah didn’t like this message, so he branded Jeremiah an unpatriotic menace to national security, arrested him, and threw him in jail. It was during these grim historical circumstances, as Jeremiah sat in a prison cell, misunderstood, persecuted, mislabeled, and disgraced, that he proclaimed some of the most powerful words of hope found in the entire Bible.
Let’s look at them together. Jeremiah starts out in this way, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. I love how this section starts out “The days are coming.” Think about those words for a moment. Jeremiah is in prison, and he writes about…hope…better days are coming…but that’s just if they’re still coming. They’re not here yet. The good days are yet to come. The promise is unfulfilled. God’s people would need to wait. So, Jeremiah could only cling to that promise and wait and hope. But there is one minor problem with hope…sometimes it’s disappointing
You’ve maybe heard this story from me before, but back when I was in 8th grade during the Christmas season, I had hoped to not have any big parts in my congregations Christmas service but, because my mom was the director (and I’m sure no one else wanted to do it), I got a big part. My mom had me sing a duet with another student. Now, this was that time in every young boy’s life where things are changing. And so on that night when I had to sing my duet, which had a number of high parts, I had yet another hope, I hoped that my voice would maintain. Unfortunately, my hope was short-lived. This is what I sounded like….
Hope can be a fickle, frustrating thing, Last weekend many in the Waukesha area hoped to enjoy a parade, but then tragedy struck. We might hope a certain politician or government will fix or improve our lives, but things never seem to change. We hope in a vaccine to return to normal…we put our hope in friends, in jobs, in ourselves, we hope all the time in so many things, and there is nothing wrong with putting our hope in those things, but so often, again and again, all those things we hope in, they disappoint us. They let us down. Yet, we still hope, right? We want to believe the things here, the things we’ve accomplished, the things we’ve earned, those things, are worthy of our trust and our hope – it’s kind of a pride thing at times. But I do think it’s more than that. I think it’s this: we hate waiting.
Hope requires you to wait, and it often seems like God’s people are always waiting for God to do something, anything, and we get tired of it. We get tired of waiting for God to act. So, naturally, sinfully, we find other things to hope in, things that we can see and enjoy, right now. It’s easier to hope in those things. But this is where God challenges you and me through his prophet, Jeremiah, because if you think you’re still waiting for God to do something in your life. If you think the hope he offers is too far-off to enjoy right now, you’ve maybe attached yourself to too many things here on this earth to truly enjoy the hope he offers, or worse you don’t understand his hope at all. Pay attention then to what Jeremiah writes in verse 15. Look at his hope.
“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.” Jeremiah was writing about and waiting for and hoping for, the long-promised Messiah. And he knew, “Those days are coming.” God promised. And, for the follower of Jesus, hope always depends on the reliability of the one who makes the promises. Our Christian hope is never based on our wishful thinking or our positive feelings or even how much faith we have. Our hope is based on a God who is really there. A God who makes and keeps real promises.
And here was his promise: God stood in the garden of Eden and looked at his firstborn, Adam and Eve, his creation now fallen, and he loved them. And in his love, he gave them hope. He spoke of his Son whom he loved. On the shoulders of that Son, you know his name, Jesus, God placed the weight of your sin, of my sin. And, with an unfailing love, he, Jesus, lived and did what is just and right and he took that sin – all of it – and he took that death – everyone’s – and he suffered a hell – once for all – as his own Father left him with no hope on a cross. With this unfailing love, with this sacrifice, God gave us hope. And do you know what Paul once said about this hope, about Jesus? “In this hope, in him, we are saved.”
That’s what Jeremiah was looking forward to, those were the days yet to come that he could only hope for, and that hope was powerful. It changed him. You see, once you start down the path of hope, there’s no turning back. Or think of it this way: hope can ruin your life. Once you start hoping, your heart starts to burst with longing—because now you have something that you want. Hope will turn your life upside down. That’s what hope in Jesus does. It up-ends your life. It changes everything.
For Jeremiah, it allowed him to sit in the misery of prison. It allowed him to wait and write of better days even as he lived in some of the worst. That’s what hope in Jesus does. It changes how a person lives here and now, whether that here and now is good or bad. But here is the kicker, we’re not waiting anymore.
Here is what I mean, we are, right now, living in the days that Jeremiah longed to see—the days that were the object of his hope. All of that stuff he wrote about, has happened. That “righteous Branch of David” did spring forth and brought justice and righteousness on this earth. Jesus was here. So, it is with eager anticipation we look forward to another year when we get to peer into that manger and see the promise kept, God in the flesh, your Savior.
“The days are coming?” No, today is one of those days … not a day of weary waiting, or dreary routine, or painful endurance, but a day of living in the reality of the promise fulfilled. We are not waiting for God to do something. He’s already done it. In fact, he’s still doing it; it is “one of those days.” And, if we are only waiting for what’s next, only waiting for God to do something else, only waiting for those better days, then we are failing to live faithfully and joyfully in the present reality of now. And this is your reality – Jeremiah prophesied about it in verse 16 – “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” Those days are now. Right now, you God’s people, God’s church, you are Jerusalem, and you bear the name of the Lord and you aren’t just called righteous, in Christ, you are righteous and holy, and blameless in God’s sight. You get to live in his grace and favor every single day. You get to call on his name. You get to worship him. You’re his child…God’s child.
And, now, now the days are coming, and you hope for something even more. We hope for that day when our Father calls us home – that day when Jesus comes back to take us there with him. As you look forward to that day, don’t forget about these days. God gave them to you. Use them. Keep your eyes focused. Look back, not on your life, but on Christ’s life for you, and look forward, to Christ’s return. Wait for Jesus, he is your hope. And that hope in him, it’s powerful, and, when you look at your own life – wow – has it changed you. Amen.