Look! The Days Are Coming!

tree, branch, cones
Photo by JensEnemark on Pixabay
Jeremiah 33:14–16; Luke 21:25–28

It was Thanksgiving weekend of 2021, also known as the beginning of the “Christmas season.” The excitement was building in a Milwaukee suburb as people lined the streets for the annual Christmas parade. It was especially anticipated because the year before, the Covid-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the parade. The marching band played “Jingle Bells” and the “Dancing Grannies” were back and doing their dance routine. After nearly two years of pandemic, the parade proclaimed the Christmas message: “Comfort and Joy.”

Then, suddenly, “Comfort and Joy” turned to “Trauma and Horror.” A large car, a “sport utility vehicle” plowed into the parade. It was the color red, the traditional color of Christmas. In an instant, “Christmas is coming” took on a whole new set of meanings for the folks of Waukesha, Wisconsin. Yet, the starkly mixed feelings in that community in that year were not unique. The contrasting and conflicting feelings that “Christmas is coming” are not new in human history.

The coming of the Messiah King means different things to different folks. The coming of the Christ is always associated with pain and sadness and even death before we get to the triumphant coming of the victorious King.

The prophetic proclamation in Jeremiah 33:14 is this: 14 ”The days are surely coming, says the Lord…” That’s how the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates the original Hebrew text. But the excitement and anticipation are more fully conveyed in other versions where the exclamation is back at the beginning of the sentence. 14 Behold, the days are coming…” (ESV or NKJV). “Look, the days are coming…” (NJB) The tone is positive and joyful. Or is it?

Earlier in 2021, it was thought that the pandemic would be over by the end of the year. Yet, by the time of the Christmas parade, the news was to expect another surge in the Covid virus. Indeed, that was what happened. Indeed, Covid-19 is still with us today. “Look, the days are coming…” can have a variety of meanings.

What are these days that are coming? What is the prophet Jeremiah foretelling? Do we think those days will really come? Do we look forward to the days that are coming? Or do we dread them? It turns out, the prophet’s words have a double meaning. Jeremiah uses this phrase, “Look, the days are coming,” repeatedly. Sometimes, it is obvious that the days that are coming in the immediate future may not be to our liking. Indeed, they will be days of trauma and horror. They will be days of pain and judgment as our world experiences again in the fall of 2023. They may be painful. This year’s red SUV is more likely to be the AR-15 rifle pictured on the cards of those who celebrated Christmas by proclaiming their allegiance to a certain vision of America.

Perhaps our day is not that different from Jeremiah’s. Jeremiah is often called “The Weeping Prophet” and, indeed, he had good reason to weep. He too lived in an era when the folks who thought themselves the most religious were simply assuming that they and their rulers were carrying out God’s plans.

Yet, there was chaos in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. The political and living situation in the capital was going from bad to worse. For a while, there was a relatively righteous king named Josiah. Then, Josiah died, and there followed a succession of rulers, who, desperate to retain power, went after every superpower and every god they thought could help them. Those were the gods of military power and might.

Judah’s cousins to the north, the Kingdom of Israel, were already scattered into exile. Now, Judah was constantly threatened by Babylon, the new superpower of the day. Judah’s kings alternately agreed to pay off Babylon for a so-called “peace” but and then in their nationalistic zeal would again rebel. On one such occasion, King Jehoiachin and many of his royal court were taken away by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who installed another king who he thought would be more loyal.

That king was actually renamed Zedekiah, which comes from the Hebrew word which means “righteousness.” While Zedekiah was more favorable toward the prophet, Jeremiah, he could not control the super-patriotic party who continued to plan a rebellion against Babylon. As a result, there was a siege of Jerusalem; Babylon’s army surrounded the city. The people were unable to get food from the country and food shortages were developing. The situation looked hopeless.

Jeremiah was clear that if the rulers continued their present rebellion against Babylon, disaster would result. “Look, the days are coming…” Jeremiah proclaims in Jeremiah 9:25 and then proceeds to show how idol worship is bringing ruin to the land. “Look, the days are coming…” Jeremiah again proclaims in Jeremiah 16:14-21 where God essentially says, “Yes, I will restore the people, but it will be after I have taught them (or made them know) through a period of judgment. Essentially, God’s judgment is what restores God’s order so that God’s justice and righteousness can prevail.

So, when Jeremiah utters the words in Jeremiah 33:14–16, “Look, the days are coming, declares the Lord…” we will see more clearly a double meaning. We will see both judgment and restoration.

  • For those who are proud of their national identity, self-confident in the fact that they alone are God’s people, and at the same time, looking only at their own selfish, short-term goals to retain power, they will rightly see judgment, a judgment which leaves the people with the consequences of their sin.
  • However, for those at the bottom of the economic and social ladder, those who are already oppressed and helpless, Jeremiah indicates a restoration of the life of justice and righteousness that God intends.

To the latter folks, he says, “I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” in other words the unified people of God. The promise was made while all of God’s people were still united under King David. That promise is in 2 Samuel 7:16 where God tells David, 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

Yet, it would already be obvious in Jeremiah’s day that this promise was not being fulfilled in the way that the Israelites expected. Indeed, the division of the people into two nations is noted simply by the fact that both are mentioned.  Jeremiah proclaims God’s word: The days are surely coming…when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah…When God says, “Look! The days are coming” he refers to a future like this: I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David. This is a clear reference to a future Messiah who will restore a unified kingdom of God’s people..

However, this unity seems ridiculous when the northern kingdom of Israel has now been destroyed many years ago. It seems ludicrous when David’s descendant and Judah’s ruler, Jehoiachin, and most of the royal house have already been taken into exile. It is far-fetched when the current puppet king, Zedekiah, has now rebelled, giving the Babylonians a ready excuse to destroy the city completely.

When God says, I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up…the play on words is terribly ironic. People will say, “Well the current king is already from the line of David. He is called Zedekiah; righteousness in his very name. That prophetic word hits home even today! We love to claim God’s favor by the right heritage and bloodline and the right name.

But Jeremiah says that the righteous Branch will bring true justice and righteousness. Indeed, he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. Zedekiah has not lived up to his name, so he will be taken into captivity. And there is something very ironic in Jeremiah’s call to “Look, the days are coming. The last thing Zedekiah has to look at is the execution of all of his sons and heirs, right in front of his eyes. Then, his enemies gouge out Zedekiah’s eyes and he spends the rest of his days blind and in prison. The politically scheming Zedekiah is not the righteous Branch who will bring true justice and righteousness.

Jeremiah’s prophecy continues with an echo of words he started with: 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. For Jeremiah’s day, with Zedekiah escaping, being captured, exiled, and imprisoned, the only thing left is for Jerusalem to be totally destroyed, which is indeed what happened. So no one is safe. There is only hunger and famine. There is only danger and chaos. The people might indeed “look” but they will be hard-pressed to see what Jeremiah is announcing

Yet, indeed, when the true Zedekiah, the true righteous branch comes, “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” God’s people will be restored, but it will not be by the same old power politics of military might. Jeremiah says, “And this is the name by which it [the righteous branch] will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” Only God can save us, and when God saves us, it is not only from the enemies of the other party or the other nation or the other king. God comes to save us from all of the effects of our own selfishness that imprison us.

Jesus is the righteous Branch of David, the Messiah. He is the true Immanuel, God who has come to be with us. Since God is with us, we can resist all of the economic and cultural and political powers of the world. In Jesus, we “will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

At the same time, Advent is still with us. There is still the longing. Even after Jesus came, he is still in the process of coming. In the vernacular of our day, we might say that in Advent 1.0, he came as a baby in Bethlehem. In Advent 1.1, he came on his people by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In Advent 1.2 and beyond, Jesus continues to come to us as we invite him to be fully the Lord of our lives. And then, in Advent 2, we are told that he will come in clouds of glory.

“Look! The days are coming.” Even when Jesus came, he still proclaimed this two-way reality, coming in judgment and coming in restoration. In Luke 21:25–28, Jesus himself talked about Advent, the Coming of the Son of Man, like this: 25 “There will be 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. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Here is the coming judgment, the consequences of many more years of the political Zedekiah’s and their pretentious righteousness. Confusion, fear, and foreboding come upon the world.

Yet, if we hold on, we will see the promise fulfilled: the true righteous Branch in all of his glorious goodness. Jesus says, 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. In Jesus’s coming we indeed look and see fulfilled Jeremiah’s words, “And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” So Jesus tells his first disciples and us as well, 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” We do not need to live in the fear of the judgment. Neither are we called to get out our swords or our automatic rifles. Instead, we can respond with compassion for what the world is going through. And we can look ahead in hope in the salvation that is coming.

Where does this leave us in our own time and place? There is great pressure in the midst of today’s chaos to simply choose a political side. Babylon on the right will save us if we are loyal. Egypt on the left will rescue us if we let them. But the message of Advent is this: Look! The days are coming! The days are coming! In the short term, the politics of left vs. right, of one ethnic group against another, will only produce more conflict and violence and chaos.

Yet, the days are coming and indeed are here. As followers of our Savior and Messiah, we are seeing it and we need to respond with justice and righteousness. The self-centered human party or movement or government, even one that claims to rule according to God, cannot save us. Only our faithfulness to the Righteous Branch, the Messiah, the Prince of Peace will we be able to come out on the positive side of the coming judgment. “Look! The days are coming!” ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” And we see that justice and righteousness in Jesus!

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