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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Promise of God Not Broken - November 29, 2015

This is one of those seasons of the church year where the difference between what we do and say as a community of faith gathered together here can be so different and even contrary to our day-to-day lives outside of here.

In here, our texts call us to be reflective and even repentant, especially in light of the fact that the crucified and risen Christ will come again. In the words of Paul to the Thessalonians today, for instance, his prayer is that God strengthen their “hearts in holiness,” so that they are “blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” I'm pretty sure if Paul were among us today, his prayer would remain the same for the Thessalonians and us.

Out there, however, the Halloween items were not even stowed away before we were accompanied by cheery Christmas music and encouraged to shop early and often for gifts and holiday adornments. Websites like Pinterest and YouTube are lit up with DIY ideas and time saving life-hacks for the season. Store sale fliers and information on the hottest gifts this shopping season are everywhere we turn. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we should reject outright all the gift giving and party time that comes at this time of year – just try to get between me and the Christmas gifts I have in mind for my grand babies. I think it is an issue of balance though. The contrast between the mood of this time in the church year and the mood of much of the world is especially apparent. It's worthy of our attention.

To help achieve some of that balance, I think it is important to carve out some time for the activity of Advent as defined by the church – to not only remember and prepare for the event of what is coming on December 25, but also how that event changes our reality here on earth … what it tells us about God's love for us.

One resource that I've shared with all of you today to hopefully help you pull away from the perpetual busyness of this season is an Advent devotional book from Lutheran Social Services. It includes several brief devotions, and opportunities to do some prayer journaling and prayerful coloring – all of which is good and beneficial for people of all ages and aptitudes.

(Share a little from own devotional book.)

I encourage you to carve out some time this season for activity such as this … to make some time to think about how we dare to believe that what is coming in the birth of that little baby has the power to transform us and through us the world all around us.

A theme I found myself drawn to as I looked at the texts for this Advent season is how the voices of the prophets call out to us over the thousands of years that have passed between them and us. And so we'll follow those voices over the next few weeks. This week we have a word from the prophet Jeremiah and in the weeks to come we'll hear from Malachi, Zephaniah and then Micah.

The words of these prophets have been providing guidance, reminders, encouragement and truths – sometimes hard truths – to God's people for ages. As people of God who profess Jesus to be the Messiah, these ancient voices point to God through Jesus.

And so in this busy world that has a tendency to pull our attention in so many directions, the words of the prophets may serve for us as “course corrections.” The prophets point out news and activity of this season that has a far more lasting consequence then the most beautiful holiday decorations, the latest and best recipes, the most recent versions of our favorite devises, etc, etc.

Jeremiah's course correction for us today is assurance that God's promise, God's covenant with us, is not broken – even in the madness that surrounds us and may make it seem like an impossible truth.

This was an important message in Jeremiah's time. Jerusalem – the geographic center of the religious practices of the people of God – had been destroyed in the Babylonian invasion. It was almost 600 years before the birth of Jesus. This wasn't only the place where the people worshiped. Without the temple, they thought God would be prevented from being among them. To complicate things even more, the people themselves were scattered in exile all over the region. All sense of order, community and cohesiveness was gone. Nothing felt sure and the people had little and dwindling hope that their lives could be set right again.

In some ways, it may feel the same for us. The physical center of our religious practice has been changing. The place of church, where we gather for worship and to mark certain events – like baptism, communion, marriage, death –  is no longer at the center of life for many people. Rather, God's people, God's church is scattered and unorganized throughout our cities, towns and country sides. While we may not have armies of foreign nations marching through Munising demanding allegiance, insisting that we worship their gods and tearing down our worship places, we may sometimes feel like the exiled people Jeremiah ws addressing … we do not know how we can sing the Lord's song in a land that seems so foreign at times.

But in the face of this tension and discord, Jeremiah has a bold proclamation for the exiles … and for us.

“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,” he says.

This world and all that is broken in it may look bleak, but God does not break the covenant that has been made with God's people. That promise God has made can no sooner be broken than people can stop the sun from rising in the morning and setting in the evening … no more than anyone could stop a fig tree or any other tree from budding and sprouting leaves in the spring in anticipation of the summer sun.

Another critical part of Jeremiah's message to us is that this bold proclamation is not just lip service. Our faith, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, continually brings us back to our truth that God's promise to love us – saints and sinners that we are –  is unbroken. Our faith is what gets us through the rough spots and reminds us that God cares. It helps us work toward a future that God envisions and is life-giving for all of creation.

This is no small thing in a world that often works very hard to convince us that this covenant is forgotten … that our God of endless second chances has finally given up on us. We see the evidence of this conspiracy to undermine our faith all around us everyday.

We see it in the faces of those who grieve, the homeless and hungry who we cannot seem to reach, despite God's abundance in this world.

We see it in acts of extremists who use terror gain power, shut down conversations and instill fear in the world.

We see it in social issues that seem to plague and confound us – like in the discrimination of people of color, women, people who don't identify as heterosexual and refugees.

But this proclamation Jeremiah brings us today, this reminder of God's promise to us, names those things for what they are says this is not what is intended for God's good and wonderful creation.

God has made this covenant in response to those who grieve, to the homeless and the hungry who are being cut out of God's abundance. God makes this promise to us precisely because of fanatics who seek to terrorize others. God sticks to this promise with steadfast love because we do not always succeed in loving our neighbor because of who they are, what they look like or who they love.

God names all of this for what it is – and it is named contrary to God's will. Ultimately, this temporary stuff of the world is undone by the dominion of the One called “The Lord of Righteousness.”

So these words of Jeremiah still guide us today and remind us that despite the madness of the world around us, the promise of God is not broken.

And as followers of Jesus, we have an advantage that Jeremiah could not speak to. Jesus is our most powerful evidence of God's eternal covenant with us. We remembered it in our Thanksgiving for Baptism today. “Joined to Christ in the waters of baptism, we are clothed with God’s mercy and forgiveness.”

It is what brings us around the Lord's supper table to share the bread and wine of eternal life together.  And we remember our salvation freely given by God in this season of church as we await the birth of  Emmanuel – God come among us. In the birth of that child, a branch of David springing up in the most unlikely of circumstances, the Kingdom of God and God's intent for us has been revealed.

This Advent let us hold fast to that unshakable promise and let our prayers echo that of the Psalmist today: “Lead me in your truth,” O God. “And teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.”


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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