When George H. Bush was vice president he represented the U.S. at the funeral of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev's widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev's wife performed an act of great courage and hope. It was a gesture that surely must rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed. She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband's chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all, portrayed that her husband was wrong. She had found hope in Jesus Christ in spite of her husband running an agenda of everything against Christian beliefs. Can you appreciate with me my friends? The living hope in Jesus Christ has transformed many lives over hundreds of years – in the most unexpected circumstances that hope brought life to those who were dead in their transgressions.
The season of Advent begins with the theme HOPE for the right reason – God had brought hope to a world that knew only despair and destitution. This morning we want to focus on what the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the people of his time. They were thinking back in Babylon of what they once had in Jerusalem: The homes they lived in were their pride, but as they were led away in captivity, they witnessed how it all went up in flames. They remembered the city walls they thought could never fall, but it did. There was the temple, the place where they sought God's presence. At the time they thought that nothing was ever going to take anything away from them, but it happened. Even the temple wasn't spared. What went wrong for the people of God? They brought pagans gods into God's temple just like all the other nations and they thought God had to be satisfied with what they presented to Him. And so judgment came over them. God's hand was pressing hard on them and there was only desolation in the hearts of God's children. He was never going to forgive them. But they were so wrong. God sent Jeremiah to tell them about a day that was coming – a day when the Branch from David's line was going to bring them the only hope that would never fade away.
Jeremiah prophesied to his people about 1 The Promise of God Changing Desolation Into Abundance. Jeremiah 33: 12b, “In this place, desolate and without people or animals – in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks.” In wartime shepherds had to become soldiers. There was no time for tending the flock and taking care of sheep or cattle. It was one thing to fight the battle and win so that you can return and take care of the flock. It was quite another thing to lose the battle and have every sign of abundance destroyed or taken by someone else. The lack of flocks and herds in the Ancient Near East meant extreme poverty. It meant a ruined economy. Things couldn't get worse for God's people. They had nothing to show and for their children a future seemed very bleak. There were other times in history when people only knew despair. During the World Wars many had lost everything – their families, their homes, their professions and in some cases their reason to live. It was during one of those times that German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke to prisoners in Ravensbruck concentration camp. He told them that the Advent of the Lord is like someone bringing hope by unlocking a prison cell. Many years before Bonhoeffer Jeremiah brought words of encouragement to the house of Israel – “Hear the hope I bring you through God's promise! Prepare yourself for the abundance to come.” What was this promise of abundance? We find it in verse 13, “In the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah, flocks will again pass under the hand of the one who counts them.” There were going to be so many flocks that shepherds had to count them. Abundance would be in the land! A sign of restored hope for God's people. And then the Lord affirmed that after abundance became a reality, the Righteous Branch from the line of David was going to make His appearance. You see my friends, Christmas Hope came into fulfillment just as God promised. Where do we read about shepherds and flocks at night? It's described in Luke 2 from verse 8. God opened His heavenly realms in the middle of the night where shepherds enjoyed their abundance. Yes, God gave them back what He promised – in all the towns there were again shepherds and flocks. God set the conditions under which Jesus would come.
The return of abundance was met by the One Who would give abundance far beyond flocks and fields. Didn't He Himself say in John 10: 10? - “I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance.” What this means is that if you are a Christian, God has promised an abundance of grace, an abundance of joy, a surplus of peace, an overflowing of mercy in Christ. All those things are realities in the life of any Christian. Even if there are no gifts under the tree, even if none of those people out shopping on Black Friday were thinking about you, there is real abundance in the Gift of God's Son.
Jeremiah spoke about 2 The Hope Of Righteousness. We read 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 Righteous Savior.” When Jeremiah spoke those words to exiles in Babylon it was like he shone the brightest light in their eyes. They were blinded with the truth! They vividly remembered what got them in the situation they were in. Righteousness became a word that didn't have value any more. People did what they want; rules were made to break; the precepts of God got to be forgotten words on paper put away so far that they didn't even know where to find it. Doesn't it sound familiar my friends? I guarantee you that in many households people will not know where to find a bible; some would not even know if they still have a bible. For Israel that was going to change. Their Hope was going to be Called Righteous Saviour. He came not only to deliver them from injustices; no He became their Saviour – The One to redeem Israel for eternity. We too have the Hope of Jesus our Righteous Saviour. He came to set us free; He removed the chains in the dungeons in which we imprisoned ourselves and opened the door for us to come out. In the Heidelberg Catechism Sunday 1, Question 1 we find the question, “What is your only comfort in life or death?” And then the answer: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; Who, with His precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me.”
O my friends, above a world of injustices, a world pandemic, natural disasters and fear there is Jesus Christ seated at the right hand of the Father and as our Hope He is pleading for us, pleading for the day to come when hope will be fulfilled when we see Him face to face. And while we wait for that time we fix our eyes on Him the Author and Perfecter of our faith.