From Quivering, Thirsty Lips
There are a few lines from the book of Jeremiah that we sometimes read at Advent. They go like this:
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. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
But these words fall a little flat if you are just hearing them. To really understand where these words come from, you really have to see them. You have to imagine their visuals.
On film, their scene begins with a close up of the wild eyes of an old, tired face. The camera pans out to show that these eyes and face belong to a dirty, thin Jeremiah. The distinguished prophet is today dressed in rags. He’s covered in a layer of dirt and looks like he hasn’t eaten in months. The camera pans out again, and you see that Jeremiah is standing alone in the middle of a courtyard, being watched in every corner by guards. He is a prisoner in the courtyard of a palace.
The camera pans out again so that you can see just outside the walls of the courtyard. You see a young woman wearing rags, on her knees, wailing, over the thin, skeletal body of a child that is obviously dead. An old man is lying near her, wearing only a loincloth. His body is thin like the child’s, and he’s breathing shallowly. As the camera pans out further, revealing more and more of the city streets, the sound of the mother’s wailing is multiplied. More scenes of suffering fill the streets, and, in this ever widening shot of winding streets and suffering, you get a sense of a multitude of impoverished and hungry people.
Finally, the camera comes to the edge of the city, to the tall, thick, fortified walls of Jerusalem. Now, a moment ago, you might have thought those thick walls were trapping that mass of suffering people inside. But now, as the outside of the walls become visible, you realize that the walls are actually keeping people out. Outside the walls, there is a flurry of activity. Those walls are being struck and pounded and shot. Men are running back and forth and around with the weapons of the greatest army in the world. The sounds of a fortress being demolished join the cries of the people within in this confused crescendo of noise. Huge pieces of stone are crumbling off the wall, and you get the sense that the city will not last long.
And then, from this aerial view of the entire city of Jerusalem, the camera quickly zooms, back to the city streets, to the palace courtyard, to this one old man, Jeremiah. Not to his wild eyes, but this time the camera zooms in to his thin, chapped lips, and suddenly the cacophony of suffering and destruction goes silent.
And you watch Jeremiah’s quivering, thirsty lips say, “God speaks, ‘The days are surely coming when I will fulfill the promises I have made to you. In those days, I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David. A new king of this land who will execute justice and righteousness here. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.’”
The camera begins to pan out again to silently show the poverty and despair within the walls and the war and destruction outside the walls. But Jeremiah’s voice goes on, “’I am going the heal these people,’ says the Lord, ‘and their poverty will be turned into abundance and prosperity. In these streets of desolation and despair, there will be life again. Brides and grooms will run through these streets with joy and hope. Shepherds will come through with their flourishing flocks to nibble on the fresh, green grass. These days are surely coming.’”
And just as the prophet finishes his unlikely speech, the wall of Jerusalem is torn down, and the camera pans in to show the Babylonian soldiers rushing in to destroy, and plunder, and kill. The symphonic score begins, and a woman’s voice narrates, “And so began the Babylonian exile.”
I find Jeremiah 33 to be one of the most dramatic scenes in scripture. Here is this old prophet, imprisoned inside the walls of Jerusalem. A city that is suffering under 18 months of siege. Food and supplies are blocked from coming in. People who have been prosperous all their lives are feeling the pangs of hunger, disease, and death for the first time. Those who have always known scarcity—refugees, immigrants, the working class—these people are losing all semblance of hope and life. And outside the walls, the city has exhausted all of its resources in a war that it is destined to lose.
From the view of the camera, this is one of those most hopeless moments in the life of a people. From the outside, these people have no reason to hope. This prophet, this starving prisoner, has no reason to hope. And yet…and yet. His hungry, captive lips begin to speak of a future. His hungry, captive lips begin to speak of God’s promises, of abundance and joy, of healing and restoration. In a place where there should be no hope, Jeremiah speaks of hope.
As you prepare yourself this season for God’s arrival, don’t just sprinkle tinsel all over your home or work to perfect your dark chocolate fudge recipe. This season is not about God coming into a perfect, sparkling, hospitable world. Instead, ready the dingiest, darkest, most desperate places in your soul. And wait for God to bring hope and peace to the ugliest and saddest parts of your life, the places of fear and violence, the places that actually need God’s healing and love.
Join us on Sunday for our Christmas Celebration at 10:30am (The harp will begin at 10:30am) and on Tuesday evening at 6:30pm for our special Christmas Eve Service with Chelsea’s Japanese American United Church.