From the Righteous Branch

Luke 21: 25-36             Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Jeremiah 33: 14-16              November 29, 2015 (Advent 1)

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.

Prayer:  O Righteous Branch, may these words nourish our minds and our souls.  Thank you for your presence that helps us grow and understand.  Amen.

We’ve been seeing signs—Christmas is coming.  Ever since September, actually.  I walked into K-Mart, late September, and they were getting the Christmas decorations out.  In mid-October, before Halloween, Home Depot’s seasonal section was all set up with Christmas trees, wreaths, new lights, new gadgets. Everything. The countdown as to how many days to Christmas started as soon as the number got smaller than triple digits.  Thanksgiving has come and so has Black Friday.  Hundreds of commercials about Black Friday hit the airwaves and other means of communication.  Where the best of the Big Sales were the lead stories on the local news stations.  40, 50, even 60% off—big time promises!  Those were the lead stories!  It must have been a slow day in the news room.

Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.”  So also, when you see these things taking place, in our stores,you know that the Big Time commercial, consumer-oriented, market-driven, plastic made, materialistic Christmas is drawing near.

O People of Faith, we are called to receive a different promise as we prepare for Christmas… it’s a promise affirming that the true, deep, long-lasting and life-giving meaning comes from things unseen, things eternal, things often found indour devotions, our darkness, and not in our purchases.

We see the signs all around us—our political world is in turmoil.  In our state, we still don’t have a budget because there’s no understanding of the art of compromise.  Both sides digging in and stalemating.

On the national level, the presidential race is heating up.  The field of Republican candidates has narrowed down a bit.  Democrats still have three main ones.  Independents are in there somewhere.  All of them are making promises to the American public largely based on their wishful thinking what they think is best.  Some promises are made based on bigotry, hatred, and narrow-minded, exclusive thinking.  Many of the promises made are not based in reality, or the facts, and awareness of how much these promises are going to cost should they become a reality appears not to matter.  What we are told is the swan song… “Your life will be happier, more secure, more safe—if we have this program but not that one… if we welcome these people into our own country but not these… if we monitor this religious group but not other ones... if we allow these people to marry but not those.”

O people of Faith, we are called to receive a different promise… one that is found in God, one that speaks of God’s love and extravagant hospitality for all people..

We see signs that our planet earth is dealing with a changing climate.  Glaciers are “calving” at a rapid rate.  Huge chunks of ice break off at the edge of the glacier.  Tourist boats take trips trying to get a glimpse the event happening.  Warming temperatures world-wide are causing these glaciers to melt raising ocean water levels.  Some island nations are urging their citizens to move to higher ground.

Scientists, politicians, and theologians disagree if the earth’s rising temperature is caused by human beings excessive use of fossil fuels, or if this is part of the earth’s natural cycle, that it warms and cools naturally over time.  Some people promise that this is nothing to worry about, and those sounding the alarm are just liberals spouting off their liberal agenda.  Others promise that this is huge and the changes signal the beginning of the end of life as we know it on planet earth, and non-responsiveness will have disastrous results.

O people, of Faith, we are called to receive a different promise… a promise that is found in God’s love and care for the earth AND our responsibilities as we live here, scripture tells “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24: 1), BUT humanity is to “fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1: 28)

In our churches, we see signs that God’s promises come from different and unlikely places.  For example, the gospel is usually where we hear God’s Good News.  The prophet’s word is usually where we hear the bad news.  But today?  For this Advent season?  They’re flipped around!  The Good News is found in the prophet Jeremiah’s reading.  Luke has doom and gloom!  Jeremiah has the promise that comes from the Righteous Branch.

Jeremiah was one of the prophets who told the Hebrew people the bad news that the Babylonians and the Chaldeans were coming to defeat them and take them as POWs into exile.  But, even though this bad news sounded out, Jeremiah always offered a word of promise and hope… that this wasn’t the end.  Even though the future looked bleak, Jeremiah shared God’s words that in the midst of trouble, God says, “I will restore… I will renew…  I will fulfill promises made long ago.”

The promise made long ago was that someone from David’s lineage will forever be on the throne for Israel.  That someone is an extension of what God loves and values.  That Someone is righteous… is honest… is kind and merciful.  God says, “ I will cause Someone to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness... for everyone, everywhere!”

Now we know that this promise is not intended to be taken literally, only limited to the earthly, temporal realm.  And we know, that, as Christians, we believe that Jesus, who was from David’s lineage, is the Someone reigning with God, and the Holy Spirit forever!

We believe he is the Righteous Branch who promises and brings in God’s “Shalom”, that Shalom is wonderful Hebrew word that means all-encompassing peace, spiritual health and well-being.  The biblical concept of ‘shalom’ means finding safety and security in God’s care.  It means sharing in God’s justice and righteousness.  It means living in peace and harmony with God and each other.  God promises to bring this Shalom through Christ Jesus, the Righteous Branch.

O people of Faith, this Advent we are called to receive this different promise, the promise of God’s shalom from the Righteous Branch.  Shalom comes in the midst of the worst life has to offer.  In the midst of our desolation, shalom says there will once again be prosperity.  In the midst of darkness, light will come.  In the midst of the sadness that comes to some folks during the holidays for a variety of reasons, comfort can be found.  In the midst of riots and conflicts on our streets, communities of love, well-practiced in the skills of neighborliness and charity, will know that the fulfillment of God’s great promise of shalom is close at hand.  In the midst of the commercialization of Christmas, in the quiet of our spiritual lives, the meaning of God’s shalom is born in a baby.

This baby is the Righteous Branch.  This baby is the extension of God’s great promise of Shalom.  “When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near,” says Jesus.  Let us receive this different promise from the Righteous Branch.  Amen.