That God Has Remembered Them

Ian Urriola (’14)
Thursday, December 6, 2012

Image courtesy of wordle.net

Baruch 5:1-9 • Take off your mourning clothes
and oppression, Jerusalem!
Dress yourself in the dignity
of God’s glory forever.
Wrap the justice that comes from God around yourself like a robe.
Place the eternal one’s glory
on your head like a crown.
God will show your brilliance everywhere under heaven.
God will give you this name
by which to be called forever:
The Peace That Comes from Justice,
The Honor That Comes
from Reverence for God!
Get up, Jerusalem!
Stand on the high place,
and look around to the east!
See your children gathered
from the west to the east
by the holy one’s word,
as they rejoice that God has remembered them.
They went out from you on foot,
driven along by their enemies,
but God will bring them back to you,
carried aloft with glory
as on a royal throne.
God has ordered every high mountain and the eternal hills
to be brought down,
and the valleys to be filled in
to level the ground
so that Israel may walk safely
in God’s glory.
The woods and every fragrant tree
have shaded Israel
with God’s command.
God will lead Israel with gladness
by the light that shines forth
from his glory,
with the mercy and righteousness
that come from him.

Waiting.

Nobody really likes waiting.

After all, who likes sitting in a traffic jam?

Or in a checkout line at the grocery store?

Or for the ordination candidacy portal to work in a way that allows your clergy mentor to access it and sign a form—or is that just me?

Studies show that we spend at least 3 years of our life waiting.

Waiting for the elevator.

Waiting to fill our car up with gas.

Especially at this time of year, we find ourself waiting more than ever.

Waiting for finals to come.

Waiting for finals to be over.

And then once finals are over we find ourselves waiting for professors to submit grades.

And of course, there’s the thing we’re really waiting for.

The day we’ve been waiting for all year is 19 days away.  A day which will bring an immense amount of joy to millions of people around the world.

I speak of course of the day when—as a good friend put it—Jews everywhere will celebrate Annual Chinese and Movie Theater Day by singing along to “I Dreamed a Dream”.

There are only 19 days left until the motion picture release of Les Miserables starring—and I cannot stress this point enough—Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.

I have been waiting for this movie for what feels like forever.  I would actively scour the entertainment gossip sites to try to get a glimpse of what this movie would be.

And I think the reason why I’m particularly excited/anxious for this movie to come out is that I’ve never seen Les Miserables.  I mean I’ve listened to some of the music, and I have a vague idea of what the plot is, but I’ve never seen the show itself.  So when I go to see the movie on December 25, it will be my first experience with the show…and I desperately want it to be good.

I think deep down that’s why we dislike waiting so much.  We want things to work out well, but we have no control over the situation.  When we wait for anything—whether it be movie releases or traffic jams—we have to surrender our control over the situation.  And that frustrates us.

And yet, it seems as if our lives as Christians are defined by waiting.

We wait for justice to flow down like a mighty fountain.

We wait for the kingdom of God to come down.

We wait for Easter during Lent.

And then there’s the granddaddy of them all.

Advent.

Advent is a season completely devoted to waiting.  We know that the joy of Christmas is right around the corner.

We can vividly visualize the children waking up at the crack of dawn and storming down the stairs.

We can see the joy and wonder on their faces as they examine the bounty that Santa has brought them.

We can hear them rip open the wrapping paper and gleefully playing with their new toys.

We can smell the feast being cooked.

We can hear the carols being sung.

We can feel the warmth of being surrounded by the ones we love.

And yet…we have to wait.

Advent forces us to slow down and wait for all of that, and that’s frustrating.

In these times of instant gratification, being told we have to wait for anything seems countercultural, and it seems as if the rest of the world agrees.

Big box marts air ads telling you to start your Christmas shopping in July and put everything on layaway.

Department stores start decorating for Christmas on November 1.

Radio stations start playing Christmas music earlier and earlier each year.

Black Friday deals now start during Thanksgiving dinner.

And yet, here we are, in the middle of Advent; a season of….

…waiting

Jews living in Jerusalem during what’s known as The Second Temple period also found themselves doing a lot of waiting.  The return from exile wasn’t as triumphant as we sometimes think.  The Babylonians had completely destroyed and wiped out the city of Jerusalem, so the Jews were returning to a city in ruins.  Jerusalem had to be rebuilt from the ground up, brick by brick.

They had to rebuild their homes.

They had to rebuild their businesses.

They had to even rebuild the Lord’s Temple.

In addition to this, not everyone came home.

Some Just Got Tired of waiting…

Remaining in Babylon, having started new lives there during the Exile.  Some even went off to other lands to find a new place to call home.

The “scattered ones”

The Jewish Diaspora.

Even in their return they were a vassal state to the Persians.

No longer sovereign, Jerusalem was only a shadow of its former glory.

And after the Persian Empire, it wasn’t too long before the Greeks came along and occupied the land.  And after the Greeks came the Seleucids with Antiochus Epiphanes who celebrated his dominance over the Jews by sacrificing a pig on the altar in the temple—an act that was, to say the least, not Kosher.

Jews living during this time, found themselves……waiting.

Waiting for someone to come and vindicate them.

Waiting for someone to come and redeem them.

Waiting for someone to come and save them.

It is during this period of time, known as the Maccabean period where our scripture reading comes from.  The book of Baruch is an apocryphal text that is made up of writings of Baruch ben Neriah, a scribe to the prophet Jeremiah.  He was writing to comfort the people in Jerusalem and the people spread out throughout the lands.

He was writing to a people in waiting.

And yet, he writes to them the ancient Jewish equivalent of “Don’t worry, be happy.”  He says take off your mourning cloaks and wrap yourself in the justice of God.  See your children gather from the West and the East as they rejoice that God has remembered them.  God has ordered the mountains and the hills to be brought down and the valleys to be filled so that Israel may walk safely in God’s glory.

These aren’t the writings of the end of the world that you normally see during times of trial and tribulation.  Baruch is telling the people who are waiting not to mourn, but to rejoice!  Good times are coming.  Things will get better.

This is what Advent is all about.  Advent forces us to slow down, wait, and remind ourselves why and who we are waiting for.  We are waiting for the birth of Christ, who will vindicate, redeem and save us.  He will show us through his baptism, death and resurrection that we have absolutely nothing to fear. Not even death.

We are not waiting out of some vain hope, but we wait joyfully knowing that Christ is coming.

Our world is certainly messed up, but you already know that.  If you’re anything like me, it can be easy to give up on hope waiting for a miracle.  It can certainly seem as if we will be waiting here forever for the day when swords will be beaten into plough shares;

When nation will not rise up against nation;

When justice will flow down like a mighty fountain, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Yes we live in a crazy, messed up world, but as Dr. King says “the arc of the Universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.

Things will get better.

So I say to you today, rejoice!  Rejoice!  Good will triumph over evil.  Love will triumph over hate.  Justice will triumph over oppression.  The day will come when every tear from every eye is wiped clean.  Our savior and redeemer will be here soon.

Rejoice! For Emmanuel is coming.