The Turbulent Past
The future is anticipated and protected in the present, not extrapolated from the present (Jurgen Moltmann). This meditation on Jeremiah and his turbulent past facing the destruction of Babylon could strengthen us today as war is normalized. Ramboization threatens us as Maria Mies warned in "Globalization=Militarization=Ramboization".
Jeremiah 23, 5-8
By Joachim Ringleben
[This sermon preached on the 1st Sunday in Advent, November 30, 1997 in Gottingen is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.gwdg.de. Joachim Ringleben is a professor of systematic theology in Gottingen.]
"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: `The Lord is our righteousness.' Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when men shall no longer say `As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt' but `As the Lord lives who brought up and led the descendents of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.' Then they shall dwell in their own land." (Jer 23, 5-8)
Today on the 1st Sunday in Advent with eyes to the coming of Christ, the voice of a prophet of Israel, words from 2600 years ago, reaches us. While we wish to look forward, we should listen to a remote past. This past aims at us, reaches to this Advent Sunday and is fulfilled in our hearing today (Lk 4,21). These words of the prophet from Israel's history are part of the pre-history of Advent as its turbulent past. "The well of the past is deep, even unfathomable."
This is the tension of our present as a Christian community. The glance back to the dawn of times, listening to what is long past, lights up our present. However the more this present forgets its origin, the more inscrutable is the past. In any case, there is no advent without the origin and the approach. At that time people beautifully and profoundly of the "final advent" of our Savior. The advent shows that the past was an origin. Thus the past also moves the present.
For Jeremiah, the past was moved by the future. "Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when men shall no longer say, `As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt', but `As the Lord lives who brought up and led the descendents of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.' Then they shall dwell in their own land."
The prophet looks to a second Exodus, a future deliverance of his people from all dispersion. This second exodus surpasses the first from Egypt. It repeats once and for all the founding history of the people of God. We look to an undreamt-of new exodus, to a new king of the Jews, Jesus, with whom an inner exodus happens to Israel. With Jesus, Israel was led beyond itself. "Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass" (Mt 21,5; Zech 9,9). With him, God's righteousness ass among us. "The well of the past is deep, even unfathomable", inscrutably deep for Jeremiah, the prophets and unfathomably deep for the Christian community.
We read the Old Testament from Christ. Jeremiah guides us here. The Old Testament (or the First Testament) becomes new to us again and again. Let us trace the living God in the reality of history, the God who is underway with history.
This strange people, small and negligible amid the Mediterranean world, a people who perseve4re with remarkable self-confidence in the stories of their past, these nomadic fathers and fickle kings, as though this obscure past were significant for the world. This tiny people separated and given no rest by their God whose word determines their history, burdening and rumbling in their history were moved, alarmed and stirred by this word, a sting in the flesh of this people.
These brilliant prophetic figures who carried this out were swayed between salvation and disaster, often with shrewd watchfulness, partly activating the critical conscience of their time and partly turned to a distant future, forward to the inconceivably new. Often they have the truth on their side. Often events radically overtake them. Obviously they say more than they can know themselves. Their word extends far beyond them even to us.
Something fermenting is at work in the past of this people, in their history and prophetic watchmen, a deep unrest, an opening to the future, a messianic hope in their inheritance. All this is indissolubly bound with the name of their God. "Behold, the days are coming... In his days... " (5 and 6) - that is the tenor. If we listen today and grope back in this past, we feel something of the mystery at work in this history. We sense the turbulence of this past, the glimmer of an unspeakable promise over past events. "The well of the past is deep, even unfathomable."
What actually happened in this past? What was its driving problematic? What was underway? What was worked out in it? After raising these questions, we can learn that God's word is at work and continues to us. Similarly the word from their history came to the prophets. In the "turbulent past", God's work was in progress, the future latent in the inheritance. "Claim and possess what you inherit from your fathers (and mothers)!"
God's long march occurs through the centuries, through history with its ups and downs. The prophets are the seismographs of this hidden turbulence from which the new leaps as in a birth.
A slow and silent development toward the new form, a successive detachment or dissolution of the old world whose wavering is intimated by individual symptoms, the vague foreboding of an unknown - these are the forerunners or heralds. This gradual change is then suddenly interrupted as by lightning (Lk 10,18). The form of a new world appears.
I do not speak incidentally of the birth of the new. The last king Judas whom Jeremiah faced had been a man without children (22,30). He was called "Zedekiah" in which the Hebrew word for righteousness is planted (2 Kings 24,17). Confronting demolition, Jeremiah speaks of a new beginning: `Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord when I will raise up for David a righteous branch and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: `The Lord is our righteousness.'"
After the childless pseudo-Zedekiah, God himself will be Father with the name "The Lord is our righteousness." God will be Father, he will raise up for David a righteous branch, "his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was descended from David according to the flesh" (Rom 1,3). He will be Father in that he says himself: "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3,17).
The long history led to God's birth in Israel. The past of this people was inwardly so turulent because Israel's history was pregnant with something: "But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law" (Gal 4,4). "And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered" (Lk 2,6).
Dear community, a book recently appeared with the title: "God. A Biography". This is an interesting title but unfortunately nothing more. Our personal biographical past is almost only the movement into transitory existence that evades us more and more... However God has a turbulent past. More exactly, he does not "have" a past but moves it: his past and our past. How unjust is Schiller with his "Eternally still is the past"! God is the living one who moves the past. Therefore the future has already begun.
We encounter Jeremiah's prophetic word about God's eventful biography, the mystery of eternity. This exciting past has to do with the living eternity, with eternal life, with the living God. Therefore this past in itself is so turbulent that it is our future: the eternal advent.
God's creative word through the prophets reveals the unsatisfied, the openness of the past, in the light of the promise. Again and again these prophets say: "Thus says the Lord" and thereby make the past reality into a very new possibility. Israel's history is moved by the divine acts of new interpretation: in the event of the word - future in the past and hope in the present.
"The well of the past is deep, even inexhaustible." Exhausting this well belongs to the long breath of the Creator: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son whom he appointed the heir of all things... " (Hebr 1,1f). As a result, Israel's past is rewritten and reformulated because it now points to an eternal future.
A divine breath, the stimulating breath of the Creator, belongs to this long address through the history of the reign of heaven. The beginning of the Hebrews letter proclaims: "After God created through nature and scripture, through creatures and seers, through arguments and figures, through poets and prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son - yesterday and today! - up to the promise of his future - no longer in a servant form."
This servant of God is born as the "last" king "who shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely" (5f).
Dear community, God's birth happened almost 2000 years ago. God was born as a person, eternity came into time: the "final advent" of our Lord and Savior. His advent changed time. He moved the past. His present turns the past upside down. The Son of David is the one who in the spirit calls David his Lord (Matt 22,45). He who comes with eternity in time overtakes the past: "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (Joh 8,58).
"The well of the past is deep, even unfathomable." The coming eternal overtakes the past. Isn't that full of mystery, what perfects all history arises in history? The judge at the end of the world comes from the baby in the manger. The living Lord for all the future comes from Jesus' death.
The past is so unfathomable that it contains the future. In it we meet what comes to us: "The well of the past is deep."
Therefore Christ the Lord spoke near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph, namely in the deep well of Jacob, of living water (Joh 4). "Well of all salvation, we honor you... O well of blessing that flows eternally" (Evangelical Hymnal), O well of inexhaustible goodness".
Christ, the new king of righteousness, arose to us at this living well. God's creative word continues. The word fulfilled with him enables us to hear the word of the past anew. From Christ, the Old Testament (First Testament) can be read anew.
Christ governs over the past, moves it to himself and gathers it in himself. First from the redemption in Christ, the past of his people gets completely straightened out. Our past becomes truly our past as the redeemed. That is the royal power of the Messiah Jesus.
And this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord is our righteousness" (6b). In him and from him we have righteousness before God. Therefore he is our name and we are called Christians. Christ himself is corporeally our righteousness and the forgiveness of our sins (1 Cor 1,30). "Do this in remembrance of me." This comes to us in the meal of the Lord. Believing in him means nothing but allowing him to be our righteousness and finally "dwelling securely" with God (6a). Up to today people have not dwelled securely in the empirical land Israel.
Celebrating the Lord's supper means realizing a past for the sake of our living righteousness today. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11,26). This past moves our present to the future: an eternal life.
With his advent, with his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has reconfigured our past into hope and brought us into a new movement. We are transposed into a new creation out of decay to death and entanglement in sin. This correction of our past is not finished. God in the future will make our whole past life anew, bringing it creatively in movement and drawing us into his eternal life.
The absolutely new, Christ's resurrection, makes new everything that was old. "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he/she is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come" (2 Cor 3,17). Amen.
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