Jeremiah 33:14-16 – Luke 21:25-36
The Old Testament and Gospel readings for the first Sunday in Advent offer us two complementary visions of God’s future.
The Zion Hope
In the 33d chapter, Jeremiah presents us with a very human hope focused on Zion. To put today’s reading in context, read the 4 verses that immediately precede it (10-13). These verses represent some of that “good thing” that God promises in verse 14 to perform.
Jerusalem and its environs are in desolation as a consequence of Judah’s sin. Babylon has destroyed the country and taken its citizens as prisoners. It is a sad picture that Jeremiah presents: a city without people and fields without flocks. The prophet speaks to people who lived with broken hearts and dashed hopes.
Through Jeremiah, God promises his people some very human things: laughter (11), marriage feasts (11), and flocks in the field (12-13). It is such a touching, human vision in the midst of Judah’s tragedy.
Jeremiah is predicting a historical future for Judah. His is not an apocalyptic vision. It is interesting to note that while Jeremiah predicts that the joy of wedding feasts will return to Judah, Jesus proclaims that there will be no marriage in the age to come (Luke 25:35 and parallels). In the age to come, Jesus says, we will be like the angels.
And yet, while Jeremiah did not intend to offer a vision of history beyond history, his vision informs the Christian’s apocalyptic hope. Laughter, love and food on the table are things with which we can all identify. God’s future is a validation, completion and restoration of God’s good creation.
In contrast to Jeremiah, the Gospel of Luke presents us with an apocalyptic vision. The transition to God’s future is a cosmic event. Jesus speaks of very unfamiliar things: signs in the earth, sun, moon, and stars. The sea, that old symbol of chaos, will exert itself in ways that cause all humanity to shake in fear. The powers of heaven will be shaken. The son of man will come on the clouds.
Jesus’ apocalyptic language is sometimes used to instill fear in Christians. Luke did not intend it that way. Jesus says, “When you see these things, lift up your head. Your redemption is drawing near.” There is plenty of danger (and even persecution) in this world. Jesus’ appearing is not one more thing to fear, but the end of fear.
There is a reason, however, why Jesus and the New Testament authors primarily speak of God’s future from within an apocalyptic framework. Sin is so entwined in this world, and has so twisted this world, that God’s future will require a radical transformation of all existence. While God created this universe – including its physical matter – good, God’s future will literally need to transform everything from the ground up.
The Old Testament model emphasizes continuity between the present and God’s future. The New Testament emphasizes discontinuity. We need both models. They complement each other. The New Testament reminds of how God’s future will come – through a complete transformation of the cosmos. The Old Testament reminds us of what and why. God’s creation is good, but fallen, and it needs redeeming.