Jeremiah is a mostly doom and gloom book. The prophet spent most of his career when the kingdom of Judah was in a state of crisis, until it completely collapsed with the invasion of the Babylonians, the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of anyone important to Babylon. Jeremiah doesn’t have a lot of happy things to say through most of the book. But the particular part of Jeremiah that we read this morning comes from words he spoke way at the beginning of his time as a prophet, when this king named Josiah was on the throne.
Now what we need to know about Josiah is that he was a truly good king. He restored the Temple in Jerusalem and brought back worshipping God alone to the kingdom. He held the first Passover meal in the kingdom since the days of King David. And because the great empires were really weakened when he was king, he expanded the kingdom of Judah to include lands that used to be in the Northern Kingdom. It’s this particular situation that Jeremiah is writing about in his prophecy.
For the first time in a very long time, the Israelites were able to be under one kingdom again. And even though they had been separated by political boundaries for hundreds of years, Jeremiah remembered that they were children of Abraham too, children of the same promise as the people of Judah. More than just a conquered people, the northerners were Israelites. So this prophecy is a welcome for them to remember that God is their god too. That, even though the Northern Kingdom had been idolatrous and followed other gods, God was still faithful to them and would welcome them back with open arms.
You can hear the relief and hope in the words of the text, how God will call back the blind and the lame, leading them by straight paths by brooks of water, acting as a caring father to God’s own people. It’s an astonishing claim, because it’s not like the people of the North had strayed for just a little while. Since the kingdoms split some three hundred years previously, the Northerners had crowded God’s presence with other gods: Baal, Asherah, and others. They’d gone so far from the covenant they’d made with God that it would make sense for God to abandon them. But instead, God remembered that they were God’s people Israel, and even when they weren’t faithful, God was.
That hope, that despite a long time of sin and brokenness, that God would still come, should sound familiar. It’s what we put our hope in, and what we look forward to every Advent into the Christmas season. And maybe we’ve gotten more of a chance to reflect on that need this year, with all of the brokenness associated with the whole of 2020, just how deep God’s well of grace is. We’ve gotten to experience what it feels like to be cut off, isolated from each other. We’ve seen how much our actions can affect others, from mask wearing and handwashing to how we talk about politics and how we disagree with others. We’ve seen our brokenness laid bare, whether the persistence of systemic racism or how quickly one crisis can hurtle us into poverty. Like the Northern Israelites, maybe we have been longing to hear the words “welcome home” all year.
But that is God’s invitation, alongside and through these words to the refugees of Northern Israel. “Welcome home to Zion, herald of good tidings.” God gives us hope because even when we are so far gone that we can’t see the way back, God will call us by name and guide us home. And when you look at the brokenness of the world, that is extremely good news. Good enough news to change everything and everyone for the better. Good enough news that we ought to sing aloud and raise shouts of joy, proclaim and give praise to God for the way that God saves us.
But it’s not just good news for the end, after our time on earth.
See, in Jeremiah’s prophecy God’s words aren’t in the future tense. They are now, in the present. It is happening as we speak, that God is saving us, restoring us, welcoming us home. God is at work rescuing us from sin and death, and it is having an effect on us now! Your life is not the same as it would be because God is at work restoring you to wholeness. And God does that by coming to us in the flesh.
When John wrote those beautiful words that open his gospel account—“and the Word became flesh and lived among us”—that line, “lived among us,” is literally “pitched a tent in our midst.” A tent, a tabernacle, in fact. The same name as the tent God dwelled in with the Israelites in the desert while they wandered from Egypt to the Promised Land. God is with us in the same way that God was with the Israelites all those years ago. God isn’t casting bottles filled with messages of hope into a vast open ocean, or throwing down messages from far off in heaven. God is right here, among us. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. And God brings hope.
God brings hope and light in the thickest of darkness. It’s that candle lit in the night that can be seen for miles around. It’s God in the flesh, taking our hand and walking with us through brokenness and uncertainty, hurt and heartache, loss and sin, to a place where we are restored, made whole, reconciled to one another. God is guiding us to the place where we are being welcomed. And that’s always been God’s intention—the Word was in the beginning with God, after all. So take heart, that even in these trying times, that God is here. God is welcoming us home. God is at work, making us whole. And God is faithful.
Thanks be to God. Amen.