Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Homily for Advent Midweek Evening Prayer In the Week of Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1)

Luke 1:5-25; Jeremiah 33:14-18

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jeremiah preached to the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the reign of its final five kings – Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah – roughly from 627 to 586 BC, when the Babylonians destroyed the temple and carried the people away in exile. Jeremiah was only a young man when God called him to be a prophet, perhaps in his early teens! While he was both a priest and a prophet, Jeremiah was extremely unpopular amongst the people because of the Word that he prophesied. Yet, even his name was prophetic, meaning “the LORD will raise up.” Sin had brought Judah very low, but God would raise up His repentant, faithful people by raising up His Son Jesus as the “Righteous Branch” of David. God raised up Jeremiah to prophecy against His people for their sinful rebellion, idolatry, and apostasy. For this, Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet,” because of the sad message of judgment he delivered, and because so few believed him, or even listened to him. The LORD forbade Jeremiah to marry. He had neither wife nor children to give him support. Nor was he allowed to attend funerals or parties. His lifestyle became one long object lesson pointing to the judgment about to overtake Judah.
The Word the LORD gave Jeremiah to prophesy was a Word of warning, a Word of doom. God’s people didn’t listen. Their sin had made their hearts numb. They were drunk on their foolishness. The times were so bad that some people even burned up their children as part of the worship they offered to their idol-god Molech! Jeremiah’s message was clear – and he repeated it often. The Hebrew word shuv appears seventy-four times in Jeremiah. It means “turn” and often means “repent.” Jeremiah begged his people to return to the true God in faith and obedience, but they insisted on following their own path. Still, Jeremiah held out a message of hope for the small group of believers who did listen, who did respect the LORD and want to please Him. To this remnant, Jeremiah described the “Righteous Branch” that would grow up from the seemingly dead stump of Judah. This is our Savior, Jesus, who gives us His own righteousness in His cross.
The LORD had made a promise to the House of Israel – the same promise He had made to David and to Noah, and to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and to Moses before him, even to Adam and Eve in Eden just after they fell into sin: “In those days and at that time I will cause a Righteous Branch to spring up for David.” The faithful remnant of Israel clung to that Word of promise in fear, love, and trust through dark and terrible days, through faithless and wicked kings, through war and rumors of war, and, ultimately, through exile from their promised land so that, at the time of Jesus’ birth, there was no king in Israel, but the Roman occupiers had placed the puppet-king Herod on the throne, and but for short while was there a temple and a priesthood which would come to a final end when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD.
Nonetheless, through His Prophet Jeremiah – whose name means “the LORD will raise up” – the LORD promised “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.” Jesus was and is the fulfillment of God’s promise to David. Jesus is the Righteous Branch sprung forth from the burned-out stump of Jesse – David’s son, yet David’s Lord. Jesus is the prophesied King of the Jews, born of the House of David in David’s royal city Bethlehem. Wrongly did Herod tremble for his throne, for Jesus is not the king of an earthly kingdom, but Jesus is King of Heaven and Earth and of all things that God has made. His throne is not in an earthly palace, but at the right hand of God in Heaven. On earth He would wear the kingly purple robe of mockery and shame, and He would have the tree of the cross for a throne. Not gold and silver and precious stones, but a ring of thorns would be His kingly crown. But, because He has done all things well, so has He also made all things new. As the LORD had promised David, He would not let His holy one see corruption, but He raised Him up from death to life, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.”
Yet, Jesus is not only the King of Heaven and Earth and of all of God’s creation, He is also our Great High Priest and the only sacrificial offering that actually and ever took away our sins. Jesus is the Priest that all the Levitical priesthood pointed to. And, Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God’s offering that all the bloody sacrifices of lambs and rams and goats and bulls pointed to. Moreover, Jesus, as our Great High Priest, offered the perfect sacrifice of Himself upon the cross; Thus, there is no longer a need for sacrificial atonement. This is why Jesus proclaimed “It is finished” as He died upon the cross. The sacrifices of old had to be repeated again and again and again, for they never took away sin, but only covered it over for a time. Even the annual sacrifice of the High Priest had to be repeated again and again, and the High Priest had to make sacrifice first for His own sins before he could offer sacrifice for the sins of the people. But, Jesus, our Great High Priest, after making the sacrifice of His sinless self, once and for all, upon the cross, ascended to the right hand of the Father in Heaven and sat down. He sat down because the work and the sacrifice necessary to atone for your sins was finished. He sat down in the Most Holy Place, in the Holy of Holies, in the full glorious and holy presence of God the Father. He sat down as your Great High Priest, as a man in a flesh and blood body just like yours, raised from death, alive, never to die again, that now you may have access to the Father through Him and be declared holy and righteous in Him, for “The Lord is our righteousness.” Hear this testimony from the Preacher to the Hebrews:
“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore He is the mediator of a New Covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
“The Levitical priests shall never lack a man in My presence.” Indeed, the True Man Jesus Christ sits in the Presence of God the Father reigning over Heaven and Earth and interceding for you and for all who place their fear, love, and trust in Him.
And, Jesus is also the Great Prophet, the promised “one like Moses,” raised up from among His people. He is the one every faithful Jewish woman hoped to conceive and bear, both Elizabeth and Mary, but even Sarah before them, and Eve our First Mother. John the Baptist was not He, but was sent to prepare His way. Does St. Luke draw upon Jeremiah’s prophecy that “David will never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel” and that the “Levitical priests shall never lack a man in [the LORD’s] presence” in the words of his Gospel, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah?” Truly, with the LORD, there are no coincidences. The angel proclaimed to the priest Zechariah that his wife would bear the forerunner of that promised King and Priest, Jesus Christ. When Zechariah doubted, the angel answered saying, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news,” this Gospel.
Jeremiah preached a Word of warning, a Word of doom to Judah – He preached the Law. But, when the people were crushed in spirit and turned in repentance, the Prophet proclaimed to them the good news, the Gospel: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 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. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the Name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’. For thus says the LORD: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priest shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.”
It is finished. Thus, saith the LORD. Now the Lord is your righteousness. Fear, love, and trust in Him and you will receive all things in His Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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