Not the scripture you were expecting to kick off the Advent season? Maybe you were hoping for something from Luke? A verse about a star? A shepherd or two?
This year when I began to think about the season of hope, my mind immediately went to Jeremiah. For those of you somewhat familiar with this book of the Bible, it may come as a surprise that the word I’m associating with Jeremiah is hope. After all, the book of Jeremiah can be more than a little dark. Just take 22:9 for example. The people have forsaken God. They’ve created idols and are serving and worshiping them instead of the one true God. How can this possibly relate to Advent, and how can those of us who faithfully lit our candle on Sunday and sang our first Christmas hymn of the season possibly relate to the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time?
Let me explain. It all began with a rabbi.
No, not an Old Testament rabbi, but rather a rabbi in 2015. Back in February, my personal metaphoric train went flying off the tracks. As part of my attempt to restore my rail line to its previous, fully operational status, I joined a friend’s small group at our church. We finished our book study, which I very much enjoyed, and headed toward the summer break with a couple free weeks on our meeting schedule. It was then that a member of our group suggested that her rabbi come speak to us one week.
For reasons still not clear to me – or, seemingly, to him at the time – Rabbi White spoke to us about the book of Jeremiah. He shared the history of the time, the connection between the book of Jeremiah and the New Testament, and lit a fire in me that up until that time I had never experienced in quite the same way.
I went home ready to plow through the book of Jeremiah. Hungry for more. No. Thirsty.
I spent the final days before summer vacation at home alone, sitting in the sun, devouring every word of Jeremiah.
And God used it to convict the heck out of me.
While reading the words of Jeremiah, I realized the idols in my own life and the prominent place they had held. Chapter 22, verse 9? Yep. Guilty as charged.
But God, I volunteered full time for my church. Like 40 hours a week full time. Like blood, sweat, and tears full time.
At which point he hit me with chapter 6, verse 20. “Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.”
The truth is that if we take an honest look into our hearts, we’ll find that we’ve all got an idol or two lingering – some tucked away in dark corners, others high on pedestals. Mine included my hard work. Success. Being liked. Or being hated. That worked, too, just so long as you felt strongly about me one way or another.
And where had I set up shop with my shiny, gold idols? You guessed it. At my place of work. My church. I worshiped my relationships. I worshiped my ministry. I worshiped my job. I even worshiped worshiping.
I began to see that God was pointing His finger squarely at me, and then I read Jeremiah 32:34: “They set up their abominable idols in the house that bears my Name and defiled it.”
I hear you, God. Loud and clear.
“…You crushed them, but they refused correction. They made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent.” I was decidedly crushed. Waving my white flag, I repented.
But intermingled with the bolts of lightning and the clarity of conviction, I also found Hope. It’s woven throughout Jeremiah, easing the sting for the people of Judah. Easing the sting for me.
I clung to these words:
And the connection to the New Testament that Rabbi White introduced to me for the first time…
A righteous Branch.
The Son of God.
The Savior of man.
The Hope of the world.
He is coming. There is Hope.
Father, during the Advent season, it is so easy to turn our thoughts outward to the hustle and bustle around us rather than inward to our own hearts and minds. Help us to take the upcoming weeks to fearlessly search ourselves and prepare our hearts for the celebration of the birth of Your Son. Please provide us with moments of peace and discernment. And may we remember to find our hope in you only, Lord, not in the idols we’ve created.
I am so grateful for the morning that I was able to spend with Rabbi Harold White as we learned about the book of Jeremiah. Sadly, a short time after this meeting, Rabbi White passed away at the age of 83. You can learn more about this amazing man in Georgetown University’s tribute to Rabbi White.