Second Scripture - Jeremiah 7:5-11
For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, If you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!” —only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord.
Yesterday we focused on Jeremiah's response to God's call. Jeremiah resisted being a messenger for God and today, we begin to see why. God sends Jeremiah to the temple in order to deliver the message that all prayers, sacrifices, celebrations and worship going on in the temple, were an affront to God. They were an affront to God because outside the temple the alien, the orphan and the widow were oppressed, innocent blood was shed (probably more a poetic metaphor than a literal truth) and other gods worshiped. While the rituals of living in covenant relationship with God were observed perfectly, the social behaviors that were supposed to be inspired and nurtured by this covenant are ignored and forgotten. Jeremiah is tasked with warning his people that their worship is empty. It is an entertaining, emotional high that distracts from acts of mercy and justice which is what God really wants. Worship has become a distraction from or justification of, cruelty, apathy, and injustice. Who would want to deliver that message on a Sunday morning?
More, who would want to hear that message as we begin our annual journey through Advent toward Christmas? Who would want to confront the possibility that our Christmas celebration acts either as a distraction from our complicity with injustice or a justification for the worship of material goods which ends up warping us all in spirit? But isn't this just what Charlie Brown Christmas actually was doing? One of Charlie Brown's main concerns in the show was the over-commercialization of Christmas and the joyful forgetfulness of the meaning of the holiday. And it debuted in 1965. It's older than I am. But we've heard it all before. Perhaps we are a bit weary of hearing this message. Who wants to continue doggedly on with a warning that sounds horribly serious and morbid in a season when everyone else is dancing and singing. THAT is why Jeremiah is so hesitant to obey the call of God.
Accept that perhaps this message isn't so serious or morbid after all. Or, it is just serious and morbid in the way we carry it out. But what is it that God is insisting that Judah does? Repent? Well, yes. But repent in a way that draws them closer in bonds of love and mercy to others. 'Do not oppress the alien, the orphan, the widow,' Jeremiah shouts from the steps of the temple. It's put in negative terms, 'stop!' But in the first chapter of Isaiah we hear almost the exact same call summed up there as 'learn to do good.' And I am reminded of the great joy I observed just a couple of weeks ago when our guest speaker was a formerly homeless man who came to share his experience. I watched you stand in line to speak with him and buy a book he was selling. I saw your smiles and I saw his smile. Kathy arranged a very special Thanksgiving basket just for him. As we were leaving, he told me that he had never felt so emotionally and spiritually nurtured. Could that not be what God is urging us to make this season about? That wasn't morbid or oppressive or overly serious. We really enjoyed that!
There is no doubt in my mind that making sure that our Advent season is a healthy balance of celebration and service will at times be challenging. Especially in this particular holiday season, 'do not oppress the alien,' may actually be a challenge to the world around us. Proactively creating ties of caring and service with others, Muslims, Immigrants, and other minority populations does require time and effort and perhaps the challenging of our own false assumptions, fears, and biases. But it is also really wonderful and enjoyable to be able to connect with another human being, to offer support and encouragement, to love and be loved by a person that you might never have met otherwise. What a miracle that is, to consider that the Holy Spirit has placed us in the position to meet new and yes, different people and empowered us to form the bonds of friendship and mutual support. And perhaps that is the point of Jeremiah's message. Perhaps that is the point of Advent. Perhaps this is how Jeremiah's warning shapes us.