Summary: The countdown to Christmas is on! At least in most houses. It might have begun in November or possibly even earlier. But the countdown to Christmas actually began thousands of years ago when God first made the promise to send the Savior Jesus.
Has the countdown begun at your house? “What countdown?” you might ask. But don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. The countdown to Christmas, of course! Now that countdown might be driven by different things. Some of you might be counting down the days to Christmas because you’re hoping to receive the Christmas present that over the last couple of months you’ve been dropping those not-so-subtle hints of that Christmas present you really, really want. Others of you might be counting down the days till Christmas because you’re thinking of all the different things that you need to do to get ready for Christmas – gifts to purchase, decorations to be put up, parties to plan, houses to be cleaned. Yes, the countdown to Christmas is certainly on – Christmas is coming!
The countdown to Christmas is not actually anything new, or even unique to our time or place in history. In fact, the countdown to Christmas has been going on ever since God first made the promise to send a Savior to rescue people from the punishment of sin. The clock started ticking as soon as God first made that promise to the first sinners, Adam and Eve. “Christ is coming!” As the countdown continued throughout the centuries, God continually reminded his people that Christ is coming. He sent prophets, like the one we heard of this morning, the prophet Jeremiah, who repeatedly echoed the call, “Christ is coming!” Why were those constant reminders necessary? Because, like people today, they had very short spiritual attention spans. Some became distracted by all the different things they were convinced they had to get done, and they lost sight of God’s promise. Other people, after waiting so long, doubted that God was ever even going to fulfill his promise. And still others, just gave up completely and decided that the wait just wasn’t worth it.
That’s where we find the prophet Jeremiah. There were plenty of people in Jeremiah’s day who looked at Israel, or what was left of it, and wondered when, how and maybe even if God would still send the Savior he had promised. You see, God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, had been ripped apart by civil war. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been slowly dismantled, its cities destroyed, its people killed and carried off into exile by the Assyrians. All that was left was the speck of a nation called the Southern Kingdom or Judah with its capital city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was now watching as the newest world power, the Babylonians, brutally terrorized the cities of Judah, killed its people and carried them off into captivity. He was about to witness the Babylonians successfully starve the city of Jerusalem into submission and burn it to the ground. Things were bad in Israel. Just listen to what the Lord said to Jeremiah, “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword in the fight with the Babylonians: ‘They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness’” (Jeremiah 3:4,5). Things were really bad for Jeremiah and his fellow Jews.
The people that God had set apart from all the other nations on earth, a chosen people from whom God had promised to send the Savior for the world, had lost their way and deserted the Lord. They had run after the gods of their neighbors. Israel’s kings were far from perfect. Too often those chosen to lead God’s people failed to provide Godly leadership, instead leading the people even further away from the Lord. The religious leaders who should have been calling God’s people to recognize their sin and repent of it, remained silent and so encouraged them in their wickedness. The voice of faithful prophets, like Jeremiah, sent to remind people that Christ is coming, often fell on deaf ears. It appeared that God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, had been cut down to a lifeless stump because of all its wickedness, no longer capable of producing much of anything good at all.
But hold on! Just listen to what the Lord goes on to say to Jeremiah just a few verses later, "'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. "'In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.'” (Jeremiah 33:14-16) Did you hear that? Despite what Israel was like, the countdown to Christmas did not stop! From this seemingly lifeless stump of a nation, a Branch was going to sprout and not just any branch, a RIGHTEOUS Branch. Yes, from this nation of Israel, from the family of King David, the promised Christ was going to one day come. Why would God ever do that?