If we had a contest for prophets of doom, Jeremiah would win first prize, hands-down. We even have a term for a message like his—it’s called, fittingly, a “Jeremiad,” a long-winded diatribe against a society’s moral failings that will lead to disastrous consequences.
Jeremiah was indeed really into long-winded diatribes. He kept denouncing his people’s “Make Judea Great Again” party for their moral hypocrisy. He told them their efforts were bound to backfire. The nation would be torn apart, the temple destroyed, and its leaders would be deported to Babylon. Almost everybody hated him. He was unpatriotic. He kept saying that things would get much worse before they got better. And the people in power were furious.
But he turned out to be right. Even he wound up living in exile. And he didn’t live to see things get better.
We need to remember all that about Jeremiah and his overall message when we hear today’s lesson. It’s totally out of character. He interrupts his forecast of coming disasters with surprising words of hope and comfort, “dreaming impossible dreams” of a happily-ever-after homecoming.
With all the available evidence pointing toward years of devastation and hardship, Jeremiah refuses to give up. He might have settled for a day when things start to get a little better. But even that wasn’t enough. Instead he insists on living into God’s promise of a day when even the most vulnerable among us will be cared for, when none of us are in danger of pandemics, when those of us grieving most deeply will be consoled, when all of us will start partying with abandon as we have never partied before, with nobody fretting about the bottom line.
While Jeremiah lived, God’s promised day remained just that—a promise. But he lived into it anyway. He bought land at a time when any sane financial advisor would have told him not to. But it wasn’t because he hoped to benefit from his investment. It was just to demonstrate his refusal to give up hope. It kept his hope alive. It was a foretaste of that promised day. It sustained him as he continued to agonize over God’s insistence that he keep preaching sermons nobody wanted to hear.
You can’t help but wonder what he would think of this: 2500 years later, those sermons nobody wanted to hear are still being read all over the world. And people are preaching new sermons based on his originals. Why? Because we’re still living into that promise: a day when even the most vulnerable among us will be cared for, when none of us are in danger of pandemics, when those of us grieving most deeply will be consoled, when all of us will start partying with abandon as we have never partied before, with nobody fretting about the bottom line.
Maybe that sounds foolish. Why live into the promise of a day that never seems to arrive? Because foretastes of that day do keep arriving. Jeremiah’s people did return. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were descendants of Jeremiah’s people. And they got to return from their own exile. Jesus preached and acted out his own version of Jeremiah’s promised day. And yes, it got him executed. But even that didn’t keep him from showing up again and sharing the very life of God with his followers—all the way down to us.
Did that day of endless, carefree partying arrive, ever? No. But these foretastes did arrive. They sustained Jeremiah; they sustained his descendants; they sustained the Holy Family; they sustained Jesus; and they sustained his followers all the way down to us.
All the way down to us. There’s much uncertainty about what this new year will bring. But there’s no more uncertainty than Jeremiah faced, no more than the Holy Family faced, no more than Jesus’ first followers faced. And foretastes of that day of endless partying do keep arriving as we gather to embody God’s relentless embrace.
Will this keep us from agonizing? No. Will this sustain us? Count on it.