Jeremiah 36.1-7 (p798)
Jeremiah 31.31- 37 (p793)
Promises! Promises! Promises! If there is one word that can sum up this year politically it is promises. And whether they will be fulfilled remains to be seen.
Yet life is full of promises which are not quite all that they seem. The small print in that insurance policy. The advert which is misleading. Or, more trivially, the food that is not as tasty as the picture on its packaging suggests. So, in a way, we are quite sceptical even cynical of promises.
Yet in Jeremiah we hear of two promises. One which is summarised for the Israelites in the scroll that Baruch reads out in the temple. Since, in our first lesson, God is portrayed as promising judgement upon their ruler and themselves. In fact, that is a recurrent theme throughout the Book of Jeremiah. Nevertheless, elsewhere in Jeremiah we have found a more palatable promise; the promise – I will be their God and they will be my people. A promise indeed we hear echoed in the words of the last supper – the words we repeat communion upon communion – the words that we find made flesh in our lives through the risen Christ.
How then do we reconcile these two apparently opposing promises? How do we find hope as well as admonishment in Jeremiah’s prophecies? How do we understand a God who judges firmly as well as covenants to be our saviour in time of trouble?
I am not sure if you have seen the new Netflix series called The Crown. It is based on the early years of the reign of our Queen. Whilst I suspect that it is a bit apocryphal in parts, it is nevertheless very entertaining and glossy. That isn’t surprising, as the price tag for 10 episodes, was a cool 100 million dollars.
In it, we see the child Princess Elizabeth being taught the elements of the constitution. Not least that the monarch’s role is only to warn, advise and guide her government. So too we can see the role of God in human affairs. This is not surprising as we can warn a child not to go near hot stoves but in the end, we cannot always prevent him or her. We can advise on friendship but not stop a relationship. We can encourage the doing of homework but not actually do it for a youngster. And so, it is with God.
Here then lies the apparent judgement of God. For it is more about foresight, more about a warning, more about lifesaving advice than any imposition of a sentence.
However, in the end, we can and do ignore this sage wisdom and go away ahead to the inevitable outcome. We can and do turn our backs on God’s foresight and travel blithely on. And so, in the end of the day, we are not really visited by God’s action rather we must live with our own.
Where then does this leave God’s second promise. The one about being our God and we being his people?
I must admit to never having read Clive Staples Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I have only seen the film. Nevertheless, even in that format, its Christian message cannot be mistaken. And it is all to do with that second divine promise.
Since At the beginning of the book four children are playing in their uncle’s wardrobe when they discover it is a doorway to Narnia. As they enter Narnia they learn it is under the spell of a wicked witch.
The children hear rumours that Aslan, the great Lion, will soon return to the forest so they devise a plan to overthrow the witch. But Edmund then turns traitor to the cause.
The witch requests an audience with Aslan and talks to him about the deep magic from the dawn of time. She says, “You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that I have a right to a kill.”
Aslan agrees and Edmund is to be sacrificed on the Stone Table. But then something unexpected and horrible happens. Aslan offers to be sacrificed in place of Edmund. The witch is delighted to be rid of Aslan once for all. He is bound, humiliated before the Witches entourage, and killed. It appears to the children that wickedness has won the day and that all is lost.
As the children tearfully leave the scene it is dawn. They hear a great cracking, a deafening noise. They rush back and find the great table split in two and Aslan gone. Suddenly he appears before them and as they shake in fear he explains to them “that though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she does not know. The magical promise beyond time that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”
Here then is the throne of the second and greatest promise from God. Since he doesn’t just stand aside wringing his hands as we make a complete mess of things. He doesn’t just stand waving a teared stain hankie as go our errant way. Instead, he has sent someone to help get back on track. He has sent someone to help change us towards making amends. He has sent us an ever-present saviour to sort out the debts we have accrued and take their price upon his own head. Simply, he has sent, sends and ever will send Jesus Christ.
As this year ends with all its promises threatening to turn to unwelcome omens, let us remember the opportunity always to go in a different direction. Let remember the promise of God’s wisdom to illuminate a brighter path. Let us indeed remember the Son’s promise of opening a fresher way by paying off the toll.
No wonder then the Witch in C S Lewis’ book banned Christmas – for then there would be but a wintery foreboding in our hearts. Mercifully, the Lion’s return is always promising.
Your offering will now be received as Don play for our reflection