Thursday of the Third Week of Advent (December 18th, 2014)

The prophet Jeremiah spoke the Lord’s word of truth before, during and after the catastrophic events of 587 BC.

Remember, it was in the year 587 BC that the last defenses of the Israelites fell before the armies of Babylon and the city of Jerusalem was captured. The Babylonians utterly destroyed the city, desecrating the temple, before they burned it to the ground. The descendants of King David were slaughtered and the Kingdom of David came to an end. Those who survived the catastrophe were evicted from the land and sent off into exile. The Israelites lost everything, only the consolations of their faith remained, and for some, this was little consolation at all.

The prophet Jeremiah foresees that restoration will come to Israel. God will one day act to return the Israelites everything that they believed to be gone forever- their land, their king, their temple, their covenant with Lord.

The exiles would return home.

Precisely how God would accomplish this was deeply mysterious, but the prophets provided the Israelites with signs that would indicate that God was ready to act. One such sign would be the restoration of the “house of David”, which means, from the defunct royal family of David, a new king would come, the Messiah, a man of extraordinary power, who would himself bring about the restoration of all that had been lost in 587 BC.

We Christians believe that this descendent from the House of David is Jesus the Lord, who is born into the family descended from the lineage of King David. But more than this, the Lord Jesus is the God of Israel, who has accepted as his own a human nature and in communion with that human nature (without ceasing to be God) has lived, like all of us, a real, human life.

Thus, God is born into the world in Christ the Lord. God suffers and dies in Christ the Lord. God effects the restoration of not only the Israelites, but all of us, indeed all of creation, through Christ the Lord.

What Jeremiah and all the prophets saw in dreams and visions, God in Christ reveals to us face to face. The Lord Jesus is God and he is man and this revelation is the great mystery of our Faith, indeed the greatest mystery of our Faith. This revelation of the Messiah was expected, the revelation of God in Christ as the Messiah came as a total surprise.

Today’s Gospel describes this surprise in succinct testimony regarding some details concerning how the birth of the Lord Jesus came about. The testimony affirms that the Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the Messiah: that he was born into the family of King David, and that he was God. His very name, Jesus, indicates his mission, which is to effect the restoration of the people “from their sins”, (which anyone devout Israelite hearing that phrase at the time that this testimony was written, would have associated with the lingering effects of the terrible events of 587 BC).

Christ exceeds the expectations of the Israelites in terms of his mission as Messiah, and this is why so many in Israel found him to be so strange and off-putting. Many in Israel thought that they had the Messiah all figured out, (which is really a way of controlling him), but they were mistaken. God in Christ surprised everyone with his revelation and he continues to surprise the world to this very day.

It is when the Lord Jesus ceases to be strange to us, when we are no longer surprised by him, when we think we have him figured out, that we demonstrate that we really are estranged from him. Though we can understand some things about the Lord Jesus, he is never “just a man” or a prophet, or a symbol, or any of the easy categories we use to control him. Jesus is God, the one, true God, and therefore he is ultimately mysterious. We don’t make the Lord Jesus who he is, but he is, always, boldly himself, resisting all our attempts to make him someone or something that he is not.

And there is the lesson: if you truly desire to know Christ, cultivate the capacity for surprise. If your need to control does not yield to the capacity for surprise, you will never know the Lord Jesus “as the fulfillment of the scriptures”. You will never know the Lord Jesus for who he reveals himself to be.

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