A Righteous Branch

Thanksgiving is over, sales are on, lots of presents have been purchased. The Christmas trees in our city and in homes are up, decorated and lit. It all makes me want to just skip this whole Advent thing and start singing: O Tannenebaum O Tannenbaum,

Wie treu sind deine Blätter

Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,

Nein auch im Winter wenn es schneit.

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,

Wie gruen sind deine Blätter!
But did you know that song really didn’t really say anything about Christmas? The song was originally written comparing the faithful evergreen tree to an unfaithful lover. Tannenbaum is German fir tree. The word Christmas in German is Weinachten as in Frohe Weinachten (merry Christmas). There is not a word about Jesus or Christmas, but we sing in English: 
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

Thy leaves are so unchangeing

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

Thy leaves are so unchangeing
I think this is just one more example of how we people can take what’s all around us, we can take what is right in front of us, and we change it, turn it, make it into something special. We are just creative, we people that we can even take things that are negative and destructive, change them turn them into something full of hope and promise.
Just 3 as the holidays and holy days season was getting started, some people on the East Coast were still trying to recover and clean up from Superstorm Sandy. Evidently, one New Yorker whose neighborhood had been hit and hit bad. His own home had been smashed by a 30 ft pine tree, but when the clean-up crew came to cut it up and haul it away. He saved the top 6, 7, 8 feet. Stuck it up in his front yard. He started decorating it with some ornaments he found. Others soon started putting other things on the tree– coffee cups, surgical masks, and things that were significant to that disaster. And this tree that had been tossed around by the hurricane winds became a sign of hope.
That is what the prophet Jeremiah is talking about in our first reading for this morning. He was under house arrest for his continual criticism of the king and of the nation, knowing that the armies of Babylon were marching to Jerusalem, that this weak king could not save them, the prophet Jeremiah says: 14The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”  
Jeremiah, with all the fear and despair all around him, isn’t exactly predicting the birth of Jesus. However, with a king, and military that will falter, fail and disappoint, with his world collapsing all around him, Jeremiah holds on to a God who would not run or turn away–a God who is faithful even in the midst of destruction and despair. Jeremiah ties his hope to that God. The thing is the prophet Jeremiah does not live to actually see see that righteous Branch. In fact no king in the line of David ever does again sit on a throne and rule in Jerusalem.
Instead God does one bigger and so much better. From where we sit and look today, we hear of this righteous branch who practices justice and faithfulness, and we see Jesus. We see salvation but not just for Jerusalem, not just for the house Israel and the house of Judah, but for all people. This is who we tie our hope to. When our world seems to be collapsing all around us, violence abroad, violence from with–gun shots at clinics, on our streets, and in our homes. When the ones we love are sick and struggling, with yet another diagnosis of disease of cancer for someone who is way to young. As we struggle with addictions every day, and know that it will steal the lives of someone we love. When money seems to flow and only float upward to the wealthiest. When we hear and see so much hate. This is the time when we could feel like our lives our world is being tossed around–goodness smashed and obliterated, disconnected and hopeless. This is when we need to come together, hear these ancient texts, hear these promises again and again.That is when we need to hold onto hope in our God. To tie our very lives to that righteous branch.
Perhaps that is what we are really doing when we decorate our Christmas trees. It is certainly what we do in a few weeks as we gather to celebrate Christmas dinner and worship to feed and be fed together with any all all who will come–believing and proclaiming that God doesn’t stay away in the highest heaven but comes into our world, into our lives. This is no Christmas tree,  

 but for us this morning this may be for us a reminder, a symbol of the righteous branch that we are promised–a symbol of the peace and love of Jesus the Christ. He is the one we are, that our lives are tied to–our joy, our salvation, our peace. I invite you to take a moment, perhaps write a word, a simple prayer, a name–write this prayer of hope and tie it this branch–to remind us, to ritualize our hope in Jesus who is the true righteous branch. Amen.

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