“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God if Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. For the thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream.[…] ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”Jeremiah 29:4-8, 11
Today is the second Sunday of Advent and we light the candle of faith. This candle is sometimes called the “Bethlehem Candle” referencing Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem that Jesus’ birth would fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:1-2. So why would I be looking at Jeremiah’s words to the people in exile? Because they are an example of faith – hope being lived out.
Jeremiah writes these words to the people of Jerusalem who are now in exile in Babylon, their world is in upheaval, they don’t know what is to become of them as a people, they don’t know if they will ever be returning to Jerusalem. There is a prophet, Hananiah, who has declared their captivity will last only two years before God “breaks the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” (Jeremiah 28:11) and another, Shemaiah, who has written to the exiles in his own name, preaching what amounts to rebellion against God (Jeremiah 29:31-32). But God has words of hope for his people, and tells them their captivity will last 70 years before He will return them to Jerusalem and so His instructions are to live their lives and seek the welfare of the city where they now live.
And this, I believe, is faith. If they had believed the lies of the false prophets, if they believed their captivity would only be for two years, what use would it be to plant gardens or build houses? Or if they did not believe the hope of their redemption, what use is looking to God for His provision? If they did not have faith that God would do as He said, would they have sought their own security by withdrawing into protective isolation, or would they have given up the hope of God’s promises, sought their own welfare in their city of exile, and lost their identity as God’s people?
It was because they had faith in the hope of the prophecies, faith in that God would fulfill His promises, that they could live their lives with the hope of something to live for, and maintain their identity in the confidence that God would one day “fulfill [His] good word.”
And so Mary and Joseph, and their journey to Bethlehem. If they did not have faith in the words God had spoken, would Joseph have taken Mary as his wife? Would Mary have hidden herself away for fear of public shaming? Would they have risked the journey to Bethlehem while she was great with child?
And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son and he called His name Jesus.Matthew 1:24-25
And Mary said, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.Luke 1:38