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The Saturday Night Theologian is part of Progressive Theology
Exegesis of Word and World, based on readings from the Revised Common Lectionary
Advent 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16

It is true that when with folded arms we weigh the pros and cons we are no less a credit to our species. The tiger bounds to the help of his congeners without the least reflexion, or else he slinks away into the depths of the thickets. But that is not the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come [Samuel Becket, Waiting for Godot].
Becket's play Waiting for Godot is a masterpiece of existentialist angst whose characters struggle against nihilism. The characters await the arrival of their leader, all the while debating whether their lives have any meaning at all. They finally conclude that whatever meaning their lives may have is intricately related to the coming of Godot. Many people today struggle with the meaning of existence. Some conclude that pleasure, wealth, or popularity will provide them with a sense of personal worth. Others seek meaning in accomplishment, service, or self-sacrifice. Still others come to believe that life has no ultimate meaning.

Today's reading from Jeremiah, which is missing in the Greek version of Jeremiah (33:14-26 is lacking in the LXX), is based on an earlier passage, 23:5-6. Whereas the latter passage dates to the time of Jeremiah, the former probably comes from the postexilic period. Subtle changes are evident when comparing the later version with its earlier antecedent. One obvious change is that whereas the earlier version emphasizes the role of a future king, who will rule wisely and be called "Yahweh our righteousness" (i.e., a Zedekiah who lives up to his name), the later version downplays the role of the king, assigning the name "Yahweh our righteousness" to the city of Jerusalem. Another change is the shift in hope from a united Israel and Judah to a promise targeted specifically at the remnant of Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem.

The expectations of believers change as history rolls forward. The postexilic Jews had a different hope than Jews living before the exile had. Christians today have different expectations than Christians living at the end of the first century had. That's as it should be. If believers don't adapt to the changing situation in the world, their faith becomes ossified and ceases to be relevant. On the other hand, if believers abandon their hope in the God who inhabits the future, their faith becomes passé and ceases to exist.

As we enter the season of Advent, today's Christians must express our hope in terms that reach back to the first-century foundations of our faith--and even further back to our Jewish roots--but we must also express our hope in the language and ideas of today's postmodern world, a world fully engaged with the scientific discoveries of the past few centuries but aware of the ambiguities that are so prevalent in contemporary discussions of philosophy, politics, and religion. Such a world desperately needs hope that God will execute righteousness and justice in its midst, and the Advent season gives us the opportunity to proclaim it.

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