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King Jehoiakim sat in his splendid palace that was built by forced labor of his own citizens. He was surrounded by his cabinet, listening to the reading of Jeremiah's scroll. Jeremiah and Baruch were in hiding. The scroll represented all of Jeremiah's sermons and messages. Jeremiah had dictated his memoirs to Baruch, all of the prophecies he had delivered. Jeremiah was very concerned about what was happening to his nation. Judah was headed for destruction and annihilation. The future was clear to Jeremiah, but few listened. Among those who had listened were some of King Jehoiakim's officials. They wanted the scroll read to the king; but, fearing his reaction, told Jeremiah and Baruch to go into hiding.
The king sat in comfort, surrounded by his cabinet. It was winter, and a fire was blazing in a brazier before him. As the scroll was unfolded and read to him, he reached forward with his penknife, cut off a few columns, and threw them into the fire. A gasp went up from those who wanted him to hear and to heed the warning. These were the days before copy machines. Jeremiah had not run to the copy shop and made extra copies. These were the days before word processors, typewriters, carbon paper and printing presses. The scroll was written by hand, and there were no copies. As the scroll was read, the king cut and burned, cut and burned. And Jeremiah wept. But, undaunted, Jeremiah dictated again and Baruch wrote again, and those scrolls now are the core of the Book of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah had been greatly encouraged by the reform movements led by King Josiah. But when Josiah was killed by the Egyptians at a battle of Armageddon (on the plains of Megiddo), the Egyptians put Josiah's sons in succession on the throne as Egypt's puppets. Josiah's sons did not continue the reforms, but instead regressed. Listen to Jeremiah's indictment. 22:13-19 Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages; who says, "I will build myself a spacious house with large upper rooms," and who cuts windows for it, paneling with cedar, and painting it with vermilion. Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him.He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah: With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried--dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem.
King Jehoiakim was a tyrant--cruel, selfish, and indulgent. He subjected his own people to forced labor to build his magnificent palaces. To him, being a king meant living in luxurious style. Regardless of the Lord's requirement of justice, he recklessly oppressed his people and shed innocent blood. Regardless of the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me," Jehoiakim undid his father's reforms, encouraged offerings to Ishtar, Queen of Heaven, the goddess of Babylonia and Assyria; and revived and practiced the barbarous rite of child sacrifice.
The future was clear to Jeremiah. The nation was destroying itself. The attempt to accommodate Egypt and Babylonia, the growing disparity between the haves and have nots with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, the imposition of slave labor, were tearing the country apart. With loss of morale and divided loyalties, the nation was weakened and vulnerable to invasion and conquest.
Jeremiah lived to see his prophecy come true. Jeremiah witnessed both the last flowering of Judah's independence with Josiah's reforms, and Judah's swift demise after Josiah's death. Jeremiah was there when Babylonia descended upon Jerusalem, burnt its buildings to the ground, and destroyed its beloved temple. And Jeremiah wept. His prophecy came true, 22:8-9,
And many nations will pass by this city, and all of them will say one to another, "Why has the Lord dealt in this way with that great city?" And they will answer, "Because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord their God, and worshiped other gods and served them."
Jeremiah plead with the people to repent; but, they would not hear, and Jeremiah wept. Jeremiah plead with King Jehoiakim; but, he burned the scroll, and Jeremiah wept. They could not bear to hear the truth. They would not hear the truth. They wanted to bypass repentance and judgment and live in comfort, ease and wealth, regardless of what their life style did to others. As a result, they lost it all.
This is the first Sunday of Advent, the season when we read and consider some of the great passages that tell of the coming of the Lord. The promise is yet before us, but the message is somber. As we heard read in the Scripture lesson this morning, when the Lord comes, "He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land." There is no salvation without justice and righteousness. The candle we lit this morning is the candle of repentance. Repentance is not popular. It was not popular with King Jehoiakim and the good people of Judah. It is not popular today. Repentance means to turn from, to turn away from injustice and unrighteousness, to turn from sin, and turn to God.
Somehow we would all love to wave a magic wand, and solve our problems without repentance. We want the Depression to end miraculously. We want the unemployed to miraculously find jobs, the homeless to miraculously find housing, the hungry to miraculously find food, the schools to miraculously improve; but, without sacrifice, if you please; without repentance, if you please; without a major shift in values and priorities, if you please; without coming to terms with deficits and spending, if you please. We want the cures without repentance, and Jeremiah weeps.
If you desire peace in your marriage this Christmas, the process begins with repentance; facing squarely, honestly, and openly the injustice and oppression in your marriage, the selfishness and egoism that causes problems.
If you desire peace this Christmas in your family or friendships, the process begins with repentance; turn away from backbiting, jealousy and competition. Repent from putting your own interests ahead of everyone else in the family.
If you desire peace this Christmas in your heart, the process begins with repentance, turning away from other gods and turning to Jesus Christ. How are you and Jesus getting along these days? Is Christ first in your priorities, or is your worship of God confused with and corrupted by the emulation and accumulation of things, and the desire to get ahead in the world by coming out on top, regardless of ethics or morality.
Begin the Advent season this morning in repentance. As you come to Communion, list that which in your life needs changing. Confess and vow to God this morning what you need to change. And, on behalf of our nation, on behalf of our world, come to the altar this morning with prayers of repentance that people may be placed first on our nation's priorities, not palaces or power or wealth or weapons, but people.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris