The Prophets Series: Jeremiah, Exile, and the Promises of God

Saturday 27th November 2021

By Fr Paul Daly

We all respect someone who keeps a promise and distrust someone who breaks a promise. God promised his people that God would give them a land for their own, a ‘promised land’. Yet in 587 BC the people of Israel was deprived of the land God had promised and given them. The Temple (where God dwelt amongst God’s people) was destroyed and the people were taken into exile into Babylon.

They lost everything; home, country, Temple, worship. All the old certainties around which they had built their lives had been shattered. What was left? As they hung up their harps by the rivers of Babylon they must have asked themselves why, in their perception, God had gone back on God’s promise?

Amongst many experiences, no doubt, of personal trauma, there was a sense of collective trauma. People were traumatised and The People was traumatised. They had experienced an event which they were unable to integrate into their understanding of the reality they had known, of Jerusalem, the Temple, the Promised Land.

Jeremiah, in today’s First Reading, ponders this present experience of trauma. God, through the words of Jeremiah, the Prophet, makes two things clear.

First, God has not gone back on the promises God made. God’s promises are being fulfilled.

Secondly, there’s no going back. Yes, fifty years after the Exile, the Return began. But Return to what? There was no ‘carry on as we were’, or ‘normal service is being resumed.’ Fifty years of Exile required a new beginning.

I am sensing a pre-echo of these last twenty months. Are you?

Exile! How might that express the last months? Cut off from so much that was part and parcel of our pre-Covid routine.

Traumatised? So many are bereaved. Your trauma, the wounds of grief, take time to heal. But God makes you a promise that God will walk with you on that journey to a new life, still wounded, but walking with God.

And the wounds of these months will, for many, only gradually come to the surface. As the People of God we need to walk together in our return from exile. Walk together and, as one does on a journey, listen to each other and each other’s experiences. Being listened to is the key way that we enable others, and ourselves, to open our wounds to the Breath of God, promised and given.

And finally, on this First Sunday of Advent, what on earth has this go to do with Christmas?? Does God keep God’s promises? Look at the Christmas Story and tell me! A virgin will conceive and bear a child and they shall give him the name Emmanuel, a name which means God-is-with-us. WITH-US NOW not just with them then.

So, as this year’s Advent journey begins, maybe this week we might hold in our minds:

Have there been times we felt/feel that God has gone back on God’s promises? Visualise God sitting with you, ask God, see how God responds (in words, expression or however). Chat with God about it. Let God reassure you of God’s promises to YOU.

What are the collective wounds during Covid? In our hearts, homes, parishes, towns, country and world? From what have we been cut off? How can we listen to each other and allow each other to bear wounds not taken away but transformed.

How can we walk together as God brings us home, to  a new beginning? What needs to be reborn in us, our Church and our World? What needs to be born?

And how can we look at the Child in the Manger and see God with us, two thousand years ago, but in these last twenty months, born afresh in our hearts his coming Christmas, not simply God’s promise of new life but God’s PLEDGE.

For further reflections on Jeremiah, take a look at the video below with Fr Christopher Lough:

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