Homily: Wednesday, December 2, 2009: Advent Vespers

Text: Jeremiah 33:14-16


bearer bond A staple plot device of many an action/adventure movie is the “bearer bond.” In the make-believe worlds of Hollywood cops and robbers, there are stacks of “bearer negotiable promissory notes” being stored in locked vaults which could be cashed in by anyone in possession of said notes. This device has been used in Goldfinger, Die Hard and Mission Impossible. It’s the updated version of stealing gold from Fort Knox.

Promissory notes are contracts. They are private agreements between two parties for one party to deliver payment to another at either a fixed or a determinable time, with or without interest. The “bearer bond” is a type of promissory note, one that can be cashed in by whoever is in possession of the note, as opposed to the one to whom the note was originally made.

In essence, promissory notes are a form of private currency. It’s for this very reason that many governments do not allow bearer bonds – since they carry the potential for creating a shadow economy, which is exactly how they were used by money launderers and tax evaders in the United States before they were banned in 1982.

Governments have a vested interest in keeping control over their currency. It’s what allows them to determine and collect taxes, it’s essential for determining value in international finance and trade, it’s how inflation and interest rates are determined, it’s how the value of a person’s work is determined. It’s in the nation’s self interest to keep control of its currency.

The Hebrew Bible texts read by the church during the season of Advent offer a kind of promissory note to those who hear them. Issued by the dissident voices of Israel’s prophets in the era before the life and ministry of Jesus, the Old Testament texts assigned for Advent declare unconditional promises to deliver invaluable goods to God’s people at a future time.

This past Sunday, and again this evening, we hear from the prophet Jeremiah who offers the following promises on behalf of God,

“The 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. In 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. In 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 33:14-16)

The God of Israel has made a promissory note with the houses of Israel and Judah, households that we believe have been opened to include all people and every nation in Christ Jesus in whom “there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female” (Galatians 3:28). It is a promissory note with a maturation date, “in those days and at that time.” The question I’m pondering tonight is, are God’s promises bearer bonds?

Can we cash them in?

There is a way that the season of Advent, with its theme of hopeful anticipation, might suggest that the promises of the prophets we hear across the four weeks leading up to Christmas are not bearer bonds – that they have not yet reached their maturation date. That they are a good investment to hold in our portfolio, but that it’s not yet time to cash them in. But I don’t think that’s the case.

Because the season of Advent isn’t about waiting for Christ to be born, which has already occurred, it’s about waiting for the fullness of the reign of God to be realized – a new world order which we crave as desperately as a hungry person craves a square meal. In this moment in time and space, when we are committing 30,000 additional troops to engage a war almost a decade old, when the hungry keep coming to our door in greater and greater numbers, we are not desperate for cash – we are desperate for justice and righteousness, for ourselves and for all the people of the earth.

God’s promises act as a sort of shadow economy. They offer delivery of goods that the nations say they want to provide, but never seem to produce. They are contraband goods. They threaten the market, which is why I think these are bearer bonds.

God’s promises are ready to be cashed in by anyone in possession of them. They are a sort of currency that give us the power to act as though the future has already arrived. Those in possession of these promissory notes will recognize the words of Mary’s song as notice that the day of redemption has arrived. As we sing her song, as we sing her notes – some two-thousand years old, we are declaring that the bonds we carry, issued by the prophets and backed by God’s unfailing Word, are worth far more than the paper on which they were printed – they are worth everything, because they encompass everyone and they leave no one out.

These promissory notes, these bearer bonds, are not hidden in a vault. They are not held under lock and key. They are freely issued, and you – who have heard God’s promises – are now bearers of these notes. In this season of spending, the question that remains is: how will you use the invaluable currency with which God has gifted you?

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