The New Normal

Jeremiah 29:1-2Contemporary English Version (CEV)
29 1-2 I had been left in Jerusalem when King Nebuchadnezzar took many of the people of Jerusalem and Judah to Babylonia as prisoners, including King Jehoiachin, his mother, his officials, and the metal workers and others in Jerusalem who were skilled in making things. So I wrote a letter to the prophets, the priests, the leaders, and the rest of our people in Babylonia.
Jeremiah 29:4-14
4 that the Lord All-Powerful, the God of Israel, had said:
I had you taken from Jerusalem to Babylonia. Now I tell you 5 to settle there and build houses. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. 6 Get married and have children, then help your sons find wives and help your daughters find husbands, so they can have children as well. I want your numbers to grow, not to get smaller.
7 Pray for peace in Babylonia and work hard to make it prosperous. The more successful that nation is, the better off you will be.
8-9 Some of your people there in Babylonia are fortunetellers, and you have asked them to tell you what will happen in the future. But they will only lead you astray. And don’t let the prophets fool you, either. They speak in my name, but they are liars. I have not spoken to them.
10 After Babylonia has been the strongest nation for seventy years, I will be kind and bring you back to Jerusalem, just as I have promised. 11 I will bless you with a future filled with hope—a future of success, not of suffering. 12 You will turn back to me and ask for help, and I will answer your prayers. 13 You will worship me with all your heart, and I will be with you 14 and accept your worship. Then I will gather you from all the nations where I scattered you, and you will return to Jerusalem.

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I have always liked this passage, but as my life changes, my reasons for liking it change.
I used to like it because it was full of optimism. Yes, you are captured and living in a strange land, but don’t give up, the prophet says. Instead, make yourselves at home and make Babylon the new normal. It reminds me of friends and families who have been forced to leave one town for another because work is no longer available where they’ve been living for years and they have to move to a different town or a different state. Even if they move away, thinking they’ll return, they put down roots in the new town, buy a house, plant a garden, join a church, enroll the kids in school, because they have a new normal.
I loved the idea that one can lead a purposeful and pleasurable life wherever one has to live. In other words, “Bloom where you are planted.”
As I’ve gotten older and frailer, I read this passage through the eyes of one who has to leave home, not to look for work, but to get help with day to day living. I read this through the eyes of one who is losing autonomy, who is losing the ability to be safe at home. Who has ever said, “Please, move me to assisted living, please, move me to a nursing home.” Some have, but most of the stories I hear are of people who are angry, upset, depressed about having to leave the homes they have created and cared for.
Like the Babylonian captives, when we reach a certain stage in life, we are forced to leave what is safe and familiar, what is precious and protected. Having your children or your siblings tell you you can’t stay at home is frightening. And the choices you are given are less than ideal. From deciding what you will eat, when you will sleep, how to wash your clothes or yourself, you are told by someone else what to eat, when to sleep, to take care of yourself. Of course, you have choices, but those choices don’t always resemble the ones you have when you live in your own home.
How many times have you watched someone mentally or emotionally decline once they have moved out of the only place they can call home?

One of my first jobs as a teenager was as a dietary aid in a nursing home. In fact, I worked at one in my hometown during vacations and at another in my college time during the academic terms. I saw every kind of reaction. I saw people who were resigned and barely moved. I saw people who immediately made friends and found activities, who found ways to “plant gardens,” not with seeds, but with smiles and conversations and kind deeds.
Listen to Jeremiah’s words again: “Now I tell you 5 to settle there and build houses. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. 6 Get married and have children, then help your sons find wives and help your daughters find husbands, so they can have children as well.”
Now granted, you’re not going to find a spouse and have babies when you move to the nursing home, but you can find friends and do the things that good friends do for each other—listen, laugh, play, sympathize, reminisce.
Some of you are too young to worry about these changes, but you can still learn from this passage—-don’t give up. Don’t wait for your old life to return. Make a new life when circumstances force you into new environments or new conditions.
There are so many ways you can be kicked out of your comfort zone. I’ve mentioned job loss, but we can lose a friend or our health, or our strength.
I know each of you has suffered loss; each of you has adjusted, just as the Babylonian captives adjusted. They did not sit down and give up. Even in the worst circumstances, most of us find a way, through our own insight or through the kindness of another, we survive and revive.
That’s what God expects of us because that is how God created us. We are creatures of hope.

Advent is a time of hope. We hope for the celebration of the birth of our Savior. Unlike our Hebrew ancestors, we aren’t’ waiting desperately for a Messiah; we know that Messiah has arrived. Instead, we turn that waiting into a time of expectation and preparation, preparing our hearts and minds to celebrate that Miracle Baby.
Advent is a time of anticipation, a time to anticipate our final reunion with Jesus, whether it come in some kind of science fiction explosion from the skies or at the end of our lives.
Advent is a time of preparation, as we prepare the Kingdom of God here on earth, by following Jesus instructions and example among our friends and neighbors, even those neighbors whose names we have never heard, whose faces we have never seen..
This reminds me of a joke. A church member rushed into the pastor’s office and said “Jesus has been spotted walking up the aisle of the Church. What do we do?” The pastor looked up with alarm and said “For God sake, sister, look busy!”
That reminds me of a story. We had a rocking horse, the kind that is mounted on a frame with springs. It was great for bouncing up and down, up and down, boing, boing. Ours sat next to a big picture window in the living room. Laura and her friend Anne were playing in the room. Anne was bouncing on the rocking horse and Laura, age 4, was looking out the window. Suddenly, Laura exclaimed, “It’s Jesus! It’s Jesus!” I looked out the window and a young man with a beard and long hair was walking past our house. Laura exclaimed over and over “It’s Jesus! It’s Jesus” and Anne responded, “Jesus CHRIST? JESUS CHRIST?” I will never forget that scene as long as I live. Two little girls, devoted Sunday School students, expected to see Jesus, were thrilled to see Jesus, recognized Jesus on an ordinary day during ordinary playtime.
Do you expect to see Jesus? Are you expecting him to come blasting out of the clouds with a zillion angels blowing trumpets? I hope you can have your dream fulfilled. In the meantime, be looking for Jesus in the person of those who surround you. Look for Jesus in the smallest gesture of generosity, in the gentle word of forgiveness, in the courage of the oppressed. Look in the mirror—you might even see Jesus there. Amen.