Forming Faith Blog

Growing Justice (Jeremiah 33)

While the injustice of the people of Judah led to their downfall by the Babylonians, God promises the One who will bring life, justice, and righteousness to the broken people.

A branch with new leaves. The promised Branch will bring justice.
Photo by Matthias Cooper on
Welcome to Advent

The first Sunday of Advent is considered, in the traditional church year, to be the first Sunday of the year. So, it is now that the Revised Common Lectionary transitions from Year A to Year B. The Narrative Lectionary year does not follow this tradition, following the typical program (school) year in the Northern Hemisphere. One criticism that some people have about the NL is that it more-or-less ignores the seasons of the church year beyond the major festivals (this can be argued, but that’s not the point here).

However, we have been at the point in the NL’s journey through the Old Testament of the destruction of both the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians and the southern kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians. This is the period of the (literary) prophets, who condemn the wickedness of the kingdoms before their falls and give messages of hope afterward.

The Coming of the Messiah

Advent is the season of waiting for the coming of the Messiah, both remembering the waiting of the people of Israel and waiting for Jesus to return and bring shalom, justice, and truth. That is also what we heard two weeks ago in Isaiah 11 and that is what we hear in today’s reading from Jeremiah. What could be more Advent-y than that?

Start from the Beginning

People have limited attention spans and faith formation leaders only have so much time to devote to preaching, teaching, etc. That means that the assigned readings can only be so long. The official reading for today is quite short, only five verses. Another two verses are optional, but that leaves a lot unread. And for a good reason. But context is important.

Jeremiah 33:1-9 begins during the Babylonians’ siege of Jerusalem. God reiterates to the prophet that the invaders will be successful as the executors of God’s anger against the people. But in verse 6, the tone abruptly shifts from anger to hope. God promises:

…to bring [Jerusalem] recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.

Jeremiah 33:6

The Hebrew word that the NRSV translates as “prosperity” is one of my favorites: shalom. Shalom is God’s peace, where everyone has everything they need to thrive. (Oddly enough to one uneducated in the ways of translating Hebrew, the word translated here as “security” is actually “truth”).

Voices in the Devastation

God continues this promise of restoration and shalom in the next section (verses 10-13). Specifically, places that are desolate (literally “dry”) with no people or animals will have people and animals. And these people will not just be present, but they will be laughing, celebrating, and giving thanks and praise to God. Places that were dry and dead will be filled with life.

The Days Are Surely Coming

Now we reach the official reading of the day: verses 14-18. God assures the people that, in the near future, God will fulfill the promise God made to David (2 Samuel 7:15-16). God made David a house—a dynasty—and it will lead to this, the arrival of the Promised One, the Messiah.

From the dry ground of the kingdom of God’s people, God will raise up a Branch. Well, maybe a branch? A quick look at an online concordance identifies this word tsemach primarily as a sprout or growth. The only places I can easily see that this word is translated as “branch” are in equivalent passages to this one—where the word refers to the promised Messiah. That makes me wonder why this is. I don’t have the time or resources to dig into why tsemach is translated into a strong and mighty Branch when referring to the Messiah, not the softer, weaker Sprout. I have my cynical guesses, but nothing more than that. In addition, I can see that the verb in verse 15 (tsamach) is the root of tsemach. So, God is growing a Growth or sprouting a Sprout.

Justice and Righteousness

As in Isaiah 11, this promised Messiah will bring to the people what is sorely lacking: true justice and righteousness. And the goal of justice and righteousness is to bring about a community of shalom where every member thrives without violence, illness, or lack of resources.

Faith Formation Connections

In this passage, the righteous Branch (Sprout, Growth) is the clearest image. It lends itself to many plant-related activities and crafts. But it’s important—especially for our more concrete thinkers—to make a clear connection between this plant imagery and the Messiah. If possible, it would also be helpful to remind your participants of the Isaiah text from two weeks ago and make the connection between these two prophecies.

Growing in God,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “Connected” from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th, NL) curriculum, though the activity can be used with all ages!

Order Faith Formation Resources

The Winter quarter begins on December 3, 2023 with the first Sunday of Advent! Did you only order the Fall quarter and need to complete the year? Are you still looking for easy-to-use, theologically sound, and effective resources for the Narrative Lectionary, as well as for the Revised Common Lectionary, and even classic Sunday school Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th (check our blog post for a special discount)?

Looking for a resource for intergenerational events, whole-church series, or even something new for Sunday school? Check out our Learning Together series! These five-lesson units are available on six different topics, one of which is FREE! The other five are quite affordable with variable pricing starting at $25 for a program with 1-10 participants. Perfect for children’s and intergenerational ministries, family or churchwide events, and even a whole-church Advent series!

At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:

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