As much as we like good news, we have a hard time believing it.
The Hebrew prophets are often remembered for their fiery judgements, but not today. The Jews have just been frogmarched out of their country, held captive in Babylon. Jerusalem, their holy city, is in ruins. Their temple has been destroyed. And in comes the prophet Jeremiah offering an unpopular message—of hope. “The days are surely coming” when “Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety.”
That’s incredibly good news, but the people sit there stone-faced. They couldn’t believe it was possible, that their lives could be different. Here’s Jeremiah’s challenge: how to get the people to believe change is possible. How can he motivate them to live as if God’s promise is already unfolding—and take one step in the direction of freedom?
Very often, people who have suffered some reversal stop believing that things could be different. Their situation becomes their identity. They are eventually defined by their stuckness. Then, even when there is a path to life and health, they just can’t take it.
A few weeks ago a therapist friend told me of a man who came to meet with her. A ball of anxiety, he moaned, “The pain in my shoulder is just awful. I can only lift my arm this much.” He raised his arm just a few inches from his side. “Used to be,” he went on, “I could lift it this high,” whereupon he lifted his arm above his head!
We laughed, but inside I was thinking, I know how that feels. There have been times when I have been defined by my struggles. I didn’t want to see a counselor or spiritual director because I did not want to be in the presence of someone who might see power and light within me. Because then I would have to summon the courage to act in a new way.
We often say blithely that Advent is a season of hope, without recognizing how demanding that can be. Can you change? God says Yes.