The things of everyday life are what we see easily and what can cause us to be worried. If we look beyond these things we can see the hidden picture, the eternal perspective. This reminds me of the magic eye 3D pictures which you can only see if you focus beyond what you can immediately see. Jeremiah seemed able to do this in the midst of a very difficult situation. Jesus also urges us to look forward and not focus on now.
At the Advent Sunday service in the Cathedral the readings were Psalm 25:1-9, Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36. My reflection follows.
I wonder if you have come across the Magic Eye 3D pictures. Another name for them is single image stereograms. They were very popular in the 90s but you can still see them around in places. These are the ones which have a design on them which is what you see immediately, but if you look in the right way you can see a hidden picture. (If you are unsure what I’m talking about you can find examples here: http://www.vision3d.com/sghidden.html ). We have one of these pictures in our local fish and chip shop. I have never yet been able to see the hidden image. The website I referred to shows you how to develop this skill so perhaps I should practise! The trick to seeing the hidden picture is parallel viewing. Instead of looking directly at the picture, so that your eyes focus on its surface, you look as though observing something a long way behind the picture. Your eyes work parallel to one another instead of converging on the surface of the picture and this is what allows you to see what is hidden.
Many centuries before anyone created Magic Eye pictures, Jeremiah had the sort of vision needed to view them. He wrote during the reigns of Judah’s last five kings. Things were going from bad to worse. Despite Jeremiah’s warnings and urging the people to turn from their sins they continued to ignore God. Jeremiah foretold the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, the captivity of the people, but to no avail.
At the time of writing today’s passage, Jeremiah was in prison. He had been put there by King Zedekiah for continuing to prophesy that the city would be conquered by Babylon. Yet the Babylonian army was even then besieging Jerusalem. It was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. Imprisoned, seeing the imminent overthrow and destruction of Jerusalem, his beloved city, Jeremiah employed parallel viewing. Instead of allowing his eyes to focus on the immediate situation, he let them look far into the future and, inspired by God, he wrote a message of hope.
Through Jeremiah, God reminded the people of Israel and Judah that, despite their sinful lives, despite ignoring the prophets, the promise that King David’s house would never fail will be fulfilled. The Branch of David, Jesus the Messiah, would come. Only with far-sightedness could that wonderful picture be seen beyond the time of lawlessness and threatened destruction. Unlike the unjust kings which Judah had been living under, this king of David’s line would be righteous and would execute justice. All would be restored in Jerusalem, the destruction would be undone and safety would return for all. This would come about because of God’s love for his people even when they showed no love to him.
Jesus encourages us to be like Jeremiah and develop parallel viewing. Talking to his disciples about the future, much like Jeremiah he predicts a terrible time: dreadful signs in the sky, nations in uproar, strange natural phenomena. People will be petrified by all that they see, just as the occupants of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time must have been frightened to see the armies camped around the city. The things that are in front of them, easy to see, will be truly horrendous for most people.
Then Jesus says: Look beyond this, employ your parallel viewing and see the true picture that is hidden from view unless you make an effort. Jesus paints the wonderful picture of himself returning as Messiah on a cloud with power and glory. Seeing that, we will not be bowed down by what is around us, right in front of us, but will stand up and look up to fully enjoy the majesty of the 3D picture.
It’s easy to forget there is more to life than what we can immediately see. Jesus suggests a way to be reminded. In the same way that seeing buds on the trees bursting into leaf tells us the warm weather is on its way, Jesus says that we should let seeing all the disturbing things in the world tell us that he is on his way. He’s not saying tick the boxes until you’ve noticed all the things I’ve described and then I shall arrive. This is not a countdown to a specific date; we don’t know when Jesus will return. Instead, we are to let the disturbing things remind us that there is more to the picture of life than we can currently see. God’s plans are unfolding and will come to fruition. How could the people of Jerusalem possibly expect a wonderful righteous king to come in the situation in Jeremiah’s day? How could the people of Jerusalem in AD70 have hope as the Romans destroyed their city? How can we have hope in a world where many have no clean water, not enough food, no peace and security, where people die of illness and accidents daily? Only if we look beyond the immediate to the promise of God can we have hope.
Jeremiah could detect a hopeful future because he was attuned to God whereas the people of Jerusalem were too tied up in their sinful lives to pay any heed to God. Jesus tells us to do the same as Jeremiah did. We are not to spend our time occupied with the things of this world. We are to watch for signs of Jesus’ return, to be constantly alert and to pray.
Today Advent begins again as it has year after year since Jesus ascended to his Father. For many in the world, like the occupants of ancient Jerusalem, there is no room to think about God or matters of eternal significance. The focus is on the fast approaching Christmas Day. There are presents to buy, cards to send, food to prepare, friends to invite, families to pacify, houses to clean and decorate. However, we are called to look beyond the immediate, even beyond the celebration of Jesus coming to earth as a helpless baby. That is just the beginning of God’s plan. We need to look far further and see the coming of Jesus in power and great glory. Doing this will help us not to be terrified by what we see around us, however bad it gets.
At the end of this service we will begin our Posada. Mary and Joseph will travel from place to place in SL, hosted by members of our community and others. Their journey helps us to focus on our own journey towards Christmas this year and beyond to a time when we will be in the presence of the Prince of Peace.
Thanks be to God.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor