Lent & Advent

Advent 2021: A Season Of Healing And Hope – December 16

Jim Hopkins

December 12, 2021

A New Covenant Written on the Heart

Terri Brenneman
(Dr. Terri Brenneman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist providing mindfulness-based psychotherapy for adults and late adolescents, specializing in stress reduction, ADHD, life transitions, career and professional development, anxiety, depression, weight/health management, and premarital counseling. She also conducts psychological assessments for ADHD (adult and child), adoption, and clergy readiness for ministry.)

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NRSV)

Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation. A time of hope for rescue, for restoration of brokenness, for love to break through hardened hearts. For a Messiah to enter the war-torn world, to uproot oppressive regimes, to bring justice and peace to all. Is this not our hope for our world today? Do we not resonate with the words from the Advent Hymn?

“O come, O come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”

Israel experienced captivity many times. The Older Testament recounts these stories starting with enslavement in Egypt for generations. God, with Moses, delivers them with ten plagues. God makes a path of dry land through the Red Sea, drowning the chariots and horses of their pursuers. God establishes a relational covenant with the rescued people by setting down rules for living together. The ten Commandments written in stone (one tablet broken, one whole) were carried in the Ark of the Covenant as the people traveled. Those ten rules were summed up into one after 40 years of wandering in the desert: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  Moses added: “These commandments … are to be on your hearts….” (Deut. 6:5-6)

The covenant of Law, previously written on cold, hard stone, becomes the covenant of Love on warm, beating hearts – the very center of being.

“O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.”

At the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy in today’s reading, the houses of Israel and Judah are exiled in Babylon – longing to be rescued, weeping for their homeland. Another 40 years would pass before deliverance came. In their despair, Jeremiah proclaimed God’s promise to establish a new covenant, a new law of love written upon their hearts, resulting in “knowing” God. In exile and despair, God offers grace and invites relationship.

The response of loving God with heart, soul, and strength makes it possible to know God, to know forgiveness, to know belonging.

“O come, thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh.
To us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in thy ways to go.”

The Newer Testament opens with Israel once again under an oppressive regime, the Roman Empire. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, set the stage of years long hope for and anticipation of the advent of a rescuer, a savior. This time the “new covenant” comes in the form of a baby, in a human incarnation of the divine with a heart beating and pulsing with love – Jesus. Who calls us to not only love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), but to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30, Lev. 19:18).

God, in compassion for us, reaches out to us in our humanness, engendering in our hearts compassion for ourselves and for others. Love and compassion are the ways to restoration and salvation.

“O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind.
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease. Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”

In today’s world we may find ourselves enslaved by the pull to do more, have more, want more. Or by the limitations, emotional upheavals, looming disasters that beset us. Or by the sucking force into the mind-numbing vortex of social media algorithms, information overload, enticing images we binge watch on the screens ever at our fingertips. Or overwhelmed by the disasters all around us, the injustice of prejudice, violence and uncivil discourse, the distress of a dying planet. All of these influences can wrap around us with sticky tentacles, holding us fast, leaving us feeling powerless and lost. Lost to ourselves and to God. Hoping for, longing for rescue.

And so we pray…

May God’s love be written on our hearts.
May compassion pulse and radiate through our beings.
May we know the height and depth, the length and breadth,
of God’s understanding and grace.
May we be of one heart and one mind.
May the world be filled with heaven’s peace.