“Jeremiah’s Foretelling of the Christmas Story”
This Christmas Eve, we turn to a well-loved text in Luke, one you may have read many times; but perhaps you’ve never read it in concert with this prophecy of hope in Jeremiah. I think that, when we read these two texts together, we have a deeper appreciation for what happened that night in Bethlehem when Christ was born.
Around the tenth year of Zedekiah’s reign (588 or 587 BC), as they are enduring another siege by Bablyon and barely hanging on, and as Jeremiah is being held captive by his own king because of his prophecies, Jeremiah receives another word from the Lord helping him interpret Judah’s current situation and look with hope toward the future. The Lord makes it clear that his people are suffering at the hand of Babylon because of their sin. God will allow his people to face siege and exile for their sins, but his plans for them won’t end there. Behold—a great reversal will come! God will restore their fortunes. God will forgive their sin. God will transform this land, once empty and war-torn, to be a place where his name is praised and feared. Gladness will ring out in the streets. Economic enterprises will be renewed as shepherds lead their sheep to graze again on the hills. And when it seems hopeless that the lineage of David could continue under threat of Babylonian invasion, puppet kings, and rampant wickedness, God declares he will keep the promise he made to Israel and to Judah that a King from David’s line would eternally reign, administering justice and righteousness in the land.
As we turn to Luke, perhaps we read these verses with different eyes, noticing the partial fulfillment already happening from the Book of Jeremiah. Bethlehem’s streets are packed with people who have arrived to participate in the Roman census. Shepherds are keeping watch over the sheep grazing on the hills. And a young couple expecting a child makes their way to Bethlehem from Nazareth to register for the census, because the man is from the house and lineage of David. While there, the couple gives birth to a baby. But this isn’t just any baby; he is the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. The word of the Lord to Jeremiah finds fulfillment as a new King, the Righteous Branch of David, enters the scene—not by being crowned in a temple, but by being born in a stable.
It’s all partial fulfillment even now, of course. We still wait for the full fulfillment of this passage, for the day when evil will be forever vanquished, for the day when we will dwell with Christ in God’s presence, for the day when sadness will cease. But on this Christmas Eve, we give thanks to God for the birth of Christ, who cleanses us from our sin, guides us in justice and righteousness, and gives us hope. Let us join the angels who first filled those night skies with their glad choruses, who sang the good news to the shepherds, who proclaimed it to everyone they met: “Christ is born!”