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. 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. 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. 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
Covenants were important things. Again and again there are mentions of covenants in the Hebrew Scriptures, usually the covenants between God and individuals or groups where God promised certain things in return for obedience and reverence from those individuals or groups. God made a covenant with Abraham about making him a father of nations even though he had no legal heir. God again made a covenant with the Israelites in Egypt to lead them to the Promised Land in return for their obedience to the law. Again and again, though, God kept God’s part of the bargain while the people proved faithless. But God kept trying.
We make promises all the time, to ourselves, our loved ones, employers and coworkers, church and even to God. How many times have we been in trouble and promised God we’d never miss church again or pray more every day or even do more work for the poor and underprivileged but when the prayers are answered affirmatively, we tend to forget our promises.
During Advent we look at the promises that are fulfilled in the birth and ministry of Jesus. We see Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises for our redemption, a gift from God to us that we can accept or reject. The readings we do and hear, the hymns we sing, and the candles on the Advent wreath all are reminders that that God has made a covenant with us. It is then our job to live into that covenant as a sign of gratitude and obedience.Advent can be a time to think back over promises we have made that perhaps we have not kept or have forgotten, whether by accident or by choice. Perhaps this is a good time to remember those promises, whether made personally or corporately, and find a way to at least in some way keep the promise or make some restitution for the breaking of it. Restitution doesn’t require fancy wrapping paper or big glittery bows, just a sincere heart and an acknowledgement