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The New Jerusalem

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I will turn my hand against you
and will smelt away your dross as with lye
and remove all your alloy.
And I will restore your judges as at the first,
and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
the faithful city. (Is 1:25–26)

You have to set your square large enough that all your livestock can fit inside it. You start by pacing off the perimeter. Put some rocks or some large stones where you want the corners, your front gate and maybe an extra portal or two on the side or the back. You have to see in your mind if it’s a big enough area. And then you walk around it, again and again, kicking the dirt out of the way until you’ve made a deep enough groove. Then, after you’ve walked the miles around what will be your house you’re going to need some water. Not just a drink, but gallons upon gallons. And you go out, and you start to bring back your water and you pour it out on the ground. You make a pit of mud, mixing and mixing with your feet. You take straw and dried grass which you’ve been bringing in for days and you mix and you stomp until your legs are burning and you can barely lift them up and you form up a clump of this mixture (about this big) and you set it in the corner where one of your rocks had been. You take another and another and you keep going until you filled in the whole groove it took you so long to dig out until you have filled it in completely. And you have a little ridge, a few inches higher than the earth. Clump by clump, mud ball by mud ball, you mix and you walk and you lift and you carry until you have built up a wall as tall as your chest. But the wall isn’t tall enough yet. So now, with each load you bring you must climb up and down your wall until it is so tall that you could not touch the top of it if you stood on the ground. You build your doors and you set your gates and you go inside your wall and you begin the whole process again and you build up your house. Smaller and more complex for now you have to add a roof. Now you have to go and harvest timber and set it and bind it and cover it. Is it strong enough for you to build another story on the top? Will it cover your family and keep them warm and safe? Will it stand the test of time?

Your house is built and more settlers arrive and they build their houses by yours and more and more arrive until a whole city has been built up in the desert by the hands of its inhabitants. And the city lives and breathes, it has its rhythms and sounds and noises. And this life, this living city, like every human life in creation, does what life does and it sins. And then sin fills up every sound and noise and rhythm of the life of the city.

And when the prophet of God comes and announces that God will turn his hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy you quake with fear. You know the tools it takes to do those things. Hammers and fire and forges and anvils and caustic poison which would rend your flesh into liquid. Everything you need to turn your city into rubble and remove every hint that any life was ever there. The city you built with your hands and feet became filled with sin, and you can feel its destruction on the horizon.

Have you ever seen a city destroyed? On a specific schedule? Imagine the ferocity that could be unleashed when the tools of destruction are rained down from the sky, fire and metal with more force and power than you have ever seen, brought to bear on simple buildings of mud and straw and wood. Do you understand the potential destruction which could scrub you from the face of the earth?

This is exactly what happened to three villages in Afghanistan in late 2010. They had become filled with evil. The residents saw the evil every day. Their lives were controlled by Taliban fighters and their villages had become places of death and destruction, every building and pathway laced with booby traps and bombs. And the only option left for the Army commanders in the area was to destroy these villages. Soldiers went out to these places and announced their impending destruction. The villagers collected up their belongings and left, and on the appointed day at the appointed hour, destruction was rained down from the sky onto these places which had become filled with evil. Destruction so complete that even the rivers running through the low places of the earth lost their course and the water no longer had a path. Buildings which you had seen and touched for your entire life reduced to nothing but a vague memory of dust.

But this is not the end of the story. There was a promise that followed this destruction. Builders and construction crews were brought in and the towns were rebuilt. The residents could return and live with a new sense safety and security and without the same fear of the evil which had previously overrun their lives in those places. God does not threaten us with destruction, he promises it—a promise of restoration far more total and complete than the simple reconstruction of a town. For the commander who ordered that destruction, even though he was doing what he believed was the right, the decision was not made lightly, and it was something that continued to weigh on him afterwards. But for our God—the God whose every action in our lives is done as fulfillment of his covenant of love for us—there is no second guessing doing everything in his power to remove sin. A prophecy of destruction is a promise of love.

Buried right in the heart of this prophecy of destruction, this litany of things to be suffered, lies a promise. A promise of redemption by justice, a promise of righteousness for the repentant, a promise of the salvation and recognition of the faithful. In the midst of what the world sees as destruction, a promise of the love of God, manifest through the coming of Jesus Christ. Every day is a day of adventful waiting for the people of God, and we are made doubly aware of that during this time. We come here today to await the return of our King—the one who destroys sin and death. We await the time when every monument to evil and terror and death on the earth and the cities of sin that we have built up in our own hearts will be completely and utterly demolished. He is coming again in all his glory. And when he reigns in glory, he will rain down all the heavenly might in the universe, and every vestige of evil and sin and death will be scrubbed out of its cosmic existence. No sign of it will remain. This is the promise we await.

The promise of God’s love for us will bring destruction. It will be the entrance into his eternal reign of peace. And we will walk out into a new and perfect landscape with our creator. We will walk and walk. And he will lay out a new house for us, built up on Christ, the cornerstone. There will be no back-breaking labor, no more heavy burdens of sin to bear. In this world of loss and sorrow, in these days of helpless strife, hear a promise of the destruction God will bring and know, know with every fiber of your being, that the day is surely coming when he will return and then we will dwell with him for all eternity. Amen.

Editors’ Note: This text was delivered as a homily on December 2, 2014, Tuesday of the First Week of Advent. 

Featured Photo: Village in Afghanistan; Paolo Alfieri (2009); CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.

Hans Tolpingrud

Hans Tolpingrud is a former U.S. Army Infantry officer and a veteran of Afghanistan. He is a graduate of the North American Lutheran Seminary at Trinity School for Ministry (M.Div. ’16) and Valparaiso University (B.A. ’06). He is currently serving as Vicar at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Yorktown, Texas and is a candidate for ordination in the North American Lutheran Church.