Advent: Born to Set the People Free

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’

Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,

‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

“Don’t I know you…?” Have any of you ever had the experience of someone noticing you, like the grocery store, and while holding up one tomato after another checking for ripeness, and you are asked, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” Have you ever strolled along the sidewalk of your hometown and someone notices you and says, “aren’t you so-and-so’s child?”  

Sometimes our “knowness” comes in the negative, like “I don’t know you anymore.” Disappointed eyes filled with loss say this to a partner who has betrayed their trust – “I don’t know you anymore.” Or angry exchanges between a parent and teenager and someone says, maybe both say, “I don’t know you.” 

 There are therapists and clients who sit face to face talking and listening because the one on the symbolic couch does not know who they are anymore and is asking “who am I?” This question, by the way, comes to us all. What can be more unsettling than to look in the mirror and notice the crows-feet and age spots and weary eyes and confess that we do not know who we are?  

“Before I formed you in the womb,” so says YHWH to Jeremiah, “I knew you…” The LORD says this to Jeremiah as God was calling him to the unwelcome job of truth-speaking against Judah and later on for Judah.  

Of course, these words are to Jeremiah and not to us. We are not all called to be prophets to ancient Israel. This particular verse is not even the important part of the passage. The heart of this passage is in the plucking up and tearing down a few verses later.  

Still, I am captivated with those early words of the LORD to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” I know they are directed to Jeremiah, but don’t you think it is okay to overhear them as a claim on us as well? 

I know that really counts. We know about our confusions and doubts. We know our failures and our fears. We know our incompetence and the worry of being found out. We know, and even though most of us are not called to be prophets like Jeremiah we sound a lot like Jeremiah who shoots back to God: “Ah, Lord God!…I am only a child…” I am unqualified; I am mixed up; I am immature.” Yes, God knows all that too but that is not what really matters. 

It is not what I know or think I know that really has any jurisdiction. I know you, says God and because I know you, you no longer have to live under the tyranny of what others know about you. “I know you” and I have consecrated you and the labels self-imposed or given have no claim.  

The only thing worth knowing is that love is what endures. Through Advent we discover complete love that compels us to love one another. To do so will mean we will have to get beyond ourselves and what we think we know. We will need to encounter others. 

Jesus embodied what it meant to know the other through holy encounters that included Samaritans, centurions, and fellow Judeans. Jesus spoke of human encounters as opportunities for meeting God. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you…’” It is like saying “we did not know.” 

Tell me, how will you know? In the end it is not what we know or think we know about ourselves or others. In fact, it may be a good thing when all we can say is “Sometimes I don’t know who I am any more than I know you.” In our “not knowing” we might be surprised by holy visitation. It is enough to know that God knows us as we are and just as we are we are set apart to live authentically and genuinely to our calling. We are known and beloved and because we are known and beloved we are called to know, really know others and love as God loves.   

Even when we do not know ourselves, God knows and in God’s knowing we are loved and set free to know others and love as God loves. Now you know! 

C. Gregory DeLoach

Gregory DeLoach, grew up on a dairy farm outside of Eatonton, Georgia. Greg has pastored congregations throughout the state for nearly three decades, including in Mansfield, Chickamauga, Marietta, and Augusta.

Following 10 years as senior pastor of First Baptist Augusta, he became executive director of Developmental Disabilities Ministries, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, charitable corporation serving adults with developmental disabilities and their families.

In February 2017, he joined the development staff at Mercer, having previously served on the University’s Board of Trustees and was later appointed as the Dean of the McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University.

Greg is the author of two books, “Wanderings: A Pilgrim’s Walk on This Good Earth,” and “Catching Up With God: Freeing Ourselves for Divine Engagement.” He and his wife, Amy, have two adult sons, Clark and Aaron, and a daughter-in-law, Erin, who is married to his son Aaron.