Like all of us, I guess, with this ping-pong weather we are experiencing, I have been worried that snow is just around the corner—that one of these days I may find myself snowed in, and/or having to call off church. I have a bag of rock salt and a snow shovel at the ready. Will that be enough? I don’t know! Snowstorms. Not wanting one but they do make for some good stories.
My great snowstorm story happened when I was 9 years old, in March, 1962. I was living in Richmond, Virginia with the rest of my family. My younger brother, who was seven, and I had taken the bus to our elementary school that day. That morning, waiting for the bus, there was already significant snow on the ground. I was still light-weight enough that I could walk on the snow’s ice crust and not leave boot prints. Remember those days?
While we were at school that day, the heavens opened and began dumping huge amounts of snow on Richmond. That snow took everyone by surprise. There was no time for the superintendent to close the schools. The school day was already winding down. At our living room picture window, my mother watched the snow coming down and coming down. She rightly feared that the roads would be impossible even for school buses to navigate. She pulled on her warmest coat, her boots and her fuzzy black hat—the one with the earmuffs—a Russian look, you know what I’m talking about? ---and she headed out to our school. She didn’t have far to walk. The school was only a couple of miles away.
She made it to school before the final bell sounded. Inside the building, all was chaos. The buses weren’t running, but we children were lined up at the back doors, ready to board the buses anyway. Other parents, besides my mother, were walking the hallways, looking for their children. Teachers were trying to maintain order. That back hallway looked like a scene from the Titanic!
In the middle of all of this clamor and commotion stood the principal. His name was Dr. Ely. He was large, both this way and this way, and intimidating. After the school bell rang every school day morning,we children were allowed to move from our holding area, the lunchroom to our classrooms, Dr. Ely stood in the front, main hallway. He towered over us, his arms outstretched. Most of us easily fit under those arms as we walked past. His demeanor and body language said, “I’m king of this castle and I’m bigger, than any of you. Therefore, no fighting, no pushing, no running.” It worked!
That day, though, his arms were by his sides. He was just standing there, taking it all in. My mother knew Dr. Ely- actually, the entire family did. The Elys were prominent members at our church. Seeing Dr. Ely just standing there, my mother thought to engage him in some friendly conversation. She said, “Can you believe this weather?” or something like that. She didn’t mean to be controversial or confrontational. She was just, you know, being friendly.
To which, Dr. Ely, replied snippily, “It’s just what people make of it.” My mother was taken aback, but she didn’t say anything else. She found my brother and me—in the bus line, and we headed out.
Trudging through the deepening snow toward home, my mother, brother and I-- my mother fumed aloud about Dr. Ely’s insensitive, and we might even say, extremely myopic remark.
Because of the snow, school was closed the next day. Through the Richmond grapevine, though, we found out that during the night, the weight of the snow had caused the roof on Dr. Ely’s house to cave in. My mother thought that was just about right.
That is kind of sort of what is going on when Jeremiah walked the earth—Dr. Ely playing the role of Zedekiah, the king not of a school, but of Judah. Look at the map in your bulletin. You see how big Babylonia is on that map? And you see how small Judah is? When Babylonia demands tribute from Judah OR ELSE, King Zedekiah should have taken that threat seriously. It was as if a snowstorm was bearing down on Judah. But oh no. Zedekiah, convinces himself and his country, that “it’s just what people make of it.” Nothing to fear. You know where this is headed, right.
In the snow story I just relayed to you, my mother plays the role of Jeremiah, even though she was not a prophet. And if she were here today she would probably be aghast that I have made the comparison!
Like my mother, though, Jeremiah could read the signs. He might have stayed quiet. But he was called by God to warn his people of the impending danger. For THIRTY-SEVEN years he squabbles and babbles, and wails and rails, growls and howls about what lies ahead if Judah does not take the threat seriously.
You know the word JeremIad? It means a long, mournful complaint. As in, the Senator’s speech on the pharmaceutical industry became a long and dark jeremIad regarding corporate greed. The word jeremiad derives from the prophet’s name.
However, in the middle of Jeremiah’s Jeremiad, that is, beginning with chapter 30 and running through chapter 33, our prophet offers a different message. Suspecting that no one will be motivated to act, and his people will be defeated, he offers some words of hope. This part of the book of Jeremiah is so unlike the rest, that it is often referred to as a separate book altogether--the Book of Consolation. If the book of Jeremiah were a landscape painting, there would be crags and cliffs in the foreground, dark ominous thunder clouds above. There would be a volcano in the distance, orange and red at its peak, like it’s about to erupt. But then in the bottom right hand corner of the painting there would be something totally different from the whole. An oasis—with a palm tree, grass. A gentle brook. Maybe there’d even be someone sitting in a beach chair sunning,
That oasis is the Book of Consolation. Jeremiah, speaking for God, predicts something that is extraordinary. He says that one day the exiled Jews, Jews whom Babylonian King Nebuchaddnezer will exile to the city of Babylon, will be able to return home. Then, the travesty that has befallen them will come to an end and they will experience joy again. This is prophesy at its finest. No one could ever have imagined anything like that coming to pass. And yet, that is what Jeremiah “saw” from God in visions and that is what ultimately happened.
Yep. The Babylonians conquer Judah. Zedekiah and his family come to a grisly end. But Jeremiah’s words of hope stick in peoples’ minds and in their hearts. Those words help the Jews cope as they are marched off to Babylon. Those words comfort them at night, as they are drifting off to sleep in a strange land, huddled in their tenements. Those words reassure them, when they begin to doubt that God is really with them, if God really loves them. And of course, Jeremiah’s prophesy gives them hope as they make the trek back to Jerusalem 30 years and a generation after the exile.
These are good words to turn to in these short days of winter with Christmas behind us, and with a lot of cold weather to look forward to in the months to come. We look out our windows at brown grass, dead geraniums and begonias—or at least that is what I see when I look out MY study window. We remind ourselves that God IS still with US, even if God’s creation has gone to sleep for the short term.
Jeremiah’s words are balm for us, too, as we wonder about and look after our own health, and the health of our loved ones; God never leaves us alone. The bad times, the challenging times eventually pass—if we are not fully restored, which is what heaven is for, at least we have an earthly respite. We are cheered by the ministrations of friends and family. We are upheld by prayers from this church. We are strengthened in body and soul by a simple cup of hot tea; a good night’s sleep, by God’s presence in our lives and in holy words read and spoken.
Just so, Richmond eventually thawed out after that snowstorm. Dr. Ely’s roof was repaired. My mother forgave Dr. Ely for his snippiness, or at least I suppose she did. And, as you might have guessed, spring came, as it always does.
If we are wise, we read the signs of political upheaval, as did Jeremiah; or we read the signs of a snowstorm bearing down. In those instances, we do what we can, to avoid calamity, and then we wait for God. God WILL turn our mourning into joy. We who are God’s people shall be satisfied. You can count on it. Amen