The power of promising words was chronicled in a movie a few years back called The 33. It’s based on a book chronicling the ordeal of the Copiapo miners in 2010 entitled Deep Down Dark. If you followed the news during the late summer of 2010 you’ll remember how for the longest time after the accident at the Copiapo mine, no one knew whether or not any of the buried Chilean miners had survived the cave-in which buried them 2,300 feet underground. The ordeal was especially agonizing for the families of the “Los Treinta y Tres.” Deep Down Dark tells the story of the buried miners, but it also talks about the experience of the families who were forced to endure weeks of not knowing the condition of their loved ones. As the days following the collapse turned into weeks, a make-shift living area sprang up in the desert around the mine, a tent-village called Campamento Esperanza or Camp Hope. The families of the trapped men prayed around the clock. Because of the mine's notorious history, it was originally thought that the workers had probably not survived the collapse or would starve to death before they could ever be found. But with the resources that the state-owned mining company, Codelco, was able to marshal, eight exploratory boreholes were hastily drilled. Seventeen days after the accident, on 22 August, a note written in bold red letters appeared taped to a drill bit when it was pulled to the surface after penetrating an area believed to be accessible to the trapped workers. It read simply "Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33" (English: "We are well in the shelter, the 33 of us"). From that time forward, what many feared would be a recovery mission, turned into a rescue mission. From that time forward, the MAYBE, or at times even the NO that the miners and their families had at times contemplated, turned in to a YES.
God’s Word to the people of Jerusalem through the prophet Jeremiah came to them during a kind of cave-in…the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Davidic line of kings, by the Babylonians. Everything in which the people of Judah had put their trust…their government…their religious institutions…their own righteousness…all of it had come to naught. But the larger issue wasn’t the nature of their suffering. The greater issue was that the Judeans had first taken God for granted…and when the cave-in occurred, came to the conclusion that He simply wasn’t around anymore. They had lost any hope that they enjoyed peace with God. What had been God’s YES in years long past in the present day was now a MAYBE or perhaps even a NO. The Word of the Lord through Jeremiah brought them something else, though: light in the darkness that allowed them to continue in their struggle! Though it would be many years (centuries, in fact) before the promised Branch would appear on the scene, the people who had heard only a NO were given to hear something else: “Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new church year. Advent this year starts with a promise…a promise given to people who are sitting in the dark wondering if they will ever see the light of God’s favor again. It is the Promise extended to those who feel as if they are in the tomb already, with immovable rock enclosing them. It is God’s YES and it is spoken in the face of the world’s MAYBE and the Devil’s NO. It is the Promise that “[You] will be saved and live in safety.” For all of us who live after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the promise voiced by Jeremiah has been fulfilled in Christ. About this YES of God, St. Paul wrote this: “For in [Christ] every one of God’s promises is a YES. For this reason it is through Him that we say the ‘Amen’ to the glory of God.” There is a Campamento Esperanza, a Camp Hope. You and I are given to dwell there. We see first light…and live!