Advent Lament: What the Psalmist Knows
A sermon based on Psalm 89
My name is Lia, and I’m a church nerd. I love all things big and small about church, and I especially love the smells and bells that come with Advent. During Advent, we deck out the church, we hang Chrismons, wear our pretty purples, have the amazing smell of evergreens, and the sounds of uplifting music. I am such a nerd that I hum Advent tunes all season long, and resist the urge to sing Christmas carols. In fact, most of Advent you can find me singing, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”
And usually I buy into the hype of Advent. The thought of waiting sits well with me. I believe that there is hope and expectation. That God is going to break into the world in this little bitty body of Jesus and he is going to grow into a man who is going to change everything.
But this year, I am having a hard time with that. This year, I’m having a hard time with the idea of God breaking into the world and bringing justice. This year, I’m having a hard time believing that things are going to get better. This year, I’m having a hard time with our Psalmist this morning, who said, “You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance; they exult in your name all day long, and extol your righteousness.” This year, I’m having a hard time with Mary’s words from the Magnificat, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
I’m having a hard time imagining God’s mighty hand when all I can see is Michael Brown’s hands up. I’m having a hard time hearing a festal shout over Eric Garner’s voice saying “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” I’m having a hard time picturing God’s strength over the vision of small children slain in Pakistan. I’m having a hard time seeing that God has brought down the powerful from their thrones when I hear the stories of my own country’s inhumanity and torture.
I’m having a hard time finding my “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”
Maybe I’m not alone…I looked up the verses to O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Let’s remember the images there, of Israel being held captive and mourning in exile, of asking the Dayspring to cheer our spirits and disperse the gloomy clouds of night, of asking Wisdom to order all things, far and nigh, because clearly there’s disorder, and of begging the Desire of nations to bind all peoples in heart and mind and to bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease. And even though the song says, “Rejoice! Rejoice!” it’s not about what is. It is about what’s coming.
And even the Psalmist knows. Our reading today stops with verse 26. “He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’” It’s a very positive reading we have here… extolling the amazing virtues of God and how God wins all the time.
But if we read on in our Psalm starting with verse 46 it says:
How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?
Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted;
how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
with which your enemies taunt, O Lord,
with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.
See? The Psalmist knows. Even though God is awesome, life sometimes isn’t. And even though God is awesome, sometimes we don’t feel God’s presence. And even though God is awesome, we often are taunted here on earth.
Remember, that the Psalmist is is speaking as one who is taunted. But the Psalmist is also speaking of the other Servant. That man born, called Emmanuel, and named Jesus. He was taunted too. And he sometimes felt like God wasn’t there—when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He looked out into the crowd, put his hands up, said, “I can’t breathe,” experienced torture, and felt the pain of a death by violence.
And yet, through this Christ, the world was changed. God broke into the world in the body of a little bitty baby and the world was changed.
And in this season of expectation, this time of Advent, when we are waiting for justice to come, we look to that child. We look to that child to break in again, to bring about God’s justice. And to walk alongside us, while we get to work. Because we can no longer wait for justice to come. We must begin expecting it to be the norm, and standing up to require it be done. We must have hope that things will change, if we get to work changing them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
May we pray:
We come, celebrating Advent, God. Not rejoicing in what is, but rejoicing in what is to come. We pray that you accompany us as we work to bring justice to this world, to set things right, and we pray that we follow Christ’s example of loving that which seems unloveable. We know we are your hands and feet in the world, and that it is our work to make the world the way you want it to be. Where all are fed. Where all are freed. Where all are safe. And especially, where all are loved. In the matchless name of Jesus we pray. Amen.