As the Fourth Sunday of Advent approaches, the candles on the wreath have been lit from the previous weeks of worship and the light in the darkness is shining brighter as Hope, Love and Joy have been acknowledged in sermons’ past. Anticipation grows for the presence of Christ to be acknowledged and celebrated through His birth.
Perhaps by now the people in our congregations are starting to get into the rhythm of this Advent season through reflection and devotional life and the distractions of the holiday festivities and consumerism have started to fade. As we pastors have journeyed with our congregations during this season, we have seen shifts in faith perspectives or have celebrated spiritual milestones for which we rejoice and thank God. Or-there is a real possibility of a lingering sense of disorder which still exists in day to day life and faith even though Hope, Love and Joy have been promised to us. In this season, there have been many divisions, uncertainties and tensions that have escalated to levels beyond reason.
The church has been unable to escape or claim immunity in the recent events of politics, world affairs, social media frenzies, and natural disasters. Where is the peace of Christ in the midst of all that is happening?
Psalm 80 is a congregational lament in which the people of Israel collectively confess they have gone astray. Idolatry has consumed them and has again left them empty, powerless, vulnerable and alone. The absence of God’s presence in their lives and in their worship is evident in the Invocation where they ask the Shepherd of Israel to lead and rescue them in verses 1-3.
Once again there is the realization they cannot live and accomplish all they were purposed for as the chosen people of God on their own and there is a sense of longing and urgency to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and to follow in His leading. They are in dire need for the presence of God to return to them, only then can they return to the ways of life that glorify God, fulfill their purpose and experience the presence of peace.
Verses 4-6 acknowledge their anguish to God concerning the consequences and experiences of living astray from the Shepherd of Israel. Once having been regarded a people and a nation of example and honor, there are now tones of shame expressing their sorrow and dismay. At one time, God had actively provided for them, delivered and protected them from enemies in mighty and tangible ways. Now apart from God they are a laughing stock to other nations; there is no credibility in their effort to witness and worship. When God is not present and manifest in the lives of His people, worship is empty and meaningless. These are a people who recognize they are sick and tired of meaningless worship.
Singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell, once wisely stated, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone?” The people of Israel are beginning to grasp this concept in this Psalm as in their worship they reflect upon all that God had brought them through over the generations.
There is vivid memory of His faithfulness and sustaining grace throughout their journey:
Their Exodus from Egypt- bondage to freedom.
God’s presence manifested though a pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night as they journeyed through the desert.
God’s provision of manna and quail meat when they thought they would die of starvation in the wilderness.
God’s provision of the 10 Commandments to help them live honorably in loving God and loving neighbor.
God leading them to the land that was promised to them and so many more ways God had proven to be faithful- all of these events that came with difficulty in certain areas of their journey were matched with God’s presence making each situation bearable and peace-filled.
Peace came from God as proven again that these occurrences were a result of details only God could orchestrate. Peace also came as a result of committing to trust and obedience in allowing God to lead the way and faithfully following. Times were good and then distraction crept in, time passed, and their assurance of peace was gone.
Verse 7 is the beginning of affirming trust acknowledging that when God turns people back to Him and acknowledges them by looking upon them, they will again be saved. Only God can bring restoration at this point and the people of Israel express the longing to be restored to what they had previously known and experienced of God.
Lastly, they acknowledge their need for God’s favor to be restored. When God restores this broken relationship their response will be never to turn away from God again in verses 18 and 19. God is the only true source of salvation and peace. To be apart from God again is more than they can bear.
The approach recommended for this communal lament is one of acknowledging areas where we as the church realize we have been distant from God. Whether this is through idolatry, disobedience, inaction, or apathy on an individual or corporate level, the need to pray for the church to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow His leading is evident during this season.
Peace comes from God alone and today more than ever, the people of God need to surrender to His leading. We need revival and restoration that can only be brought about by the movement of the Holy Spirit and we must confess that we have sought other ways in which we trust and in which things are to be made right again.
Lord, forgive us for our distraction and straying from the areas you deem important for us as your followers to engage. Forgive us for making too much of the petty issues our culture affords and not taking you seriously in the matters of faith we have neglected whether intentionally or unintentionally. Forgive us for believing for a second that the systems of the world will offer us peace. The only peace we will have in this life is your presence with us.
Come, Immanuel, come.
Come, Mighty Counselor, come.
Come, Prince of Peace, come.
Gentle Shepherd, come and lead us for we need you to help us find our way, yet again.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.