Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Towards Sunday, November 30 (Advent 1)

Scripture:  Psalm 80
Sermon:  Facing the World; Face-ing the Future

I haven't preached often from the Psalms, but when I do I am struck by their honesty about human experience.

This psalm is a national lament.  Imagine all of us in Canada in our homes, and houses of worship, and provincial legislatures, and Houses of Parliament crying out together to God for help and for renewal from our sin and corruption as a people.

Sometimes our government offers official apologies for things like the treatment of Japanese Canadians during World War Two, or the tragedy of the residential schools.  But these apologies do not hold a candle to the intent and depth of biblical lament, nor do they require the radical soul-searching and repentance of real lament.

Nor do we really gather up all our personal woes and bring them to God in worship.  We share concerns with a friend or with the minister before worship starts, and we offer calm prayers of intercession in our worship for people in need and distress.  But I don't recall ever hearing a prayer in worship beginning with words like those of v. 5: "You give us nothing but tears, O God; tears and more tears are our whole food and drink all day long" -- except maybe at a memorial service on the McMaster University campus a few days after the Montreal Massacre.

But outside of Blue Christmas services and the annual Service of Light and Hope organized by the local funeral home, does the sadness in our life find a way into our Advent and Christmas worship of God?

One thing I like about Psalm 80 is the thrice-repeated simple prayer:  "Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved." (vv. 3, 7, 19)  What a wonderful image, and what an honest and helpful prayer.

The people know they cannot conjure new life for themselves.  No number of resolutions, no amount of restructuring, no choice of "new leadership", no degree of spin they might put on the situation will save them.  Only the face of God -- be it judgemental or forgiving, challenging or encouraging, or all of the above, will give them the hope and assurance they need that they are once again on the right track and in real relationship again with God and real life, no matter where it might take them.

And isn't that what Christmas is about?  About the face of God shining on us, bringing us hope and new direction once again, bringing us both judgement and forgiveness, in the person of Jesus bringing us both the challenge and the encouragement we need to live as God desires?

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