Nov 28, 2021
Trinity Mennonite Church
Dare to Imagine God’s Goodness
Advent comes, sneaking up on us, often with surprising speed that catches us unaware and unprepared. Is it Advent already? In four short weeks we are expected to make time and space to prepare our lives for God’s indwelling. Advent is a season of waiting four weeks to remember the anticipation of that first Christmas, the expectation of the birth of Jesus. To wait on God—that’s the heart of our faith. We are people who live in expectation of God’s advent in our lives and in the world.
The Bible, from the first page to the last, reads like a book about waiting—for the promised land, for the end of exile, for the Messiah, and, in the concluding chapter, in the book of Revelation, waiting for the day of judgment and Christ’s return. “Come, Lord Jesus” we read in the final verses of the Bible. The end of the book is about waiting, about calling out to Jesus to come back, to save us from what we’ve done to God’s world.
In much of the Northern Hemisphere Advent comes in the bleak midwinter. This may be experienced as the time of year when, as the earth lies fallow, we dwell in expectancy of the new life we hope Spring will bring. In a cold and fallow season, a season characterized by waiting and watching and wondering, it is not surprising that one might find oneself reflecting on the past and looking to the future, taking stock and hoping for something better in the springtime to come.
Faithful waiting is the main emphasis in Advent. The season calls for a disciplined wait for fulfillment. We wait for the birth of the Messiah.
To wait for salvation is a consistent theme in the Psalms, the heart of the Bible, “You are the God of my salvation,” the psalmist prays, “for you I wait all day long” In these verses of our psalm, we hear the ache of hope, the psalmist calling out for God to take notice of our human condition, our plight. “Be mindful of your mercy…remember your steadfast love” The psalmist longs for salvation, for God’s mercy and love.
During Advent we discover that the wait is bearable, the longing tolerable, the ache sufferable, because God waits with us. The promise revealed in Advent is that God submits to Mary, that God trusts Mary, that God waits inside a human life. And if God waited with Mary, then we trust that God now waits with us, the gospel inside of us, the promise of God’s life within ours.
Our word for the first Sunday of Advent is Hope. Hope is clearly a focus of these opening verses of Psalm 25. This is a psalm of confident hope. It is the song of one who has known the complexities, the downs and ups, of life and still maintains a steadfast trust that God will provide for him, that God will care for him, that the future is ultimately in God’s hands. This is the song of one who has escaped the exile, who is at home, sitting in the chair, thinking over how life has been both challenged and blessed.
Psalm 25 alternates between the writer’s penitence for sin committed and confidence that God will restore the writer to wholeness. Hope is always situated between the world gone wrong, life off track, tasks undone, and expectations of the world right, life moving steadily ahead on God’s mainline, work well done. It is the human condition to live in the tension between failure and fulfillment, sin and salvation, trouble and hope. This psalm shows the very human tendency to mix concerns and expectations, reality and dreams, as the stream of consciousness flows through the mind. One may be aware of having strayed from faithfulness to God at the same time one holds hope for restored relationship. Can you identify with this? Have you been there—reflecting on how you have screwed up, you’ve acknowledged your limitations--at the same time you hold hope for future resolution, restoration, or fulfillment?
Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann, in reflecting on this psalm, says that “Humanness is pervasively hope-filled, not in the sense of buoyant, unreflective optimism, but in a conviction that individual human destiny is powerfully presided over by this One who wills good and works that good.
Hope requires trust. In whom or in what do you trust? Can I trust the advertisements that I read in magazines or view on TV? Can I trust our elected leaders to tell the truth about what is happening? To what extent can I trust that I am secure in life, amid cars mowing down children and elderly in a Christmas parade, terrorist threats, tsunamis and earthquakes, and wild fires, and news of shooting at places thought to be peaceful, and when jury verdicts don’t seem just? In light of these anxieties, insecurities, and threats of life, in whom or in what is my salvation?
Long before Jesus was called Savior, the Roman emperors had adopted the title for themselves. In fact, Luke’s Gospel draws a contrast between Jesus as Savior and Caesar Augustus as savior. So it is rather striking to read Psalm 25 and note the utter confidence and trust that the psalmist places in God for his salvation. “To you Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust…Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation, for you I wait all day long.
What is astounding about these affirmations is that the psalmist seems to know all about the threats that life can bring, yet nonetheless places utter trust in God. Indeed, the psalmist bares the soul saying “Do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.” We don’t know what those enemies were for the psalmist. So I ask you: Who or what are your enemies? What threatens your reputation or life? The enemy could be a badly performing economy that has left you destitute and shamed because of poverty,…or it could be a friend who has betrayed you or abandoned and failed you, …or it could be a political leader who has been a bitter disappointment…or it could be that you have been medically misdiagnosed. Whatever the circumstance, the psalmist knows threat. Yet in spite of the threat, the focus of the psalmist is on God, in whose hands alone is the ground of his salvation.
Being put to shame, which the psalmist prays against, can affect us in two ways. As we wait faithfully for the Lord to act on our behalf, we hope not to be humiliated or oppressed by circumstances. Nothing is a greater challenge to our faith than to suffer for our obedience. The second hardship in our shame is that we lose heart and break our trust in God. We have no hope. So we pray that we are faithful, so we will not be shamed by our disobedience or by our surrender to despair.
Instead of focusing on God, we can so easily put our confidence in lesser things. I can praise my surgeon, Dr Pigg, for a successful surgery. I can give credit to the home health care crew that came and helped me exercise my muscles. I can brag about my own determination to do the daily work to get stronger. Yet, the real focus should be on God who created our bodies to heal, who instilled the skill and knowledge in humans who God gave caring hearts to. It is God who is my help and my salvation. Who is your savior?
The psalmist directs us to a practice that can be called “soul lifting”, that is, the practice of placing ourselves, our families, friends—and indeed, the world—into the very hands of God. “To you, O Lord, I lift my soul. O my God, in you I trust”. The only way out of fear, dread and uneasiness is to turn to God in faith and expectation. To offer one’s life to God means to trust God amid threatening circumstances. To offer one’s life to God means also to wait for God, to live with hope.
Trust God. Wait for God. Live with hope. A good plan for sure, but so much easier said than done.
The psalm writer knows that he needs help with this, so he prays, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.: He is asking to be shown a new way through life, a fresh path. He asks to be taught by God and led in the truth of God, because he believes that God will save him from destruction.
This should be our prayer as well. And fortunately for us, when we ask for guidance and deliverance, we discover that all “the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” God shows us a love that is solid and never-ending, along with a faithfulness that remains unbroken in every time and place and situation. God offers these gifts to us freely and asks only that we remain in relationship with God and do our best to follow God’s commandments.
In short, the cure for anxiety is to focus on God, rather than on our work. And when we do this, we find that God provides us with what we need. We don’t have to be anxious about the future. We can trust the abundance of God and walking in God’s ways. Anxiety will end only when we believe that God is working to heal us, help us, provide for us, and save us.
We cannot save ourselves by working harder. No, salvation comes from trusting God to give us what we need for life.
The next four weeks of the Advent season will give us an excellent opportunity to turn to God. The word Advent means “coming”, and it is the time each year in which we prepare ourselves for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas. In this season, we are invited to look forward in hope, not anxiety. It is the time of year to put our faith in Jesus, not in ourselves, not in anyTHING else, not in anyONE else. It is the time of year to believe that God really has come in human form to heal us, provide for us, and save us.
Jesus counsels us not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things,” says Jesus. “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness. When you focus on God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, the anxiety fades away.
The message of Advent is that Christ is coming. Jesus is nothing less than the Prince of Peace, the One who is the way and the truth, and the life. He is the One who shows us the abundance of God’s steadfast love for us, and the desire of God to save us from anything that can hurt or destroy us.
It is because our world is fallen and we are constantly bombarded. In a broken and cruel world marked by violence and death, we wait for the arrival of the Prince of Peace. Although the world will continue to make us anxious, Jesus comes to offer us perfect peace.
Dare to imagine! Dare to imagine God’s goodness!
Isaac S. Villegas. “God Waits Inside A Human Life”. Sojourners. November 2021
Randle R. Mixon. “Psalm 25:1-10”. Feasting on the Word. Year C. Vol. 1. First Sunday of Advent
Roger J. Gench. “Psalm 25:1-10”. Feasting on the Word. Year C. Vol. 1. First Sunday of Advent
Henry Brinton and Carl Wilton. Homiletics. November 28, 2021.
Emphasis. November 30, 2003.