Lectionary Year B
December 1, 2002
First Sunday in Advent
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Contemporary Address

This is a draft and starting point for a sermon that will be rpeached at the First Presbyterian Church of Navasota, Texas. The congregation is "mid-size", with 275 members, mostly "White", with a few Hispanics and maybe one African-American. The community is a small town (approx. 7000-8000 residents), located 18 miles south of College Station and 73 miles northwest of downtown Houston, Texas. There is a broad age range present most Sundays, and a socioeconmic range from very wealthy through middle class to lower income.



(Series: "The First Christmas Carols: The Coming Christ in the Psalms")

"A CHRISTMAS CAROL?" This Psalm doesn't sound like one. It has a mournful tone, with a cry for God to show Himself.* Psalm 80 may be from the time after the northern kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians, hundreds of years before Christ. Now, some of us know all too well how it feels to be secure in faith, sure that God is trustworthy, loving, and watching over us...then, all of a sudden, the bottom falls out from under us. The doctor has a grave expression when he comes in with the test results...the teacher is calling with unbelievably bad news about a daughter or son's conduct...the company is downsizing, and you have no seniority...It's a shock, especially when we want so badly to cling to belief that God really DOES care!

That was probably the experience of those who first prayed this "community lament". Their land was in ruins. Many people were dead, others force-marched into captivity far away from home. Their Shepherd must be asleep, or perhaps has turned away in cold displeasure. Their only food is the bread of affliction; their only drink, the salty tears they taste as their neighbors sneer at them. And so their cry rises:


These Psalms we read this Advent rose from the longing of Israel for God to show Himself*. Amid their suffering, Israel could still cry out in hope, mournful though that hope might sound, for God to remember them, to come, to save. They probably had no idea what form God's response would take. Psalm 80 refers to the "son of God's right hand", probably meaning Israel itself. Could they have imagined what and who we see in this Psalm?

For we see the one on whom God's right hand rested. He was born not in a palace, but surrounded by animals and straw. God's light-- the experience of God's prsence, to the people of Israel --showed forth not so much as in a visible light bursting its healing rays on the wounded land as in the grace and truth that shone in the life of the One people in Nazareth knew as "Mary's son". He too came to share the "bread of affliction and the cup of tears". If we were celebrating the Lord's Supper this morning, we might give a little start as the bread is broken, and the cup of suffering poured out...for both of them are now made God's own gifts of life and health for us! We look back at these Psalms of longing through the manger, cross, empty tomb, and crown of Jesus Christ, and we see him: God's answer!

No, probably no one would have been able to imagine how God would answer those who first sang this prayer. And who knows how God will answer our longings, and our needs? Advent is in part the remembrance of how God kept His* promises made through the ages to Israel. Another side of Advent is that we look ahead to the second coming of Christ. There are any number of scenarios about how and in what manner that coming will take. Jesus does not give a timetable; he merely urges us, "WATCH!"

We are not to be too comfortable in our own time. Neither are we to despair-- when too many of our schools are filling with danger; when humanity proves again and again it did not learn a "never again" lesson from the horrors of the Holocaust; when "traditional morality" appears to be slowly but inexorably eroding away, even if in our time or in our circumstances God seems to be away.

There was another time when God the Shepherd seemed far away. But then the Shepherd did come, even laying down his life for the sheep. As we sing the familiar carols of this season, sometimes without really paying much attention to the words, we too call for Emmanuel to come, for "when comes the age of gold". Only the coming of Jesus could fulfill the longing for God's face to shine and bring salvation and restoration. Only His coming to fill the earth with the judgement and glory of heaven will meet our need and longing.

"Amen; even so, come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!"

(NOTE-- I do not use "inclusive language" in reference to God in my preaching. I do not wish to offend any of my colleagues, I am simply writing as I would for the congregation I am serving.)

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