1st Sunday of Advent

December 2, 2012

Summary

Trust and Wait

1 Of David.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.
6 Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his
covenant and his testimonies.
11 For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should
choose.
13 His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land.
14 The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his
covenant.
15 My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
19 Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
22 Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles. (Psalm 25 ESV)

Advent begins the new church year after having just looked forward and up, so to speak, to Jesus’ return and now we’re turning our heads slowly, so to speak, to see where we’ve come from – how did this all begin? Jesus’ second coming points us to his first coming – his arrival – and his entrance onto the world stage. Being a Christian is all about looking back – to the manger and the cross – but also looking forward because that is how we’re made – eyes in the front – to go forward in life knowing that Jesus is there for us. This might sound like tennis – sitting at centre court at the net watching the ball go one way then the other – back and forth but it is our axis for living – more important really than the Earth orbiting the sun.

The question people then ask – Christians included – is what sort of life is this? (For non Christians, there’s the ‘shopper element’ – is this something I should have?) Now if Christians were the most successful, most wealthy, most healthy, prettiest, handsomest people on the planet then perhaps people would be flocking to church. Churches that offer a ‘success formula’ in this world – indeed anyone who offers ‘success’ on our terms – will have adherents and onlookers. We all buy into this in one form or another – we use the products that help us, make life easier. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get through life as easily as possible … on the surface. The problem comes when this ‘easily is possible’ impacts our whole life. We’re not just animals who want to live long and pain free. We’re not just social beings who want happiness as much as possible. We are spiritual physical beings – even if many people deny it – our lives are more than our perceptions. We are not just composed of ‘star stuff’ but we used to bear the image of God until we wrecked it. Part of humanity’s problem in life is that we ignore this reality or attempt to make everything – even religion – in our own image. So the reality of living is one of ups and downs, highs and lows, friends and enemies, success and failure, glory and shame. Hence if we can get a product or a mantra to help us then life will be more up than down, more high than low, etc.

Is that how we regard Christianity? As a product to use to help us through life? What would happen if you were told to – and did – pray to the God – Freddo the chocolate frog – and in desperation you did once and your prayer was answered! So you did it again and it was answered again. And again. What do you do then? Buy more Freddos or stop them being eaten?! Seriously, do you convert or at least leave Christianity because ‘it’s not working for me’? By the way that is how the occult seduces people away from Jesus – by offering power, answers, and results on your terms – though it always comes with a price.

Now it would be tempting to offer you something from the ‘Christian shop’ to help you with your waiting or your tough times. We all want our lives to go well. But the real problem is that as sinners we will always want God’s gifts rather than him. As I’ve said before, by nature we have no problem with God being around as long as it’s on our terms. But if God wants to be God (the arrogance of the Being!) then that’s a different story for us.

I’m not saying that it is wrong to want things to go well for us or others; nor is it incorrect to ask for things that we think we need – hence a lot of the prayers that are made. But I am saying that to (a) choose one’s god on the basis of his performance in our lives, and (b) to deep down remain the final arbiter of our lives with an ‘we know what is good for us’ attitude means simply that we are up against the 1st Commandment and have made ourselves god.

The psalm we used as our Introit offers us another perspective. Psalm 25 is from David who certainly had his ups and downs in life – partly because of others’ evil towards him and partly because of his own sinfulness – and yet he learnt and attempted to live out his relationship with God by trusting and waiting. The whole psalm is worth studying – why not consider it as a daily read and meditation for this week?

Verses 2 and 3 say:
2 O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

The Bible mentions trust a great deal and the Hebrew here has the sense of ‘to feel secure, be unconcerned’. Many of the references in the Old Testament to trusting are actually about false security where people trust things they shouldn’t – such as riches, house and property, fortified cities, the army, weapons, even the temple, other people such as princes and kings, and most importantly we must not have confidence in ourselves or in idols. People who do so are finally foolish. Security is found – trust should only be given to God and it is a recurring admonition – because it is hard to do! – ‘Trust in the Lord!’. Why? Because God has revealed himself as merciful and gracious – and each generation can return to the Passover and God’s rescue of his people from slavery as the foundation and on it build those personal experiences of God’s grace and mercy that happen in their lives. This sort of trust is the only reliable support for human life – note I’m not saying the quality of that living is determined by us – but the quality is nevertheless special and secure – as one discovers that God is present, faithful, and caring – in all circumstances (and that is quite a statement if you’re Job having a really bad time in life). This is what trust in the Lord entails – that God himself – not his gifts or miracles or answers to prayer – is trustworthy.

As Christians we know this is so much more clearly as we look to the cross. Whether we’re looking back to Advent and Christmas or forward to the end of things our gaze passes through the cross of Jesus. There one sees into God’s nature and being.

The other thing David does is wait. This is not a ‘doing nothing’. The Hebrew here is not empty of action but about recognising the situation one is in and responding until God turns up and deals with everything. So this waiting has the sense of endure, stand fast, bear patiently. The Greek translation of this Hebrew word is found throughout the New Testament with a similar meaning – to expect, to stand fast, to persevere, to endure. Why? Because the times are tough. The world is not our home, nor is it our friend. The devil and the demonic regards the followers of God as prey to be ensnared. And we live in bodies of sin – we are sinners – which is at war with our faith and trust in God as the sinful self seeks to be lord of the universe of our life. This waiting isn’t idle until God turns up but is constant action as we respond to our sin and live in God’s grace. That is what the followers of God have always done – or seek to do. That is what we encourage each other to do.

The rest of the psalm gives insight in how we can trust and wait and we discover again and again that God hasn’t abandoned us to this life. He uses words to teach, guide, build, form us into a new image – that of his Son.

Advent might seem to be just a prelude to the big event of Christmas. However we begin this new church year – this new day of our life – with a perspective as we look back to manger time and forward to glory time – that these events make today the most important time we have. We might wait for the Lord but we’re not idle, we’re active! Empowered by a gracious God who doesn’t abandon us – Jesus walks with us – we deal with life – make decisions – respond to others with the same grace as shown to us. We recognise sin for what it is, so for peace on earth we work for justice. Nevertheless we also know that for true peace and blessings in this world, we also work and pray for the world to trust and wait on the Lord – to live with Jesus each and every day, no matter what happens.

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Bible References

  • Psalm 25:1 - 22