1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 8Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Last week we talked about how Advent looks in two different directions. We look back to Jesus’ birth in the manger and we look forward to the end of history when Christ will come again and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our. In some ways, that is setting the cosmic scene for our Advent experience. Today I want to look at Advent more personally and practically.
Waiting is a key idea of Advent. During Advent we prepare ourselves for Christmas, but we’re not preparing for something we have any control over. We’re waiting for Jesus kind of like we wait for a train or a bus. Nothing we can do can make Christmas come any faster (not that we’d want it to), and nothing we do can make God’s kingdom come any faster. We have to wait.
We usually think of waiting as passive, as passing time until whatever we are waiting for arrives. There’s a lot more to it than that, though. For one thing, if we’re waiting for something we trust that it’s going to happen. We wouldn’t wait for a bus unless we were pretty sure it was going to arrive. Not only do we trust that the thing we’re waiting for is real, the thing we’re waiting for is also our main focus. We can do other things, but whatever we’re waiting for takes priority when it arrives. It’s helpful to think about waiting for God in the same way. We can trust that God is real and worth waiting for. We can also remember that God is the point of this season and of our life. All the other things in the season are important, but God is the purpose for our waiting, the reason for our hope and our existence.
Our readings for today shed some biblical light on waiting, in this case, waiting for the Lord. Psalm 46, which John just read, is a meditation on trusting God. It begins and ends with the affirmation that God is our refuge, our safe haven. It expands on that by reminding us that we can trust God to take care of us even when life is chaotic. Even if the world were to melt away, God would still be with us, leading us through.
Both the images of chaos and the picture of a river running through the City of Jerusalem suggest God’s judgment at the end of history. When the Prophet Ezekiel sees a vision for the restoration of Jerusalem there is a river of life flowing from the temple. The river in this Psalm takes me there, to a peaceful stream and God’s restoration in the future.
The chaotic images of mountains shaking and the earth changing remind me of Jesus’ words about the judgment last week. Even when everything falls apart God is there. Thinking about God’s judgment like we did last week can be unsettling. This passage reassures me that even then, God will take care of us. If God can hold us together when the mountains shake and judgment comes, it’s safe to say we can trust him to get us through Christmas shopping and baking too.
Along with the images of chaotic change in the earth, there are images of God bringing peace by force. The psalmist imagines God breaking bows, shattering spears and burning the shields with fire. We usually thing of peace as gentle, but we are so attached to violence that God will have to be assertive to end war and establish peace. One day he will do that. One day the weapons of war will be destroyed, all people will be at peace and our warriors will be able to come home. I pray that day comes soon.
Interestingly, right along side the images of making peace the psalmist calls God the Lord of Hosts. That is a common title for God, but it’s not necessarily a peaceful title. Hosts in this case isn’t talking about hosting a party of providing hospitality. Instead Hosts means assembled forces, like an army. The image is one that stresses God’s power as the ruler of the armies of heaven. In a world like ours so full of selfishness and violence we need a strong God to keep us safe. We need a powerful God to curb our self-destructive ways and build a peaceful kingdom.
The Psalm closes with a call to patience and trust. Speaking for God the psalmist tells us: “Be still and know that I am God.” That one line would make a great refrain for all of Advent. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by the rush of the season or the demands that feel endless, pause for a second and remember God’s power and calling: “Be still and know that I am God.” When you feel like you have too many responsibilities and that you can’t do it all, hear God’s assurance: “Be still and know that I am God.” We are not steering this ship; God is in charge and we are in good hands.
The Psalms have a great range of emotions. No matter what you’re feeling, there’s a Psalm for you. There’s an idea that Christians are supposed to be cheerful all the time, but that’s not realistic or biblical. Sometimes we feel afraid or sad or angry. Christmas can be a tough time for that because there’s a pressure to, “Get into the holiday season.” The holidays often make us feel stressed out instead of joyful. They also often remind us of the people we love who have died or the relationships that have gone sour.
Psalm 130 starts out with sadness and trouble right at the front. We don’t know the Psalmist’s situation, so we can put ourselves there whenever we feel low. Listen to these words of prayer from a troubled soul, then take a few moments of silence to reflect and let the words sink in:
1Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. 2Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! 3If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? 4But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
5I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
7O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. 8It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
Along with starting in a dark place, this Psalm begins with a recognition that we don’t call on God because of our goodness. We are all sinners. If God marked iniquities, in other words, if God kept score of what we do wrong, no one would be righteous. Instead, God forgives us so we can all truly love and worship God.
There’s a different image of waiting in this Psalm. Psalm 46 talked about being still, a patient image of waiting. In Psalm 130 the waiting is impatient, almost desperate. There’s a solid knowledge that we can trust God, but there’s a desire for the wait to be over, for God to bring restoration and redemption quickly. The image in the Psalm is a night watchman waiting for the safety of day and the end of his night shift. We can also imagine a child waiting for Christmas, knowing it will come, but straining to see the sun creeping over the horizon that says the day is finally here.
From a practical perspective, another great thing about this Psalm is that it’s very short. If it speaks to you this morning, it would be a very manageable passage to spend some time with and memorize. Then when you feel in the depths you could call up these words of hope anytime.
We’ve heard about patent waiting and impatient waiting. Our last passage tells us about the new strength we find from waiting on God. This passage from Isaiah was the theme of the PC (USA) General Assembly last summer. With meetings sometimes long into the night, it was important to remember that God renews our strength. With conflict and tension over church policies, we needed frequent reminders that God is ultimately in charge. We need those reminders now too. In this season of constant motion we can find time to stop and remember what the season is about. Instead of shop ‘til you drop, we can wait on the Lord and put our trust where it belongs.
28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
It’s challenging to carve out time or attention to wait on God in such a busy season. When our to do list keeps getting longer it almost feels irresponsible to take any time away from “accomplishing things.” Part of the key for me to wait on God more during Advent is taking advantage of small opportunities in the day. If you have a smart phone, there’s a great Bible app that can make standing in line or waiting for the coffee to brew good devotional time. Sometimes just a few minutes with the Bible as you start your day can help you turn to during the rest of the day.
I usually listen to music or news in the car, but sometimes the world seems so full of words that my mind and soul need silence. A 20 minute drive can become an oasis of calm and stillness. A run or walk can become a time of reflection either with music or with just the sounds of nature.
The idea I’d invite you to come back to often in the week ahead is that we’re waiting on God. There’s so much pressure for us to get things done. There’s a place for our desire to do things. I’m pretty confident that God’s not going to do your Christmas shopping or cook Christmas dinner, so it’s OK to take responsibility for those things. The key is to remember that those things are not ultimately the most important.
If the Christmas brunch you or I prepare for friends and family is just oatmeal and coffee, that’s OK. Your guests will be glad to be together, grateful for your relaxed presence and happy someone else is cooking. Finding the right gift for someone is not going to bring world peace. It’s not going to make or break a relationship. The things that really matter are in God’s hands, and God can handle it. So rush around if you need to, but don’t let the rush overwhelm you because the greatest gift is already ours. Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.