Lord, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you pardoned all their sin.
3 You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us.
5 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.
Psalm 85 (NRSV)
(For use with the EVENING Daily Prayer)
There are times when it seems as if the world around us has become almost unrecognizable. Economic unions are dissolving, far off countries at war bring home the reality and the fragility of our global interconnectedness, refugees seeking asylum are pawns rather than persons buffeted by the political whims of countries swayed by fear. In our own nation, power rather than governing for the common good, contentious elections that pedal misinformation and fan mistrust appear to be the order of the day. The value of lives, enlivened by the very breath of God, are judged in seconds by individuals and sentenced to death in the streets while video recordings bring it into our living rooms and on to devices that have become an extension of bodies. Has there ever been a season, in recent memory, when we more desperately needed the Advent of hope?
While the manifestations of today’s uncertainty may be distinctive to our Sitz im Leben, the underlying human experience is not new. The foremothers and fathers of the faith faced their own challenges and struggles. We have only to look to the Psalms to catch a glimpse of personal and communal disquiet that could emerge among God’s people. While not as stark as Psalm 13 or Psalm 22, Psalm 85 gives voice to an anxiousness that wonders at the relationship between the author’s tenuous context and God’s anger, “Will you be angry with us forever?” “Where is God in the tumult?” “How will God act in this situation? How will we know?” This very act of wrestling and questioning is an affirmation of the steadfastness, love and faithfulness of God and the hope that all is not lost and we will not forever dwell in this uncomfortable place.
So how does the Psalmist move from despair to hope? Old Testament scholar, Patrick Miller, during a lecture on the Psalms once made the connection between memory, story, and hope. In short, he said that it is the memory of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness that provides hope beyond current circumstances. The wellspring of this memory is, of course, chronicled in the full sweep of scripture. It is the telling and retelling of these stories of God’s mighty acts of transforming presence, self-giving grace and liberating salvation that generate memory and opens one to hope.
Psalm 85 captures the interplay between communal lament, rehearsal of story, genesis of memory and the advent of hope.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?
Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him that his glory may dwell in our land.
We would do well to walk the path of the Psalmist this Advent season. In the face our communal lament let us rehearse the story of God’s definitive proclamation that the Creator is not yet finished with creature or creation. The God who became flesh and dwelt among us continues to abide in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit in a broken and hurting world. Let us remember in this “already but not yet” time that the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord reigns for us even as it did in days of old. May the very ruach of God move us to hope that love and justice and kindness will meet and righteousness and peace will indeed kiss.
A Prayer for the Seventeenth Day of Advent
Gracious and Sovereign God, we praise you for your faithfulness throughout the ages and in the present. Quicken within us the memory of your steadfast love and transforming grace in all circumstances. Move us to the hope that righteousness and peace are possible and compel us to work for both in this broken and hurting world, the world into which your Son was born and to which he will come again. Amen.
Associate Professor, Presbyterian College
Visiting Associate Professor of Christian Education, UPSem, Charlotte