Thursday, December 15

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Psalm 80: 1-7 (NRSV)
(Note: This text is the EVENING lectionary text for Saturday, December 10)

advent-3

While working as a hospital chaplain, some of the most difficult nights were holidays and, in particular, Christmas. There are two different worlds: outside the hospital and inside the hospital. Outside the hospital, people are going to church, singing carols, and opening presents. Inside the hospital, some of the medical units may have decorations, but the Christmas season does not stop sick people being admitted, accidents from happening, and death occurring.

These nights and days were difficult because I knew families and individuals left the hospital forever associating Christmas not with the birth of Christ but with the pain of grief. I imagine that many of these families felt similar to the Psalmist in Psalm 80.

The Psalmist cries for God’s presence, a presence which they cannot find, so that they may be restored. You can hear the anguish and desperation for God to shine His face, “that they might be saved.” However, their words and prayers are not heeded. Biblical scholar Jim Mays shares that the prayers of the Israelites’ are not wrong or bad, but they do not make a perceived difference to ones praying (v.4)

As a result, God’s people feel humiliated and mocked because their enemies see their God as one that seemingly does not care or does not exist.

Echoing the Psalmist, families inside the hospital cried out for God’s presence.

“Stir up your might,

And come and save us!” (v. 2)

Yet, their cries and prayers were not always enough to change the outcome, and a loved one died. Undoubtedly, their tears rivaled the abundant tears of Israelites (v. 5).

As the families left the hospital on Christmas Eve or day, there was a distinct irony in the fact that on the day celebrating Emmanuel, God with Us, many of these people left questioning God’s presence.

The folks in the hospitals are not the only ones who feel this way. You may go to church with someone, work with someone, or are friends with someone who is wondering where is Emmanuel? Indeed, you may feel this way. In a world where hatred and violence, natural disasters, and human disasters fill our news feeds and televisions, it can be hard to believe that the light actually overcomes the darkness.

What I love about the Psalms is the permission to cry out God in anguish, but the Psalmist continues to trust and moves towards praise. After the painful words in Psalm 80, we read of songs and shouts of joy, tambourines, lyres, and harps. (Ps. 80:1-2)

As we wait for our expectant Christ Jesus, let us be mindful of those who are not yet ready to sing songs of joy, but are still crying for God to shine His face upon them and seek His presence. Perhaps, it will be through our presence that those crying out will sense Emmanuel’s ever surrounding presence.

 

A Prayer for the Nineteenth Day of Advent

Loving God, Even when we think you don’t hear our prayers and cries, help us to know that you always do. We can be confident of your presence because of your love shown through Jesus Christ, Emmanuel. Help us to be with those who are suffering during this season and all season. May they see Christ’s image through us. We pray this in the name of your Son who also cried out to you. Amen.

 

Rev. Mairi Renwick
Director of Admissions
Richmond, VA

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