Prepare ye the way of the Lord…

“He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord…’”
(John 1:23 ESV)

Advent is upon us once again, for better or worse.  This is, I admit, my favorite time of year; but it seems to get harder and harder to enjoy.

Have you noticed the advertising on TV lately: “Now is the time to buy this new car…”  “The perfect gift for the guy who has everything…”  “Don’t miss our holiday sale…”  “Doors open at 4 a.m. …”  One would think that Advent is nothing more than a marketing season, one last ditch effort to boost the profits for retailers.  I’m all for a strong and robust economy, but is this really what Advent is all about – a reminder that we only have so many shopping days left until Christmas?

Here in the Church Advent is our countdown to Christmas.  We light candles each week signifying the coming of the light of Christ.  We decorate the church with greens and purples, with nativities and chrismons; we sing the classic carols that draw us into the “Christmas Spirit.”  Advent is our time to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ, the mystery of His incarnation, and God’s gracious gift of our Savior.  But, I ask again, is this really what Advent is all about?

Advent means “coming”, and as such it is appropriate that we use this time to celebrate the coming of the Christ child; but there is more to Advent, there is more to our faith than the birth of a child.  Our Lord promised His disciples, promised us, that He would come again to take us to be with Him.  Many Christians don’t talk about this promise openly because it has been the source of so much speculation and fantasy that we really don’t know what we believe. 

The Bible teaches that Jesus will come again, in a very personal and powerful way.  His coming will not be missed, as He will be joined by clouds of glory and a heavenly fanfare (1 Thess 4:13-5:11).  At His coming, the faithful in Christ will experience a rapture – we will be taken up in the air to meet Christ as He comes.  We will not be whisked away in secret, but will meet Christ in the air as He returns and take part in His triumphal return.

Advent is our time to focus on the return of Christ.  As Christians, we should always be vigilant in our watching and waiting for Christ’s coming.  Though we do not know when this will be, we are to be prepared.  May your Advent prepare you for the celebration of the birth of our Savior, and may you also be filled with anticipation and expectation of His return.

SDG

My heart is not lifted up…

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and marvelous for me.”
(Psalm 131:1 ESV)

We don’t know the occasion that prompted the writing of the 131st Psalm, but I think we all have been there before.  Just three verses long, this is one of the most heartfelt, humble, and sincere Psalms in Scripture.  It is one of the Songs of Ascent (Psalm 120 – 134) which were used by faithful worshippers ascending Mt. Zion to worship at the Temple.  Ultimately, it is a song of humble trust in the Lord, but it’s how we get there that’s important.

This week has been a tough week for some.  Some have had injuries.  Some have been sick.  Some have had their marriage fall apart around them.  Some have lost loved ones and friends.  Some have had life-changing, hope-shattering news.  Some have been wrestling with an important decision for weeks and months and are still no closer to a conclusion.  Some are dreading tomorrow and the uncertainty it brings.  Some have been wrestling with sin and disobedience in their own lives they just don’t see how God could continue to use them let alone love them.

That’s when this Psalm speaks to us.  “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not too high.”  Commentators suggest that this refers to the humble heart that is not lifted up in pride, and that very well may be the case.  But I hear it speaking also to the humble heart that is too overcome with pain to be lifted up.  It’s almost as if David is saying, “God, the joy of my salvation has been so assaulted by the crisis of this situation that it is impossible for me to raise up my eyes to you, to lift my heart in praise.”  Maybe this was part of David’s prayer when his first child with Bathsheba died; perhaps he prayed this when his own sons rebelled against him.  We don’t know the occasion, but we know the feeling.

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me”
(Psalm 131:2).

David, here, teaches us that it is important, when our souls are overwhelmed, to quiet ourselves and trust in the Lord.  When we read this verse, it is easy to overlook that word “weaned,” and simply picture a young child being comforted in the arms of his mother.  A beautiful and comforting picture, indeed; but not what the Psalm is saying.  James Boyce writes:

When David says that his soul is “like a weaned child,” he is not saying that he has always been content with God or even merely that he is content with God now.  He is reflecting on the difficult weaning process in which a child is broken of its dependence on its mother’s milk and is taught to take other foods instead.  Weaning is usually accompanied by resistance and struggle on the child’s part, even by hot tears, angry accusing glances, and fierce temper tantrums, and it is difficult for the mother.  But weaning is necessary if the child is to mature.  David is saying that he has come through the weaning process and has learned to trust God to care for him and provide for him, not on David’s terms but on God’s terms.  (Boyce, James.  Psalms: An Expository Commentary (Vol. 3) (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998).  1150.)

“O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131:3).

Whatever the crisis that David faced, when he “calmed and quieted his soul,” he could return to hope in the Lord.  Knowing that “God loved him and would care for him even if it was not exactly the way he anticipated or most wanted, he came to love God for God himself” (Boyce).  Rather than loving the gifts that God has given, rather than merely believing in God, David calls us back to loving God himself, believing God – taking Him at His word.

Whatever you may be facing when you read this, if your heart is downcast, calm and quiet your soul, putting your hope in the Lord, for He is faithful and good.  Only God is worthy of your hope and trust.  Only God will never let you down.  He cares for you, and will provide for you, even in ways you cannot possibly hope for or imagine.  As the companion Psalm 130 says in its conclusion,

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.
  (Psalm 130:7-8)

SDG