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 an object of contention for our neighbors,
and our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved! (Psalm 80:1-7)
When we consider the season of Advent, we typically do so with rejoicing. The word Advent literally means arrival, and for us the arrival that we look forward to is of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The reflection for us here tends to lean on the idea of being ready, which is why in the first week of Advent, you might typically hear a sermon titled:
Are we ready for his coming?
I suppose that it’s a fair question, even if it can be taken to extreme. Many sermons these days can’t help but inject law into the veins of any grace-focused preaching, just in case people feel too “free” to sin. Even the typical Christian friend leans towards wanting to “help” you be blameless before God, and will usually frame that help in a way to get the response they want from you, even if it’s not necessarily an honest response.. They want the law to break you, which isn’t a bad thing, because that’s what the law is designed to do. They’ll ask a question like, “If the rapture happened while you were cheating on your spouse, or while you were drunk, would God take you?” I’ve had friends ask those exact questions. Their intent may be good, but they forget about God’s goodness. Instead, they want the law to break you, and they want the law to get you to God by fixing your behavior. But the law was never designed for that, only grace can do that.
So it is in some churches, and from some pulpits, that though we may get an “Advent message,” it’s typically the same confusing law/gospel/law jumble that permeates those same churches and pulpits for the rest of the year. All we are doing is dressing it up with some sleigh bells and green garland.
Let’s ask the question then, and really contemplate it. What does it mean to be ready for his coming? What is our posture for his return?
Listen to the Psalmist here. I think you’ll find there is a roadmap for restoration, but not one we could ever follow. The writer laments, “How long will you be angry with your people’s prayer?” (Ps. 80:4). This implies guilty action on the people’s part. God is likely angry, because over and again, God’s people have always had a problem with unfaithfulness. They’ve had a problem turning away from their one true love and running after other gods. The story of Exodus is the greatest Old Testament picture of God’s miraculous rescue of his people, and it doesn’t take much prodding before Aaron, Moses’ brother, is making golden statues to worship. It’s never changed really. There have been only little pockets of faithfulness throughout Scripture in the larger story of a people needing a constant rescue from their enemies and themselves.
The psalmist already knows their condition, and like the psalmist, if we are honest, we don’t need any exaggerated scenario from a friend to show us whether or not we are ready for the Lord’s arrival. We are not. In our own strength and ability, there’s always a little, or more, unfaithfulness co-mingling within us. We are the unfaithful wife of Hosea, chasing after what we shouldn’t. As the R&B group TLC sings, we tend to chase after waterfalls, instead of sticking with the lakes and the rivers we are used to and that are good for us too.
Yes, the psalmist is clear that God’s people are to blame, and they have been under that anger for what feels like a long time. They are ridiculed and mocked by their neighbors and their enemies.
Getting ready for Christ’s coming is a practice in humility. It’s being prepared to admit we are unprepared and need him to make us prepared by relying on his perfect substitution on our behalf.
Let’s admit this together right now, that we have those days. Days that feel like the world looks down at us and laughs.
But more personally, we have days where it feels like God is far away from us. It feels as if his hand on our lives have been removed and he has left us to fend for ourselves. It’s not just because of bad things that are happening, but because we are sinners still. We live in a kind of “not yet” place here on earth, where our sinful nature co-exists with our given Christ nature. This means we do fail at times. We sin. We even do it spectacularly. So incredibly do we sin, that we can ruin our own lives, as well as all our relationships.
If we are honest, we prove our unfaithfulness to God daily.
Back to the question. Am I ready for his coming? Are you? Have we done all the things that we need to do to ensure God will not forsake us? Absolutely not. The psalmist admits as much. So, what does the writer say? How do we get in God’s good graces once more?
Twice the psalmist says to God, “Restore us, O God! Save us!”
Sounds a lot like, “Please God, come do for us what we can’t do for ourselves!” It sounds a lot like relying less on our ability to repent and look presentable before God, and more like, “God please make us your people once again.”
This is what we have in the person and the work of Christ. God makes us his people, despite our sins, despite our more than occasional unfaithfulness. The Advent of Christ coming is not about us getting our affairs in order, but recognizing we need Christ because we can’t. Getting ready for Christ’s coming is a practice in humility. It’s being prepared to admit we are unprepared and need him to make us prepared by relying on his perfect substitution on our behalf.
So, in this first week of Advent, when we wonder if we are ready for his coming, let’s do the honest thing and say no. No, we haven’t done all the things that we could to make us ready.
Let’s bend a knee in humble recognition and thank him for making us ready with a life lived out for us, given to us.