It is a practice in many churches to celebrate the Season of Advent—a season when we look forward to the coming of the Christ Child— by lighting a candle each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas. Each candle helps us remember something as we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Eve, when we light the Christ Candle remembering the birth of Jesus the Christ. The first candle is a candle of “Hope”; the second a candle of “Peace”; the third a candle of “Joy” and the fourth is a candle of “Love.”
My posts for this month are built around an exposition of the meaning of each of these candles for our lives and the life of our churches. I hope you will join me as we discuss each of the candles the next four weeks.
RESTORE US, O GOD: Hope
Text: Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Theme: God’s strength meets us in the midst of our weakness and gives us hope. That is the message of Advent.
Despite all the modern day electronic communication technology today there is something missing in the lives of many people. That is that in the midst of all of this electronic communication people feel very alone. What is missing is real “heart to heart” talks where we see the person we are communicating with, not on a screen we are “skyping” on; but we are missing the ability to reach out and touch each other and reassure and express your concern for them with a hug. We are missing the messages we can read in their eyes and the vocal nuances that help us look into our hearts and share with in a way that all the electronic media in the world does not allow us to share. In a nutshell—-we are missing having a relationship with each other “face to face” as we have what the French call a “tete a tete—-head to head communication.
That is the way we can have the hope that the Psalmist is crying out for in our text today. Through our relationship with God. Only as we place our lives in a personal relationship with God can we have hope for God’s strength in the times of our weakness.
Listen to some of his words:
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you;
Give us life and we will call on your name!
Do you catch all the references to a “Face-to-Face” relationship with God that is desired by the Psalmist? In that face to face relationship with God the Psalmist seeks and finds the strength of God in times of trouble.
This Psalm lays bare our need for God’s intervention in our lives and for a personal relationship with God. The writer is not asking for a message of assurance. This Psalm was probably written during the period of the Babylonian Exile and he speaks for a people without hope– A people that fear they are being utterly consumed and lost—A people that feel alienated and alone. The psalmist speaks of a need for hope in God’s favor, strength and love because without hope, the people are not only not delivered from Exile, but are doomed to hopeless despair.
This Psalm then is a cry for relationship, for personal interaction, for “face time” with God!!
I believe the prayer of the Psalmist echoes the hopeful yearning of people today. “Let your face shine that we may be saved” is the call of people today who are surrounded by technology but are still lonely for meaningful communication and relationship. It is the hope today we have as we seek to find strength for our trials in personal relationships with other people and the hope for a strength that we can find only in God. It is the cry of people who may receive hundreds of texts every day on their smart phones but who still feel unheard and trapped by forces in their lives they cannot control. It is the hope in the human heart which does not want simply to be told of love but needs to experience that love personally—from others and from our God.
Thus the prayer of the Psalmist for God’s strength is echoed in different circumstances today by many people who feel that are overcome by the stresses in their world and are losing or have lost all hope.
Sometimes we may feel like we are “hitting the wall” and spinning out of control.
We may face unemployment with the resulting loss of faith in ourselves and feel that future employment is hopeless.
We may feel like the economy over which they seem to have no control, is eating us alive.
We may be faced with terminal illness for ourselves or a loved one.
We may be grieving the loss of a loved one.
All of these may cause us to feel hopeless. But the message of the psalmist is that we can find hope in all these things in our personal relationship with a God who loves us and cares for us, if we will open ourselves to His love and care.
One thing that I have experienced in my life is that we must face our losses and our helplessness, as the psalmist is doing, before we are able to seek God to restore us. We must recognize that we cannot do it on our own. We must come to the point where we see that we have no hope by simply using only the resources that we have—-that they will not see us through—-then we are able to open ourselves to God and let God’s strength and love come to our rescue. As Paul says in Romans 8: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God’s strength then meets us in the midst of our weakness and gives us the hope that we so desperately need. That is the message of this candle of Advent.
A candle is made to give light, and the light of God’s love that the Psalmist proclaimed long before is portrayed again in the Gospel of John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
Hope is found in the “shining face of God” today as it was for the psalmist. It is the hope we find as we experience a relationship with God. The light of the knowledge and love of God that Jesus brought into the world is the source of the hope that still shines in our darkness and the darkness has not been able to overcome it.
The question for us is—-where do we see and experience God’s face shining today? The good news for this dark time is that the light of hope continues to shine in the darkness of our world today. The darkness cannot overcome God’s light of hope. God’s face will shine and reflect God’s mercy and forgiveness for a world “hitting the wall and out of control.” That is the hope expressed by the candle of Hope this week.
The answer to the plea of the Psalmist in Psalm 80 and the answer to our plea today is a resounding “YES”!! GOD SAYS:
Yes, I will give ear to your cry. I hear you!
Yes, I will come and give you the strength you need because I love you.
Yes, I will restore our relationship that has been fractured by your faithlessness.
Yes, my hand of love and strength will be upon you.
Yes, you have hope because I am there for you whatever happens to you.
This is the promise of advent—-that God’s strength will meet us in the midst of our weakness. There is no place too dismal, no sin too bad, no transgression too terrible to separate us from the love of God who now comes to us through Jesus the Christ. That is what gives us Hope to face today and tomorrow and the future.
We need to open our heart, our soul, our mind, to the God who is our hope—-in a personal and tangible way. God sends the message of hope for us, not in a text, not by a star in the sky. He sent it through Jesus the Christ, and it is the message that God wants to reach out to us in a personal and mutually loving relationship. so that His face can shine upon us and give us His strength to overcome our weaknesses. That is the message of Hope we have if we will open our lives to his transforming love and presence. Amen.