Pastor Bitter

Text: Psalm 25

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Once there was an elderly woman who wasn’t looking forward to Christmas.  Health problems, the death of her husband, fading strength, and a number of other factors beyond her control had forced her to move into assisted living.  In years past, she had always hosted her kids for Christmas, but now as she looked forward to one of her favorite times of the year, she knew that her children would still come to visit her, but it just wouldn’t be quite the same.  The inevitable decay of her health attacked like a relentless enemy, and there was no hope of it stopping.  The situation appeared hopeless. 

There was also a young man who wasn’t really looking forward to Christmas.  Most of his friends were looking forward to Christmas vacation – school’s out, time for family and fun.  But school out of session meant more time at home, and for this young man that wasn’t a pleasant thing.  His parents didn’t get along with each other at all, and he didn’t always get along with them either.  As he looked ahead, all he saw over Christmas was resentment, fighting, and hostility. 

There was a third man who wasn’t looking forward to Christmas.  It was because he had to work on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, and all the other days when everyone else has off.  It wasn’t because of his ability to work or his experience – he had very few job options due to a mistake he made many years ago.  Every resume he had submitted contained the phrase: “convicted felon.”  And there were few options open to him.  And the worst part?  He knew it was all his fault. 

Three fictitious stories about three fictitious people, but with a common theme: hopelessness as they look forward to Christmas.  Hopelessness is something we can all identify with, either in our own lives or in the lives of others around us, and living in a sinful world, it’s likely that if you haven’t faced it yet, you will at some point. 

That’s been true of all people of all ages, even the great heroes of faith like King David.  But today, in the words of Psalm 25, King David reminds us that as we prepare for Christmas, no matter what our life circumstances might be, no matter how things look, no matter how we feel, our lives can be a silent Song of Hope, because real, biblical hope is right there in front of us.  Hope Defeats Our Enemies, and Hope Overcomes Our Guilt, and that changes everything about our attitudes, our words, and our actions.

Hope Defeats Enemies

Like the aging woman forced to move out of her home when she was no longer able to care for herself, like the young man facing a hostile and divisive home environment, there are times in life when we feel under attack by things we can’t control – our personal “enemies” so to speak.  Maybe it’s a situation similar to those stories, or maybe it’s something else entirely, but when circumstances are out of our control it can be very difficult to feel hope when we look toward the future. 

King David, the author of Psalm 25, had times in his life too when there was no way to see or feel hopeful as he considered all the things that seemed to be fighting against him.  You might remember the days before he was king, when his predecessor Saul hunted him like an animal through the desert.  Or perhaps you remember the troubled times later on when his own son, Absalom, tried to overthrow David’s throne and take it for himself.  Forces that were beyond David’s control seemed to be conspiring against him to wreck everything, and it seemed hopeless. 

Perhaps life circumstances like those were on David’s mind when he penned the opening and closing words of Psalm 25: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.  Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.” (Psalm 25:1-2 – NIV84).  But no matter how hopeless his situation might have appeared, David’s attitude remained highly confident: “No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.” (Psalm 25:3 – NIV84)

David reveals a similar sequence in the closing verses of his prayer: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.  The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish…See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me!  Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.  My integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.” (Psalm 25:16-17, 19-21 – NIV84).  David knew that his hope wasn’t based on what he could see in his life or what he his mood felt like – his hope came from God and what God had declared to be true.

It may seem like the circumstances of our lives, our health, our family settings, the decisions of other people – things we have no semblance of control over – have taken away our hope and confidence, but as we anticipate our celebration of Christmas, let’s not allow our attitudes to be determined by what we see with our eyes or feel in our hearts. 

Instead, let’s remember what God says is true – that because Jesus came down into our world to live and die for us, we have hope.  Even if, like that woman, life going forward looks like it will be constantly harder, even if, like that young man, our relationships with others leaves a lot to be desired, we still know what God has declared to be true: he has sent his Son to save us, and because of Jesus, who came on that first Christmas night, God has promised us life beyond what we see and feel in this one, and nothing can take that away.  Hope in God Defeats Enemies of all sorts, and we can Sing of Hope like David, and all the more as we prepare to remember his entry into our world. 

Hope Overcomes Guilt

Living this hope is hard, however, when we realize that the hopelessness we see and feel is our own fault, like that third man who was still paying for the mistakes he had made many years ago.  David knew all about that kind of hopelessness too.  In Psalm 25, David writes: “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.  Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.” (Psalm 25:6-7 – NIV84)

As good of a king as David was and as much as God accomplished through him, God led the writers of Bible History to also share some of the tragic moral failings in David’s life – things like the affair with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband.  And beyond the turmoil and conflict this caused in David’s own life, David knew what his sinfulness meant between him and his God: “All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.” (Psalm 25:10 – NIV84).  Because God’s covenant is perfection, it was a hopeless situation indeed. 

You and I really don’t have to think all that hard to see the same guilty hopelessness at work in our lives too.  There are lots of messes of our own making, whether it was a poor decision long ago like the man I described earlier who will carry the title “felon” for his whole life, or something that just happened this afternoon.  Whether it was deeply hurtful to other people, or something just between us and our God.  It doesn’t matter, because our plight is still hopelessness, because God’s demands have not changed: only perfection will do.

David knew that too.  And yet, his writing is still hopeful, and a closer look shows us why: one literary feature somewhat unique to Hebrew poetry is the idea of centering – the most important phrase the writer wants to build off of is placed at the very center of the poem.  Many psalms are written in this way, including Psalm 25.  The center of this Psalm is the phrase “For the sake of your name.”  And when you realize what that means, you can see why we can Sing of Hope, alongside David, even as we acknowledge our sinfulness and guilt. 

God’s name is not just a title or a series of sounds he uses to refer to himself.  In the Old Testament, God revealed a very special name for himself that David uses constantly in this psalm.  The LORD, Jehovah as it is also rendered at times, is the God who makes covenants with his people and keeps them. 

God’s covenant demand that we be perfect is impossible for us.  But God also made a new covenant with his people, and that’s what gives us hope even when we realize that the mess is all our own fault.  “For the sake of your name, O LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.” (Psalm 25:11 – NIV84) David wrote. 

He had hope, and thinking about Christmas shows us that this hope is not misplaced, as we remember once again how God kept his covenant, for the sake of his name, by sending his Son to live the life that we cannot and to die in our place.  Hope Overcomes Our Guilt, because our sin is forgiven, whether it was a poor decision long ago, or events of this afternoon, whether it’s between you and God, or affects tons of other people.  We can Sing of Hope in our attitudes and actions as we prepare for Christmas, because Hope Overcomes Our Guilt.

Hope Removes Helplessness

Knowing that we have reason for hope, however, and living lives filled with hope are often two very different things.  You can see some traces of that in David’s life, particularly after the whole incident with Bathsheba.  It’s almost as though David’s reign can be divided into two parts: before his great and public sin and after. 

Even though God has assured him that his sin has been forgiven, it almost appears that David has a hard time living according to that hope.  The same person who had as a young man who had challenged Goliath to battle and boldly attacked with his slingshot now cowered passively and allowed Absalom to run rough-shod over the whole kingdom, eventually nearly costing David the throne.  And that’s far from the only incident…

We see it too, when we find ourselves tripping over the same pet sin again and again, when we realize just how deeply someone else has been hurt by the things we have done, when a sin we indulged in becomes a habit and then an addiction, the guilt has a way of sticking around even when we know it should be gone. 

As he struggled, David knew it too.  “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare.”  (Psalm 25:15 – NIV84).  Only God can release us from the snare of guilt that continues to plague us.  Will pet sins continue to be a struggle?  Will sinful decisions in the past still have repercussions today?  Certainly, the devil knows our weak spots and he likes to push them. 

But, what we see when we survey our lives or the emotion we may feel in our hearts is not our source of hope – God declares that these sins have been forgiven.  “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare.”  (Psalm 25:15 – NIV84).  He reassures us time and again that our sins are forgiven.  He reminds us that our guilt can be put aside and forgotten. 

This Christmas season, may we take the opportunity to keep our eyes ever on the Lord, and he will give us hope, and our lives will be silent songs of hope in our attitudes, words, and actions as we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth.  Amen.