12/17/2015 8:37:50 AM
Advent Reflections on an Uplifting Psalm - December 16, 2015
Text: Psalm 130
Dear Friends in Christ, Tonight we conclude our Advent devotions based on selected Psalms. Just a word or two about the Psalm before us tonight…
Of the 150 Psalms recorded for us in the Bible, seven in particular are referred to as “penitential psalms.” They are so named because each of them clearly acknowledges that when it comes to standing before a just and holy God, in the words of Martin Luther, we are all “beggars.” That is, we are sinful human beings in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Psalm 130 is the sixth of these “penitential psalms.”
The penitential Psalms express each believer’s deep and heartfelt sorrow over sin, but they don’t stop there. That’s only half of the story. The other half expresses great comfort in knowing that God in his grace, through Jesus Christ, is indeed merciful and forgiving. This knowledge lifts our spirits and satisfies our souls.
In a sense, our Psalm for this evening mirrors the message of Advent. How so?
If we think of Advent as a journey leading to a final destination, it goes like this: First, we must see our deep need to make the trip. Like living in a war-torn country, we know we can’t stay where we’re at and survive. Rather than wandering aimlessly, John the Baptist comes to our assistance and points us in the right direction. He tells us we must travel down the road of personal repentance and spiritual preparation. He tells us to patiently watch and wait for our destination to appear on the horizon.
We first see it at a distance, then it gets closer; finally we arrive at our journey’s end, Bethlehem. Those who make the trip – that’s us – then experience the joy of discovering anew the One who is in the manger. Knowing who he is and what he came to do for us makes our hearts sing like the angels on the night of his birth, because we know we are safe. And we are changed people.
Psalm 130 depicts this same kind of journey as a progression of personal steps, which I am sure each of us can apply to our lives. As we do, the message of this Psalm brings us comfort, gives us confidence, and puts our hearts at rest.
So let’s spend the next several minutes in
ADVENT REFLECTIONS ON AN UPLIFTING PSALM
The journey begins in a place of personal distress.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the Psalmist. He’s crying to the Lord. He’s pleading with the Lord to hear his prayers. Why? What’s going on? What’s the nature of his distress? What are the depths – the hole – he found himself in?
Maybe it had to do with the way things were going in his life. Maybe his life had become an endless cycle of difficulty and disappointment and sadness. Using terms from that classic work of Christian literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress, maybe he was mired down in the “slough of despond” or continually getting beaten up “the giant despair” or found himself locked up in “the castle of doubt,” uncertain of how to get out.
Then again, maybe he couldn’t articulate what it was exactly that was causing his distress, but he just knew he was losing altitude fast and felt like the bottom was dropping out of his life.
Or maybe this was a cry of a spiritual nature. The Psalmist was obviously a believer in the one true God. As such, he undoubtedly wanted to do the right things for God and represent him well. Nevertheless, as hard as he tried, he found himself failing. Again and again and again. Maybe he knew his sins not only had an effect on him, but on others around him, and this caused him emotional pain and distress.
Whatever it was, he had enough, so he cried out to God for help and threw himself at his mercy.
Ever been there? Ever felt like the bottom was dropping out of your life? Ever had those days when you just felt overwhelmed or overmatched by life? Ever felt joyless or unhappy with your lot in life, compounded by the fact you felt powerless to change it? Ever felt like you were taking on water faster than you could bail and your boat was about to sink?
Or what about your sin? We all have it, and as believers we all deal with it through confession and the cross. But have you ever been haunted or bothered by or still feel the repercussions of things you did in the past? Or struggle with in the present?
If the answer is yes, then we also know what it means to be in the depths.
So the Psalmist’s journey began in a pretty low place. But that’s not where it ended.
3 If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
From the depths of despair the Psalmist moves to the high ground of forgiveness. Here is where he finds comfort and strength and relief from his distress. He knows that if standing in a right relationship with God now or on the Day of Judgment is based on a ledger recording his thoughts, actions and behavior, he didn’t stand a chance.
But he also knows that it doesn’t. Because with God there is forgiveness. As Isaiah the prophet put it, though our sins are like scarlet, in the eyes of God we are white as snow. As King David put it in another Psalm (103): “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” And in another passage from Isaiah (43:25) God says this: “I even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Imagine that, when it comes to the past sins that at times still bother us God has a shorter memory than we do…
While the Psalmist knew this to be a fact and had an idea of how this came about through the animal sacrifices for sin made throughout the Old Testament, we know the reality of how our forgiveness came about. John the Baptist put it all together when he said of Jesus, “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” On the cross God’s justice and his love were harmonized. Jesus died as the substitute sacrifice for our sins. And we are forgiven.
Because of that, God is feared. That word doesn’t mean fear in the sense of being scared of (like a slave fears his master), but fear in the sense of being revered, honored, respected and loved (like a son or daughter feels toward a loving father).
The great 19th Century English preacher Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “None fear the Lord like those who have experienced his forgiving love.” The Psalmist experienced that forgiving love, and so have we.
Which leads us on our journey to the broad plains of patience and confidence.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
The Psalmist reminds us that because we know God has met our greatest need – the forgiveness of our sins – we can be confident that he will meet every other lesser need as well. So when our life seems to be “in the pits,” he urges us to be patient and trusting, and to find our hope in the words of God where he promises to never abandon us, but to be with us always.
The illustration of watchmen is a good one, and one that anyone who has ever worked third shift will readily understand. It can seem like the night can drag on and that morning will never come, but it always does. The Psalmist equates that with the distresses in our life. It may seem like they’ll never end, but they will, just as night gives way to the morning. So we wait patiently and commit ourselves to God’s timing.
7 O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
Completing our imagery, we could say the Psalmist ends his journey by gazing at two massive, towering mountains. Twin peaks, if you will. Emblazoned on the first are the words “unfailing love;” on the second, “full redemption.”
And here is the best news yet. As believers we live our entire lives in the constant shadow of these two wonderful truths. God loves us. God has forgiven us. These twin truths uplift us and put life in perspective.
In less than ten days we will once again see how God’s love and forgiveness comes to us in a manger. May God bless each of us in the final days of our Advent journey. Amen.