December 19, 1999
Fourth Sunday in Advent
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
(FS) A. DESCRIPTION OF AUDIENCE
Psalm 89 is an "edited" one as it appears in the Lectionary. The grief, confusion, and even anger and questioning that follow the verses cited for reading in churches are cut out.
I serve a church very near Texas A & M University, where the Aggie Bonfire collapsed the week before Thanksgiving. Many people in the congregation I serve studied at A & M and several work there. The "cuttings" need to be tied in, I feel, because the anguish of faithful Israel over God's seemingly trashing the covenant with David shouldn't be forgotten in the midst of our celebrating.
In my own ministry context, I see those feelings in the "missing" verses as important, especially in the aftermath of the bonfire tragedy. Maybe there's something there too for congregations that have just been through some trauma, or where a pastor is keenly aware that she is preaching to people who have a hard time celebrating this season.
(FS) B. INTENDED GOALS
In my sermon this Dec. 19th, I will point out a little about the missing part of Psalm 89, and tie it in with Luke 1 (the Annunciation Pericope) and God's Advent in Jesus Christ coming in, through, around, the real messiness of the world.
"A CAROL OF FULFILLMENT"
(Part of an Advent Series, "The First
Many of you have expressed how you dislike any effort to tamper with hymns, especially to make them more "politically correct"*. A Christmas carol especially should be free from editing! Well-- I have a confession to make. We just sang** , and I just read, an edited, tampered-with, pared-down version of a one. Through this Advent, we've gone back and seen the Psalms listed in the Revised Common Lectionary as being among the "first Christmas carols". Psalm 89 is in that company.
THE VERSES THE LECTIONARY GIVES BREATHE FULFILLMENT. THE COVENANT PROMISE OF GOD TO DAVID IS REMEMBERED. Of course, Jesus is God's keeping of a long-made promise! But the verses following the end of today's reading are different. They are full of shock, confusion, pain...even anger. It's thought that they may well have been part of a community lament after Judah and Israel were destroyed and scattered, and there seemed no hope of God's possibly keeping a king on David's throne.
There is a superb Mexican eatery in McAllen called "El Pocito", "The Hole in the Wall". The food is great! The setting? Well, it reflects the name. My sister-in-law won't set foot in the place. She once asked me if we had health inspectors in the US. When I responded that OF COURSE we did, she smiled and slyly replied, "Y, por qué 'El Pocito'?" ("So, why is there an "El Pocito"?) The rest of Psalm 89 is far from a carol of fulfillment. It's as if the faithful of Israel were singing or chanting, "If You made a Covenant, Yahweh, WHY are things the way they are?!"
WE DON'T SEE THINGS THAT WAY, AT LEAST AS FAR AS PSALM 89. FOR TODAY, WE ALSO READ THE STORY OF THE 'ANNUNCIATION' IN LUKE CHAPTER ONE. God did keep (God's) promises! The lament of Israel was real and heart-felt, and in a sense it lasted for centuries. But at last, at long last, God's creating Word came to Mary.
Some years ago, I heard a preacher from England speak in Mississippi, my home state. He spoke about "the ugliness of Christmas". Ugliness?! -- in the midst of these poinsettias freshly placed, these candles and lights, the melodies of carols? In the keeping of a covenant vow?
When the Word was made flesh, when Jesus came into this world, he truly came into THIS world. The "ugliness" was the situation in which his Advent took place. There is Mary, the first person ever to have trouble grasping the Virgin Birth, invited to have faith...though she will nearly lose her betrothed, Joseph, who will feel the pain of apparent betrayal. There is a census forced on a conquered people. There is a weary couple, forced to travel at a painfully inconvenient time, seeking shelter for an impending birth...and finally, a little baby born where animals were kept.
IN THE REAL WORLD, THE ONE WHERE ISRAEL TRIED TO MAKE SENSE OF THEIR SUFFERING IN THE LIGHT OF GOD'S PROMISES, THE ONE WHERE THERE IS PLENTY OF CONFUSION AND PAIN FOR US, GOD WAS FAITHFUL.
GOD IS FAITHFUL!
My grandmother from Pearl River County, Mississippi, had a secret wish back in the earliest years of this century. She wished that Christmas came every Saturday. Now, that could be a little much even for a dyed-in-the-wool lover of Christmas. Even the most beautiful carols can grow tiresome for a person who works year-round in a Christmas store. What holds all year is the good news that in Jesus Christ, God kept a promise that seemed hopelessly lost and forgotten. God did it by coming into this world, in and through all its messiness, to redeem and transform it.
Israel wondered what was going on with God, and why things were taking so long. It's all right for us to do that, too. For one day, by God's grace, in God's time, the redemption and renewal of all things will come.
And as Israel sang in doubt and perplexity, so may we sing.
"Of the LORD's great love forever': with our mouths, may we "Make (His) faithfulness known through all generations!"
* I know that many colleagues, and congregations, feel differently. This is the context in which I serve.
** We are "singing the Psalter" using the new Psalter recently released, written by the Director of Music from Central Pres. in Atlanta, GA.
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