“I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.” Psalm 89, “a Maskil of Ethen the Ezrahite”, verses 1-2, NIV
These verses and more of Psalm 89 appear in our lectionary for the fourth Sunday of Advent this year. A Maskil psalm is so-called because it is deemed to share wisdom. The entire Psalm is quite long and continually turns to an all-powerful God who is always loving and protective even when seeming to be difficult to find. Despite calling on God to turn back to the people, the Psalm ends in praise “blessed be the Lord for ever! Amen and Amen.”
This reading, together with other passages we have read during Advent, in which angels often assure people not to be afraid, have been particularly pertinent and helpful this year, I think. Many of us have lived for many months with greater anxieties and fears than we have ever had to face before. Some of us have felt alone. Several of us have lost loved ones, either to covid or because their health has generally deteriorated during lock-down. Those of us who have had health issues have struggled to access treatment as our over-worked health system has wrestled with logistical difficulties caused by the pandemic. All of us have found it hard to go in and out of lock-down, determine what is and is not allowed in different tiers, and missed seeing relatives and friends whose company would have given us great joy.
We are in a time of waiting; and the Church year, with its four weeks of Advent, gives Christians support and encouragement as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the moment that God was revealed to us in the form of a vulnerable baby, born into an ordinary family and made known to insignificant shepherds and foreign wise men. In the words of the Magnificat, which Luke puts into the mouth of Mary in the very first chapter of his Gospel, this child comes to turn the world upside- down; the mighty will be brought down and the lowly raised up; the hungry will be fed and the rich will be sent away. We are encouraged to “wait well”.
It is easy to consider a time of waiting for better things to be wasted time, a negative era, a period where we are passive and thus helpless. But scripture shows us time and again that waiting can be a positive experience which allows self-reflection, preparation and transformation. If we truly believe the wisdom of the Psalmist that reminds us that God’s love is steadfast, then we can acknowledge that God wants more for, and of, us in the future. The trials of the pandemic have revealed again and again that our world is failing. There is so much inequality, mistrust, and greed. In the past, we have bought into the lie that productivity, activity and commerce are all-important and that anyone who does not contribute to these things is worth less. The result has been that some sectors of our society have suffered much greater this year than others. We know this now. We cannot un-know it. The “normal” we go back to must be different to the one we knew.
So I write this letter to encourage all of us to “wait well.” Our church services during Advent have reflected on God being with us in hope, joy, peace and love. Our readings from the Bible have linked hope with the faithfulness of God, joy with perseverance and steadfastness, peace with justice, and love with unconditional care in humility and truth. We can spend this time deciding how we can change our world for the better as our lives begin to be released from the grip of this disease. The nativity story shows us, among other things, that God uses ordinary people to bring salvation to the world.
Whether we are spending Christmas alone, in a temporary bubble with family or friends, or making contact via the internet and phone, I pray that we will all experience hope, joy, peace and love.
A prayer based on Psalm 89:
Ever-loving creator God,
Who cares for us unendingly and unconditionally
Who is praised in heaven and on earth
And commands the elements and all creation,
Bless us, your people,
And reveal to us your covenant love,
As you have to those who have loved you throughout the generations. Help us to praise your name in ways that proclaim your goodness. When we face trials and anxieties, be with us
And let us never feel that you have abandoned us.
Guide and strengthen us to do your will
And not worry about what other people say about us.
Blessed be the Lord for ever!
God bless and keep you dear friends.
Hold on to that peace that the world cannot give.
Have a joyful Christmas and a New Year filled with love,
Deacon Kathy Johnson