As we work together with God, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For God says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
2 Corinthians 6:1-2
I hope you had a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you have entered the season of Advent with eyes open to the wonders that God has in store for us.
I had the opportunity to mark the beginning of Advent by preaching twice yesterday, including for the 4 pm vespers service at Monte Vista Grove Homes’ Health Center. This is an opportunity to reach out to folks who cannot go to church, and because the Health Center (the skilled nursing arm of Monte Vista Grove) usually has people from the outside community as well as Grove residents, it helps to offer hope to folks from within and outside our Presbyterian family. Bill Van Loan, who coordinates the vespers service along with the Chaplaincy Committee, told me that they would appreciate volunteers who would like to offer God’s Word to this community, so please let him or me know if you are interested. It’s a 30-minute service with music and support offered by resident volunteers like Roberta Woodberry and Mark Duntley, and I was encouraged to see several family members who attended along with their loved ones.
My morning sermon was at a church where I was asked to focus on some of the “back story” that is the Old Testament narrative. We Presbyterians honor the Old Testament not only as the story of God’s care for God’s chosen people, and so now God’s care for us, but also it is the Bible that Jesus grew up with.
Focusing on the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, is especially relevant during Advent, because the prophecies of the Old Testament informed the Jews as they yearned for God’s salvation, especially through the years from the heydays of King David to the centuries of destruction, occupation, exile, oppression, and political betrayal leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. The prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others promised that God would bring forth a new king from the house of David who would restore Israel in a state of justice and righteousness. How the people imagined this new king would look, and how he would accomplish this restoration, guided those centuries of hope and expectation. For us, this hope culminates in the birth of the humble, displaced baby Jesus. For others, they couldn’t believe this rebel carpenter’s son was the Messiah, the Anointed One.
If we really try to enter into the yearnings of the people of Judah, we gain a sense of the hunger, the faithfulness, the frustration, the persistent hope, and the ease with which people will follow the wrong path in order to survive—all that and more I cannot even imagine must have been mixed into the spiritual psyche of the Jewish people during that time so many years ago, when the emperor Augustus called for the census that caused the young pregnant woman Mary to go with her fiancé Joseph to Bethlehem.
As we enter into this season of Advent, let us not rush ahead to the happy ending, but dwell a little on the feelings we have in common with those Judeans of 2,000 years ago—feelings of need for God’s care, a yearning for justice, and a determined hope for a better life of righteousness and peace for all. We live in the faith that God does hear us when we cry out to God, just as God has heard God’s people over the millenia. As we open our hearts to our need for salvation, let us appreciate anew the gift of God coming to us in Jesus the Christ.
Poet-scholar David Rosenberg restated portions of the Hebrew Bible in his book A Poet’s Bible. His version of Psalm 90, captures for me the hope that is Advent:
and for every day lost
we find a new day
revealing where we are
in the future and in the past
this moment with you
made human for us
to see your work
in the open-eyed grace of children
the whole vision unlocked
to the thrill of light
where our hands reach for another’s
opening to life
in our heart’s flow
the work of this hand
to you and from you.
As we confess our need for God’s love, may we appreciate all the more God’s willingness to come and be with us, to be one of us, to reach out his grace-filled hands to love and heal us and even partner with us—and then we will see that thrill of light, and welcome the day of salvation that is here, and now.