Reader: “ O Lord, how long will you be angry with us? Forever?”
Response: “How long will your jealousy burn like fire?”
Scripture: Psalm 79
O God, pagan nations have conquered your land,
your special possession.
They have defiled your holy Temple
and made Jerusalem a heap of ruins.
They have left the bodies of your servants
as food for the birds of heaven.
The flesh of your godly ones
has become food for the wild animals.
Blood has flowed like water all around Jerusalem;
no one is left to bury the dead.
We are mocked by our neighbors,
an object of scorn and derision to those around us.
O Lord, how long will you be angry with us? Forever?
How long will your jealousy burn like fire?
Pour out your wrath on the nations that refuse to acknowledge you—
on kingdoms that do not call upon your name.
For they have devoured your people Israel,
making the land a desolate wilderness.
Do not hold us guilty for the sins of our ancestors!
Let your compassion quickly meet our needs,
for we are on the brink of despair.
Help us, O God of our salvation!
Help us for the glory of your name.
Save us and forgive our sins
for the honor of your name.
Why should pagan nations be allowed to scoff,
asking, “Where is their God?”
Show us your vengeance against the nations,
for they have spilled the blood of your servants.
Listen to the moaning of the prisoners.
Demonstrate your great power by saving those condemned to die.
O Lord, pay back our neighbors seven times
for the scorn they have hurled at you.
Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will thank you forever and ever,
praising your greatness from generation to generation.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
One of the significant perspectives of being a Christian in this season of the year, is to always keep the entire picture of God’s grand story, his masterful plan of redeeming the whole created order in mind. As we have said in years past, Christmas is not simply a birthday party for Jesus. We must see each part of God’s wondrous tapestry in relation to the whole. So Advent’s opening thread emerges with the Lord’s return interwoven with the coming of God’s judgment. This psalm is an interesting, very relevant commentary on our day and age. How often have I been angry that a person or a group or a people get away with defying God, mocking him and his people, seemingly without restraint. Asaph, the psalmist, writes that godly people have been overrun and killed by pagan nations. Those who live are being scorned and ridiculed. He then assumes something I find interesting. He assumes God is angry with his own people which has resulted in the present situation. His thoughts, “God, you are venting at the wrong people. Go after them, not us!” (One of the principles throughout all of Scripture is that God welcomes his children to bare their hearts and emotions before him. God is infinitely personal. Don’t ever shy from telling God what is on your heart. He can manage!) Then comes a very, very interesting relevant phrase. “Do not hold us guilty for the sins of our ancestors!” Generational guilt! Ezekiel makes clear (Ez.18:19-20) that children do not ultimately pay for the sins of their parents when God judges. Children are not punished for the parent’s sins nor the parents for the child’s sins. Ezekiel is quoting Deuteronomy (24:16). Parent’s sins can bring later consequences, but the children are not guilty for creating these consequences. And it works the other way around as well. And so, as a result of our ancestors’ sin, we are in a tough situation. Lord help us! But did you notice that the children repent of their own sins as well. Humility and concern for God’s name is prominent then and now. Repentance is key in dealing with past sins of ancestors as well as present sins. I fear repentance for our own sins and granting forgiveness for the past is a missing factor in today’s culture.The psalmist’s appeal to God to pay the evil doers for their actions returns, “Lord pay them back!” Demonstrate your power Lord, by saving your people, and, reminding us that we are “the sheep of your pasture.” The bottom line is that our God is just, which means every action is judged and rewarded accordingly both good and evil. Healing is the ultimate goal. Advent puts Christmas in context, puts justice in context, puts our lives in context as we watch and wait for the Lord’s return. This season is a three-fold advent: Jesus came in humanity as a baby; Jesus came via the Holy Spirit into our hearts when we came to faith; Jesus will come again in glory to set up his eternal Kingdom judging the living and the dead. “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation.” Ps.79:13
Music: “Joy to the World” John Rutter and Cambridge Choir
Hear me, O God! A broken heart is my best part.
Use still thy rod, that I may prove, therein, Thy love.
If Thou hadst not been stern to me, but left me free,
I had forgotten myself and Thee.
For, sin’s so sweet, as minds ill-bent rarely repent,
Unless they meet their punishment.
Who more can crave than Thou hast done?
Thou savest a Son to free a slave,
First made of nought, with all since bought.
Sin, death, and hell His glorious Name quite overcame;
Yet I rebel and slight the same,
But, I’ll come in before my loss me farther toss;
As sure to win under His cross. ―Ben Johnson (1572-1637)
Some thoughts: The Scriptures often have meanings on several levels at the same time, meaning they apply to the immediate people and situation; they are a shadow of what is to come at a later time in terms of events; and they may also be a commentary on life itself. It behooves us to pay attention to each word and phrase of God’s Word. Such is the case of this most familiar prophetic passage from the First Testament. The diet of the early Hebrews consisted primarily of bread, meat, and liquids. The “staff of bread” is the “support of life.” To the Hebrew, bread (lehem in Hebrew) was essential to life. So when Jesus said to the Jews, “I am the bread of life” they would have read that statement as far more profound than we might. Bethlehem meant “house (beth in Hebrew) of bread.” This little village, about six miles southwest of Jerusalem, figured prominently in God’s grand unfolding story. It was here that Rachel died and was buried giving birth to Benjamin, the last of the twelve sons of Jacob. It was here that the Moabitess, Ruth, met Boaz, the son of Salmon and Rahab, the prostitute, who was instrumental in the destruction of Jericho. In both of these circumstances by grafting two non-Jewish women into the covenant of his people, God was indicating that the gospel extended to all peoples. It was here in Bethlehem that a descendant of Boaz and Ruth’s marriage, David, Israel’s greatest king (c.1000 BC), called home. And of course, Bethlehem was to serve as the entry place on planet Earth for the humble arrival of the King of kings, Jesus Christ. Micah, the prophet, lived around 725 BC, during the exile. At that time Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, was a prominent leader bringing the exiles back to Jerusalem. He was the focus of Israel’s hope for deliverance, but he mysteriously disappeared. On a deeper level, the greatest Israelite King yet to come will be highly honored around the world and bring ultimate peace. This pericope is another example of the wonder of Scripture as the various intricacies span well over 1000 years, yet are precise in detail. At the time the ordinary everyday events were occurring in such a humble place, I wonder if the players fully grasped the significance of the part they were playing in God’s grandest design. I wonder if we grasp the full significance. You see, the last verses of this passage have yet to be fulfilled, as today, we await the return of the Prince of Peace, the Bread of Life, the kingly son of Bethlehem.