Friday, December 17

Reader: “Turn us again to yourself, O God.”

Response: “Make your face shine down upon us.”

Scripture: Psalm 80:1-7

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,

    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.

O God, enthroned above the cherubim,

    display your radiant glory

    to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.

Show us your mighty power.

    Come to rescue us!

Turn us again to yourself, O God.

    Make your face shine down upon us.

    Only then will we be saved.

O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies,

    how long will you be angry with our prayers?

You have fed us with sorrow

    and made us drink tears by the bucketful.

You have made us the scorn of neighboring nations.

    Our enemies treat us as a joke.

Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies.

    Make your face shine down upon us.

    Only then will we be saved.

Some thoughts:

Eight days from now we’ll be celebrating the Nativity of our Lord. While there is great joyfulness in seeing the various depictions of the manger scene, it behooves us to also connect this infant to the reason why this baby is in the manger. Paul put this reason so very clearly: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.” (II Cor. 5:19) 

Israel had gone off the rails in a major way. This psalm of lament may be related to the fall of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) in 722 BC. Ephraim and Manasseh were tribes in Israel and Benjamin was in Judah (Southern Kingdom). In all cases God was often referred to as the Shepherd of Israel. This repentant prayer recalls the radiant glory of God’s presence and awe-inspiring power at Mt. Sinai. 

You may have noticed one sentence appears in the middle of the pericope and again at the end. Which way God faces his people is a kind of visual reminder of God’s approval or rejection. You may recall where Jeremiah says to a rebellious Israel, “Like an east wind I will scatter them before the enemy; I will show them my back and not my face in the day of their calamity.” (Jer. 18:17) Most of the time the phrase is used it refers to Israel turning their backs to the Lord. In this case, God has turned his back on his children.

In a similar manner, “turning one’s face toward” confers blessing, approval, affirmation. So here we have the people pleading for God to turn them again to himself and to make his face shine toward them again and receive his blessing. (Undoubtedly, the Aaronic blessing comes to mind. “Now may the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you . . .” (Num. 6:24-26). The radiance and shining are evidence of God’s manifest presence. The Transfiguration would be another example. The theme of this portion of the psalm is for reconciliation with God.) 

People who have experienced closeness to God, are distressed when that relationship is made more distant because of their sinful actions. Sinning always creates distance from God. Remember David’s words in Psalm 51? “Be not far from me, O God. Take not your Holy Spirit from me.” When a person, a people, a nation turn their backs on God, his face does not shine on them. Why then should we be surprised in our day of not experiencing God’s blessing? With the psalmist let us all pray for ourselves, our leaders, our nation, our world, “Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved.” And then the mission of the baby in the manger will be fulfilled. 

Music: “On This Day Earth Shall Ring”  URC Psalmody    

“Ideo, gloria in excelsis Deo” is Latin for “Therefore, glory to God in the highest.”

Bonus: “On This Day Earth Shall Ring”    King’s College Cambridge    (Vigorous director!)

Prayer:Almighty God, in this hour of quiet I seek communion with Thee. From the fret and fever of the day’s business, from the world’s discordant noises, from the praise and blame of men, from the confused thoughts and vain imaginations of my own heart, I would now turn aside and seek the quietness of Thy presence. All too often I have toiled and striven; but now, in the stillness of heart and in the clear light of Thine eternity, I would ponder the pattern my life has been weaving. May there fall upon me now, O God, a great sense of Thy power and Thy glory, so that I may see all earthly things in their true measure. Let me not be ignorant of this great thing, that one day is with Thee as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. To Thee, O God, be glory forever. Amen.        ―from A Diary of Private Prayer, p.27