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. (Psalm 80:1–7 NLT)
I’ve always loved the Advent season. The sense of eager anticipation of what is to come has always compelled me to excitement. For me, the process of waiting and preparing for something is almost as good as the actual event. Of course, our Advent waiting and anticipation is accompanied by the nostalgic comfort of beloved traditions and festivities. Lights and trees, carefully decorated sugar cookies, fancy wrapping paper, and the smell of scotch tape. Toddlers fumbling around in church Christmas plays while proud parents look on. Sipping hot cocoa from festive mugs. I soak those things in each year and call it the “Christmas Spirit.”
In contrast, in our text from Psalm 80, the anticipation of goodness was a desperate hope, and the festivities we enjoy during this particular waiting season are nowhere to be found. The psalmist is asking God for salvation and restoration from the current troubles and challenges faced by the nation of Israel. As our passage begins, we’re offered the imagery of God as the “Shepherd of Israel” in a plea for respite from God’s displeasure and from their enemies.
If we’re being honest and we remove the festivities from our current cultural moment, in this season of Advent, is the despair expressed by the psalmist that far removed from our own reality? The oppressive feeling that all is wrong and the longing for God to come and shepherd us through these difficulties feels familiar and internal.
The word Advent means “arrival.” It’s sort of a new year or new beginning for people of faith. But there’s a unique tension we live in here as people of God. Author and poet Michelle Blake describes this tension like this: “One of the essential paradoxes of Advent: that while we wait for God, we are with God all along, that while we need to be reassured of God’s arrival, or the arrival of our homecoming, we are already at home. While we wait, we have to trust, to have faith, but it is God’s grace that gives us that faith. As with all spiritual knowledge, two things are true, and equally true, at once. The mind can’t grasp paradox; it is the knowledge of the soul.”
Some of us have become experts in doubt as self-preservation because expecting good things is risky. We’ve just witnessed too much, experienced too much. The privilege we share in the hopeful anticipation of the Christ child is that we know the story from beginning to end.
But even when we’re not sure how our story of wait will end, there is relief when we remember the beauty of the incarnation and the way God offers grace on grace is not contingent on our ability to feel and appreciate it.
In the town of David, a child is born, and he will be called Immanuel—God with us.
He’s the God with us.
He is with us.
It isn’t just a story. It’s real. It’s true – the kingdoms and crowns, the stables and the angels. Christmas is real and living and breathing, and He is here with us. So often, we’re longing for something we already have—an invisible God accessible to humble humans.
Sarah Sciarini is the director of communications for First Baptist Church in Lodi, California, and NorCal NAB. She is also a part of EYELET working to elevate the voices of younger leaders in the NAB.