My sermon for the First Sunday of Advent was on Psalm 25:1-9. Below is a portion of that sermon.
What I want you to notice about this particular song, Psalm 25, is that the poet is making a kind of Christmas wish-list for God. Except what the writer needs is something more than a new tablet or sweater. The poet expresses her need for deliverance, and for guidance and for forgiveness. The poet asks God to have a selective memory: to remember God’s own mercy and steadfast love but to forget the poet’s youthful indiscretions.
The song begins with these words:
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you;
Let that one line wash gently over you: To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you. Perhaps we can take those words with us in the week ahead and even try to learn them by heart. Not just memorize them in your head, but learn them by heart. Pray these words like a mantra to take with you on your commute or to the gym or to the mall or when you do yoga or if life is feeling overwhelming.
Life can drag us down and make us weary. Sometimes the turkeys can get us down. But in the midst of difficult circumstances, the poet looks to God. The poet looks to be lifted up—to be raised up—not just on the last day at the resurrection, but raised up in the midst of life, raised up to be able to see beyond the immediate, raised up beyond despair to hope.
In Israelite culture, to lift up one’s empty hands was to expose oneself as vulnerable, but also as open. The poet comes to God in this posture. He comes before God to put his whole trust there. We come to worship, I think, for the same reasons—fifty-two weeks a year, but maybe especially on these four Sundays when it’s easy to lose our way. We come here to “let go and let God”—which is not about being passive, but about acknowledging our own limitations. Our trust (if it is rightly placed) is in God alone, the maker of the heavens and the earth. To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul, my God, I put my trust in you.
Advent begins for us when we let that wisdom sink in deeply. And maybe we need to keep it that simple. Advent is about repentance for sure: about turning back to God. But this poet remembers clearly who it is we are turning to: the God who created us, the God who is compassionate and merciful and forgiving—the God who loves us to death. Literally, loves us to death: the God who goes the distance, even to death on a cross, with outstretched arms of love.
I think the poet reminds God to be God because when we remember that God is God we are also reminded that the job is taken, and we don’t have to be. We can and should be more compassionate and more merciful as God’s faithful people: it is how we are called to treat one another. But before we can get there we need to allow the truth to wash over us that God’s mercy and steadfast love extend even to us, unworthy as we may sometimes feel.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you. May we carry these words with us, into the world that God so loves, the world into which the child is born.