Today we begin the season of Advent, which celebrates the incarnation, Word-becomes-flesh of God.
Advent announces how God was not willing to have a distant, arms-length relationship with us—God’s beloved creatures formed in God’s image. Advent is all about God’s willingness— even insistence— to be vulnerable, accessible, reachable, and attainable. Advent breaks down the barriers between the created and the Creator.
And in it we find Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
Today, in these quite moments when we intentionally stop from our distractive busyness we focus on time spent with God in an intentional effort to find hope—because hope can change everything.
“Restore us O Lord of hosts; Let your face shine that we may be saved.” says the Psalmist.
It’s a great prayer isn’t it? One we might use as a refrain in our own personal prayers because who couldn’t use some restoring? Who couldn’t use the face of God shining on them? Who couldn’t use a bit of saving?
The Advent and Christmas season brings all of this to a closer possibility, perhaps more so than any other time.
As the dimness of the cold winter encapsulates our bodies and spirits, as we consider the state of our lives, and the lives around us and see the struggle, worry, and pain, we know we could use some restoring.
Which is why the Advent season motivates us to make intentional efforts we don’t typically do throughout the year. We send cards to dozens of people—which we don’t do any other time of the year. We search for the perfect gift, instead of just getting a gift card. We plan get-togethers we want to make special. We up our charity efforts. We even decorate the outside of our homes so strangers passing by get a glimpse of holiday cheer.
All of it, and more, is why we call this the most wonderful time of the year—because it is.
It’s when we more closely than ever feel the restoration of our Lord God, when the face of God shines most bright, and we know we are saved.
Advent becomes then, about time spent with God. It’s about preparing ourselves for what God plans to do for the world.
And believe it or not, Advent is meant to be a quiet time.
But as we know, the most wonderful time of the year is never very quiet. But for good reasons, right? All the reasons I mentioned a moment ago—our intentional efforts to connect with others—which is great. We are people built to be in touch, in community with one another after all.
But our busy world with endless to-do lists challenges the notion of the importance of quiet time with our Creator.
Which is why we need Advent, because Advent invites us to turn what can be a life-draining season upside down.
And we do that through the choices we make.
Psalm 80 lays bare our need for God’s intervention. The psalmist repeats the heartfelt need of God’s children throughout this prayerful song: “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
This writer isn’t asking for trappings of holiday décor because the audience at the time of its writing were people without hope. They fear being utterly consumed and lost. They feel alienated and alone. They need, after all, a word of hope and an act of assurance. Without hope, they are not only not delivered and saved; they’re doomed to utter despair.
Which is why this is a prayer, a cry, for a relationship, for personal interaction, for a deeper connection with God. And that’s what God gives them.
And when God does, they find, see, experience, and delight in the shining face of God—which gives hope.
But not only is this the prayer of people then, the prayer of the psalmist echoes the hopeful yearning of God’s people today.
“Let your face shine that we may be saved,” is the cry of people who are surrounded by technology that enables us to communicate around the world, but are still longing for meaningful connection.
“Let your face shine that we may be saved,” is the cry of people who receive hundreds of texts every day but who still feel unheard and unknown.
“Let your face shine that we may be saved,” is the yearning of the human heart which does not want simply to be told of hope and love but needs to experience hope and love.
The psalmist calls out “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved,” and throughout the season of Advent, the Good News of this hope is illuminated.
God’s face shines not only in the baby Jesus but also in the obedience of Mary, the willingness of Joseph, the amazement of the shepherds, and the faithfulness of the magi.
Advent then, is an invitation for us to choose the gift of hope, which when received, is our salvation.
So if hope is found in the shining face of God—“Let your face shine,” pleads the psalmist— the question for us at the beginning of Advent is: How do we see and experience God’s face shining today?
Well, how we see is done through the choices we make.
And writer Nathan Hamm can help us make a faithful choice when we hear him say…
“Whatever happened to hope?
It seems to be in short supply these days. Despair is a much easier response to the terrifying troubles we face.
Hope regularly gets dismissed as silly optimism or foolish naivety. Or hope gets disregarded in favor of action— any action, even senseless action.
But hope is neither optimism nor naivety. Hope is fierce, defiant, and tenacious. It has hard edges and a core of steel. And hope is always born of struggle.
Hope isn’t the opposite of action. It’s the origin of action. Hope is the fire that fuels any action worth taking. We don’t get to choose between hope or action. We need both.
Hope without action is delusion.
Action without hope is desperation.
When we lack hope, every day becomes another sad song in a chorus of despair. But hope is a bass note of joy. Hope inspires change, growth, possibility, and revolution.
Our troubles are real. The temptation to despair is ever-present. There are a million reasons not to hope. Hope anyway.”
When we chose to hope—even when there are a million reasons not to—we find, and see, and experience, and delight in…the shining face of God.
There is, however, something we must keep in mind for the vast, hope filled, power of Advent to fully impact us.
Eugene Peterson points out in his “Living the Message: Daily Help for Living the God-Centered Life”, that what a lot of people call hope is in reality something different. He says…
“Too often we mistake hope for our personal wishes, but wishing is not hoping. Wishing and hoping are not the same thing.”
“Wishing is something all of us do. It projects what we want or think we need into the future. Just because we wish for something good or holy we think it qualifies as hope. It does not. Wishing extends our egos into the future; hope grows out of our faith. Hope is oriented toward what God is doing; wishing is oriented toward what we are doing.” Peterson goes on to say “We can picture wishing as though it were a line coming out from us with an arrow on the end, pointing into the future, pointing toward that thing we most want to possess. Hope is just the opposite. It’s a line that comes from God out of the future, with its arrow pointing toward us.”
“Hope means being surprised, because we don’t know what is best for us or how our lives are going to be completed. To cultivate hope is to suppress wishing— to refuse to fantasize about what we want, and instead live in anticipation of what God is going to do next.”
And always, what God is going to do next is restore us, shine God’s face on us, and save us.
Today we begin the season of Advent, which celebrates the incarnation, Word-becomes-flesh of God. And the insistent message of Advent is— don’t settle for less than the full power of God Immanuel, God always with us.
Don’t allow Advent to be only about picture-perfect scenes or sickly-sweet, candle-lit windows and perfectly adorned trees.
Advent is about the desperate need for forgiveness and the restoration of hope via a loving relationship with God. Anything less than that doesn’t speak to the urgent, heartfelt cry of God’s people—they are simply wishes for the traditions and trappings of a holiday season.
Advent and Christmas are more than just holiday seasons.
Advent and Christmas is when we cry out, “Restore us O Lord of hosts; Let your face shine that we may be saved.” And God does. God restores. God shines. God saves.
And that is a message of hope.
So may we chose to do all the Christmas stuff—cards, shopping, decorations—it’s good and right, and helps makes the season the most wonderful time of the year.
But may we first and foremost choose to cry out to God, “Restore us O Lord of hosts; Let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
For by offering such a prayer, calling for God to restore us, letting God’s face shine on us, living in the blessed assurance that we are saved isn’t just wishful thinking…it is—even when there are a million reasons not to— choosing hope. Amen.