An Advent Lament: Psalm 80

Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil

Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil

The Lord is our Shepherd.
God guides his people with tender loving care.
The Lord is the blazing King of Glory,
    the Light of the universe.

So, Lord, shed a little light on us.
God, I gotta be blunt:
    from down here, it feels like you’re asleep up there.
Is that a golden throne or a LazyBoy?
I know you like to wait till the last minute,
    but maybe you hit snooze one too many times.
Wake up already!

We’re dying down here.
Our kids get sick.
Our moms get cancer.
Our sisters get divorced.
Our neighbors are on drugs.
Our spouses cheat.
Our backs hurt.
Our cars break down again and again and again.
Our jobs blow up in our faces.
We might lose our house or our car or our mind.
    Where in the world are you, God?
    I thought you were supposed to help with all this!
    What good are our prayers
        if you don’t answer?
    What good are believing and singing and giving and serving
        if it doesn’t give us a little protection?
    What good is loving you
        if you don’t love us back in ways that make any sense?
    What good are you
        if we can’t feel any good from you?

Oh, God, restore us!
    Come back to us.
    Make things right again.
    Make us right again.
    Smile on us again.
    You are our only hope.
    Only your grace-filled smile can save us now.

Oh God, the truth is - we are pouty toddlers, petulant teenagers.
We hide from you
    and then ask why we can’t see you.
We run from you
    and then wonder why you seem so far away.
We turn up the volume
    and then complain that we can’t hear you.
We disobey your clear instructions
    and then wonder why you didn’t give us better advice.
We block out your Light
    and then curse when we trip in the dark.
We are fools,
    fools hungry for you,
    fools thirsty for you,
    fools stuffing our faces with everything but you,
    fools drunk on every spirit but Yours.

We ask for dramatic miracles,
We want you to do big stuff, shock and awe.
    So we mostly miss your quiet miracles.
    We mostly miss your little stuff, whisper and wonder.
We want you to break through heaven and earth,
    So we never imagine that you might crack rocks and sky
        through a tree and fifty years.

We want you to shout out answers to our prayers with lightening and thunder.
    How is it that your answer comes in a warm smile?
We want you to save us with money and power.
    How is it that your salvation comes with suffering love and healing peace?
We want a success we can measure and weigh and stack up against others.
    How is it that your faithfulness leads us down paths we can barely see
        and produces fruit we don’t understand?

Oh, God, restore us!
    Come back to us.
    Make things right again.
    Make us right again.
    Smile on us again.
    You are our only hope.
    Only your grace-filled smile can save us now.

You chose us, God, out of the darkness and mess of our lives.
    You picked us up out of the dump
    And replanted us in fresh, healthy soil.
    We thrived in your tender care.
    We grew in your grace and glory.
    We got bigger and stronger.
    You did good things through us, and we were so proud.
But somehow we lost the plot.
    We lost touch.
    We let our defenses down.
    And the devil crept in.
        Termites ate away at our foundation.
        Bugs got in our flour.
        Thieves stole all the stuff we treasured most.
        Our lives fell apart like Humpty Dumpty,
        And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men
            couldn’t put us back together again.
        We did things we said we’d never do.
        We said things we said we’d never say.
        We became people we said we’d never be.

Oh, God, restore us!
    Come back to us.
    Make things right again.
    Make us right again.
    Smile on us again.
    You are our only hope.
    Only your grace-filled smile can save us now.


Oh God, we know the answer is Jesus; it’s always Jesus.
    But honestly, God, sometimes Jesus just doesn’t feel like enough.
    Jesus is too long ago.
    Jesus is too far away.
    Jesus’ first and second coming are mysteries that blend into myth for us.
    We need Jesus in the flesh and blood
        - something more than bread and cup,
        - something more than a hug in the greeting time,
        - something more than his distressing disguise in the poor.
    We know you answer all our prayers
        in the redeeming and resurrecting Messiah
        but his redemption and resurrection are so hard to trust sometimes.
    It all feels so intangible, like fog in the night, like stars in the sky.
    People tell us those little lights are gigantic balls of flaming gas,
        but they still barely twinkle in the night.
    People tell us Jesus fulfills all our hopes and longings,
        but we still barely feel the hint of his breath
            even when we pray our hardest,
            and often we’re not even really sure of that.

Why, O God, do we have to pray like this just as Christmas approaches?
Why, of all times in the year, can’t we just be happy now?
Why can’t we sing happy songs and say happy things and be happy people?
Why, even now, do we have to remember our world that is falling to pieces?
Why do we have to remember
    bombs dropped on Aleppo
    and refugees holding their babies and floating across oceans in life rafts
    and pollution in our rivers
    and injustice in our streets
    and kids lonely in our schools
    and overdoses in our town?
Why hasn’t Christmas brought peace on earth like you promised?
    If Jesus is the Prince of Peace,
        where is the peace?
    If Jesus is really “good news for all humanity,”
        why is the daily news so bad?

Oh, God, restore us!
    Come back to us.
    Make things right again.
    Make us right again.
    Smile on us again.
    You are our only hope.
    Only your grace-filled smile can save us now.

Hold us by the hand, Jesus.
    Lead us into this adventure of life in your way.
    We’re scared out of our minds to follow where you lead.
    But we know that staying where we are is certain death for us
        and our world around us.
    Really, there’s death before us and death behind us.
        If we stay here, we live in dead ways,
            and life never goes anywhere.
        If we go with you, you take us through the cross and the grave,
            that dark place of dying to ourselves,
                dying to our sins,
                dying to our ambitions,
                dying to all hopes of secure identity in ourselves.
        But you’ll hold our hands through all that, if we’ll keep holding on,
        And you'll take us through to resurrection,
            to that bright place of surrender and victory,
                hope and glory
                love and peace
                joy and patience.
    
Jesus, you lead us on a mountain path into the fog,
    And we can’t see if the trail goes up or down, left or right.
So hold our hands and make sure we see your smile.
    If we see your smile, we can keep walking.
    If we see your smile, and look long enough into your loving face,
        Then, we can smile as we walk into that great unknown.
    If we see your smile,
        Then, we can love the unloving.
    If we see your smile,
        Then, we can be brave even when we’re afraid.
    If we see your smile,
        Then we can believe even as we doubt.
    If we see your smile,
        Then we can smile at others like you smile at us.

Oh, God, restore us!
    Come back to us.
    Make things right again.
    Make us right again.
    Smile on us again.
    You are our only hope.
    Only your grace-filled smile can save us now.