First Sunday of Advent

Restore Us, O God – Hope, Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19, Nov. 27, 2011

(A brief history: Variations of Advent Candles used: purple (w/ or w/o 1 pink)—most common. Some churches use blue instead of purple; in Germany as a child we used red candles. Most churches include a fifth candle, white.)

Each week of Advent corresponds to the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy (pink candle), and Love. The white candle is lit on Christmas Eve for Christ the Light of the world.

God's timeless message is that Hope is born anew.

The next four weeks will be an Advent Series Based on the Psalm Readings and Linked to the Four Candles of the Advent Wreath. Restore Us, O God. This theme that speaks to the spiritual hunger within all of us -- that of having once known a very precious truth that has somehow slipped from our grasp. Restore Us, O God.

Advent 1, November 27: Restoration of Hope, Ps. 80
Advent 2, December 4: Restoration of Peace, Ps. 85
Advent 3, December 11: Restoration of Joy, Ps. 126
Advent 4: December 18: Restoration of Love, Ps. 89

Key verses from Psalm 80:

7 Restore us, O God Almighty;
make your face shine upon us,
that we may be saved.

7 Restore us, O God Almighty;
make your face shine upon us,
that we may be saved.

19 Restore us, O LORD God Almighty;
make your face shine upon us,
that we may be saved.

SERMON: People are talking or communicating with each other more frequently than at any other time in human history. Back in the day, if you wanted to talk to someone you might pick up the phone, write a letter, record a message on a little a cassette and mail that, or actually go visit someone and chat face-to-face. Parlors were invented for just that.

Today, less and less people use these methods to contact someone. We talk on the mobile phone, but many prefer to text. We'll visit in homes with friends, but drop-in visits are a thing of another era.

This is not a bad thing necessarily. Take a look at people in a public place. Chances are at least 50 percent or more of those people have some kind of phone in their hands, and they're texting, showing someone photos, reading e-mails or listening to music.

To the dismay of office workers and professionals everywhere, it's increasingly difficult to unplug and disconnect from constant, ongoing communication. The concept of downtime and private vs. work time seems to be diminishing.

The concept of “face” time has taken on a whole new meaning, particularly with the advent of Skype and other computer-enabled visual technologies. "Face time" no longer means sitting down, face-to-face, looking into the eyes of another human being, and using your senses to pick up on the nuances of expression, pauses, tone and inflection. Any interaction is considered face time.

This may not be a bad thing, as we said. A pastor explained that when his wife was in Africa, they texted each other. It was less expensive than phone calls, and those brief encounters helped them to feel connected.

Thousands of expatriates around the world Skype almost every day with their families and are thrilled to see them on their laptop screens. Grandparents Skype with their grandchildren across the country and love staying connected in this way – none of this was possible a generation ago.

Even with the added benefits of instant communication, when was the last time you had a "heart-to-heart" talk where there was real give and take? Can you remember a conversation that was focused not on logistics or problem solving? When was the last time you had an exchange of feelings, emotions or deeply held beliefs with others?

People are hard-wired to be in community with one another; we yearn to be in the company of others. The irony of our modern, Cyber-connected world is that we're becoming physically insulated. Endless "conversations" can take place in the seclusion of one's home. In this society where the word "friend" has become a verb, too many people are feeling alone and isolated.

Our vocal expressions can reflect our emotions in a way that a computer screen cannot. When we are in conversation with one another, we can express a wide variety of meanings using the God-given gift of the human voice.

For example: The typewritten phrase "you are here" conveys only the factual statement of a person in a place. Yet that simple statement can hold a myriad of implications depending on how it is expressed vocally. Try saying it aloud -- "You're here." Experiment with the number of ways that you can change the meaning, depending on how it's said.

One can convey anything from excitement (You're here!) to amazement (you're here?) to disgust (you are here). How something is said can make a world of difference. That complex variety of possibilities can be lost in a text message. It doesn’t put it in context of a larger conversation.

Advent is about time spent with God.

If our "face time" with one another is dwindling, our time spent one on one with God is on the endangered list. Our busy world with endless to-do lists challenges the notion of the importance of quiet time with our Creator.

Advent announces that 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.

God begins the process with a message. There's the silent, distant memorandum of the star in the sky; it's not clearly understood by everyone and is open to misinterpretation (just ask Herod). Yet there it is: an open invitation to anyone who will receive it.

God does not stop there; God also sends messengers to deliver this urgent good news. Gabriel and company announce the upcoming birth and sing their alleluias for the shepherds and anyone else who will listen.

But messaging was not enough. God did not choose to communicate through a third person. God's desire was to deliver the Good News of mercy, love and hope in person. God chose face time in a way that would change the world. God spoke to the hearts of the people through Jesus, God's son.

Not only does God yearn to communicate deeply and intimately with God's people, God chooses the perfect way to slide into our lives. While anyone might reasonably be intimidated by the idea of approaching the omnipotent, omniscient Master of the Universe and speaking up, even the most fearful among us can be drawn into a conversation with a child.

Place a baby in meager circumstances -- like, for example, in a manger -- and even the hardest of hearts will begin to coo. Admire, worship, adore … a relationship is born.

We long for God's intervention … and 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 God; let your face shine, that we may be saved" (v. 3). This writer isn't asking for an instant message or a brief word of assurance.

This is a cry for a relationship, for deep, personal, raw interaction … for "face time" with God. God … shine your face on us … look on us with favor!

Just a sip of the cool waters of hope. Just a taste. And so the prayer is lifted up to God who wants to be seen, who yearns to be found by us.

God's desire to be discovered by His people is outlined in centuries of prophecies. God's presence and availability is announced by a star in the sky, angels singing God's glory, and heavenly messengers providing detailed directions to startled shepherds.

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 call of people who are surrounded by technology but are still lonely for meaningful communication.

It's the cry of people who may receive hundreds of texts every day but who still feel unheard. It is the yearning of the human heart which does not want simply to be told of love but needs to be transformed by love and hope for nothing less.

Eugene Peterson (Living the Message: Daily Help for Living the God-Centered Life) points out that what a lot of people call hope is in reality something different. It's wishing, not hoping. Wishing and hoping is not the same thing.

"Wishing," Peterson says, "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 that 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," he continues, "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, but live in anticipation of what God is going to do next."

The psalmist calls out "shine," and throughout the season of Advent, the Good News of 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 is an invitation to us to receive the gift of hope which is our salvation.

Hope is found in the shining face of God. "Let your face shine," pleads the psalmist. Look on us with favor. The question for us is -- where do we see and experience God's face shining today?

The good news is that the light does continue to shine in the darkness. We can be restored by God's grace. The darkness cannot overcome God's light. God's face will shine and reflect God's mercy and forgiveness to God’s people.

This is the promise of Advent -- that God's strength meets us in the midst of our weakness. There is no place too deep and no sin too big to separate us from the love of God. This is our hope: God w/us, Emmanuel: Jesus Christ.

The insistent message of Advent is that God is always with us. Don't allow Advent to be only about picture-perfect scenes or candle-lit windows. 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 through the centuries.

We need God who is our hope -- in person, tangible. GOD came here for a visit. Not a message, not a text, not an IM. GOD came down to Earth to Visit us in Person.

"Come to save us!" we cry out to God. And God does.

Defenseless as a baby, God reflects love and invites compassion.

And that is a message of hope. Amen.


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