Sermon Commentary for Sunday, November 29, 2015
Psalm 25:1-10 Commentary
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
How in the world can we preach or teach a Psalm on a Sunday when most of our listeners are already thinking about and mostly interested in getting ready for Christmas? If they’re thinking about anything Scriptural, many Christians are thinking about Matthew and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ conception and birth.
Those who preach and teach Psalm 25 might begin a presentation on it by asking listeners about what makes it an appropriate psalm during the season of Advent. It, after all, doesn’t speak of or even allude to the Messiah whose first coming we celebrate and whose return we anticipate in this season. Nor does Psalm 25 explicitly speak of the waiting that is such a vital component of the Advent season.
Yet the Lectionary sees Psalm 25 as an appropriate prayer for Advent’s season of “waiting” for Jesus Christ’s return. There is a sense in which the psalmist is waiting out the contempt of his enemies. Christians too may endure the contempt or mockery of people who wonder just for whom we’ve been waiting so long.
We await Jesus’ return in “hope” (3). Yet while others and even some of God’s children question whether such hope is misplaced, we believe the hope of Jesus’ return isn’t just wishful thinking. The hope of which the psalmist speaks and to which God’s children cling is based on the reliability of God’s promises to send Jesus Christ back to earth. So we wait in the sure knowledge that Jesus Christ will return, perhaps very soon.
In Psalm 25 the poet begs God to keep her faithful as she places her hope in the Lord. That’s also an appropriate prayer for those who hopefully wait for Jesus’ return. After all, any long wait may lead to faithlessness. This offers this psalm’s preachers and teachers an opportunity to reflect with hearers on the kinds of temptation that comes with lengthy waiting. Are there temptations that are unique to awaiting Jesus’ return?
As Jerome Creach points out, as Christians await Jesus’ return, we, like the psalmist, depend on God’s protection as well as guidance. Our long wait for that return may, after all, lead to indifference or, worse, disobedience. Only the Holy Spirit can keep us faithful to God’s ways, paths and truth as we wait through the long night.
Yet the psalmist suggests any kind of waiting is never passive. So those who wait for Christ to return don’t stand around figuratively with our hands in our pockets and eyes to the sky. We let the Spirit keep us attentive to God’s will for our lives. God’s adopted sons and daughters also actively pray for God’s leading and guiding. We also live penitential lives that confess our sometimes disobedient waiting.
For some waiting Christians, there’s an element of the kind of lament that Psalm 25:1-3 expresses. Some of us, like the psalmist, feel under duress from enemies or various circumstances that seem aligned against us. What’s more, as Howard Wallace notes, even if those who preach and teach Psalm 25 don’t feel that duress, we can certainly empathize with the misery other Christians must endure as they await Jesus’ return. One can scarcely engage with the popular media or track websites devoted to the persecution of Christians without seeing and hearing echoes of the pain the poet expresses especially at the beginning of this psalm.
On the first Sunday of Advent, the Lectionary links Psalm 25 to Jeremiah 33:14-16. There the prophet speaks of a “righteous Branch” (15) whose name will be “the Lord our righteousness” (16). This Branch, God promises through Jeremiah, will come to do what is “just and right” (15). This justice and righteousness is what the psalmist pleads with God to show her in verses 4 and following. On top of that, we believe that Christ’s return will bring with it that justice and righteousness.
The Lectionary also pairs Psalm 25 with I Thessalonians 3:9-13. There the apostle prays not just for God to make a way for him to visit the Thessalonians, but also for the Lord to strengthen the Thessalonians’ love as they await Jesus’ “visit.” The psalmist speaks of God’s ways and paths. In a similar way, Paul prays that God will keep the Thessalonians “holy and blameless … when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (13).
What’s more, the Lectionary links Psalm 25 to Luke 21:25-36. There Jesus describes the kind of trust with which God calls God’s people to await his return. However, he also alludes to the kind of threats to the kind of godliness for which the psalmist prays in our text. Jesus seems to think of “dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life” as particularly powerful temptations for those who await his return.
In his compelling book, Hope: A Tragedy, Shalom Auslander’s main character Solomon seeks help dealing with the near-death experience of his young son.
Solomon writes the opinion of his counselor, Professor Jove, was “that the greatest source of misery in the world, the greatest cause of anguish and hatred and sadness and death, was neither disease nor race nor religion. It was hope… ‘We are rational creatures,’ Professor Jove explained; ‘hope is irrational. We thus set ourselves up for one dispiriting fall after the next…
Hitler was the most unabashed doe-eyed optimist of the last hundred years … Have you ever heard of anything as outrageously hopeful as the Final Solution? Not just that there could be a solution — to anything, mind you, while we have yet to cure the common cold — but a final one, no less. Full of hope the Fuhrer was’.”
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