Advent: Hope

“Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee; let me not be ashamed, let not my enemies triumph over me.” – Psalms 25:1-2 (KJV)

I was a nine-year-old child at church camp when I first heard those words, which we sang. The song has a catchy melody, responsive harmonies, but most importantly, the song was about trusting God. That I could understand. Or at least I understood as much as any nine-year-old kid can understand such a concept, which was more than I could say for some of the songs we sang at church (Beulah Land, Bringing in the Sheaves, etc.). 

As children, it’s easy to talk about trusting God because, for the most part, little happens that will ever test that trust. But we can’t remain children forever and somewhere along the line we have to answer the question of faith for ourselves. Can we really say, “O my God, in you I trust…”?

When I think of trust, I think about getting on an airplane to fly somewhere. I board the airplane with a trust that the pilots will fly me safely to my destination because I know they’ve gone to school, received certified training, passed all their required certifications, and have safely flown many flights before. But with God, trust is different. We don’t get to send God to any school or make him acquire any board certification. So it takes a different kind of faith to really live a life that says, “O my God, in you I trust…”

We’re taught to trust God because God loves us. The Psalm says, “Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.”But there isn’t any test for us to see if God is capable of or willing to love, there’s just the memory of God’s past — his deeds that have “been from of old.” The Psalm invites us to ask what has God done to show that he can be trusted.

That’s a question worth pondering because the memory of God’s past isn’t the only memory on the mind of David as he writes this Psalm. Like many of us, David’s memory can neither forget the sins of his youth nor his transgressions. For David, these transgressions involved adultery as well as sexual abuse (the power differential that he as the King had over Bathseba makes his affair a form of sexual abuse) and murder. For us, hopefully, our transgressions are not that horrendous but nevertheless, whatever they are, they are just as offensive because of the harm they did. 

David, however, knows of God’s “steadfast love,” which is mentioned three times in this Psalm. It’s my favorite Hebrew word ḥeseḏ because it describes the fundamental character of who God is. It describes God as being full of “steadfast love” or we could say “abounding love,” “never-ending love”, and even “faithful love.” Such steadfast love is what moves God to send his Son, Jesus Christ into this world, born in the weakness of a baby because God wants to share in our weakness. And it’s this love of God that is threaded right through the crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. It is an act that promises nothing, which includes our sins and transgressions, that can separate us from the love of God (cf. Rom 8:38-39).

So this past Sunday was the beginning of Advent, a season of anticipation as we rehearse the story of Advent — the coming of Christ. The theme for this past Sunday was hope, which we cannot see. It is the current of hope that runs through Psalm 25 when we read as Christians during this season of Advent. We anticipate seeing the goodness of God in the coming of Christ, a baby who is “Born that man no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth” as we sing in the hymn Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

There are a lot of questions to life that I either don’t have an answer for or that I have answered with a question mark to follow. Just for starters, why do children die? I’ve been asking that question for twenty years and don’t have any idea. And as most of you know, I was reminded of this question earlier this year as I presided over the memorial service for a thirteen-year-old boy who took his own life. So my question isn’t just a philosophical issue disembodied from real life. And there are other questions that I still wrestle with, questions about salvation, gender issues, and other questions that I know I’m not the only one asking. 

But this I do believe: God sent his Son, Jesus Christ into this world… That Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Hope!

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