Good morning and welcome to Christ Lutheran Church as we begin this season of Advent. And welcome if you’re listening on the radio.
As Pastor John mentioned last week, these weeks before December 25 are not Christmas, despite what the world around us may think. But you can’t properly celebrate what you’re not prepared for!
Physically, we need time to prepare for Christmas---gifts, decorations, and please don’t forget cookies! But by far the most important preparations are the spiritual ones that will allow us to celebrate Christ’s birth with joy---instead of relief that it’s over! The church has set aside these 4 weeks before Christmas and called them “Advent”--- a word that means “coming”---preparing for the coming of Christ. It may be like swimming upstream as we try to avoid the Christmas frenzy. But we need time to prepare our hearts and minds to focus on what the celebration is all about and who it is that we are waiting for.
So our sermon series for these 4 Sundays of Advent is entitled---“I Will Wait for You!”, and we will be looking at some of the psalms in the Bible that express the expectation and the hope and the waiting that are so much a part of the Christian life. We wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is God coming in person into human life. We wait for the new ways that the Lord will come to you and me in our daily lives. And we wait for the promised return of Jesus when God will complete his kingdom and make all things new.
“I Will Wait for You” is the title of the song that we sang at the beginning of our worship. It’s based on Psalm 130 which is one of our readings for today. The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 poems that express the full range of human dilemmas and emotions. They are expressions of lament, sorrow, grief---and also expressions of praise and thanks to God. Psalm 130 is a great example of all of those.
Psalm 130:1-2 “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.”
“Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord”---most Bible translations put it that way. But there are some others that are helpful in getting the full meaning. The CEV reads---“ From a sea of troubles I call out to you, LORD .” The Message says “Help, GOD—the bottom has fallen out of my life!”
We can’t tell yet what kind of trouble the psalm writer is talking about---whether it’s self-induced or coming from some other source. But it’s not just stepping in a puddle---it’s sinking in the depths.
I’ve never been close to drowning in a lake or ocean, but I know about sinking into the depths---of mud. When I was a kid, there was a new house being built in our neighborhood. And when the builders went home at the end of the day, my friend and I liked to explore the building.
One day after a lot of rain, we were walking around the outside of the foundation and I started sinking in the mud. Very quickly I was up over my boots, and the more I struggled the deeper I went. There didn’t seem to be any bottom and soon I was sunk almost to my waist.
My friend ran to get help and I tried not to panic. Thankfully there was a man nearby and he came with another and after a lot of pulling, they got me out. But my boots and socks were still sunk deep. Later they brought my boots over to my house but as far as I know my socks are still in that foundation!
It’s a terrible feeling to be sinking deep whether it’s in the mud or a lake or in the midst of major troubles.
“Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord”---the good thing is that the psalmist recognizes the danger. In verses 3 and 4 we’ll see that the trouble is his own sin. How often do we refuse to admit that we’ve caused ourselves a mess of trouble and we’re sinking deeper. The first step is to admit that fact!
He knows he’s in trouble and he can’t get up on his own. And so he makes the good decision to cry to the Lord for help. The lesson here is that sooner or later, we are all in the depths. And the sooner we cry out to the Lord, the better.
John Newton the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace, was a godless slave trader who before he knew Christ, fell into the depths of the ocean, literally, and almost drowned. He later called his life story “Out of the Depths”.
When we’re sinking, we can always call to the Lord for help, and we can be confident that he will hear our cry.
The psalm continues----
Psalm 130:3-4 “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.”
The writer of Psalm 130 was sinking in the depths of his sin, but he finds hope in the fact that with the Lord there is forgiveness. But the first thing is to be clear about the need for forgiveness. When we’re sinking in the mud, we’re more likely to see that. But when things are going pretty well, we humans are prone to pat ourselves on the back, look at the worst example we can find, maybe someone like the synagogue shooter and think---"I don’t need much forgiveness. I’m not like those other people.”
But what happens if we don’t compare ourselves to the worst in the barrel, but instead compare ourselves to the best---to Jesus himself? How do we look then? Is our sin a little clearer in that contrast?
“If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”--------Not me!! You can each decide for yourself. But the beauty of faith in Christ is that we can honestly look at ourselves, see the reality of our sin, and still not lose hope.
“If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.”
One little word---BUT---yet it has big consequences. There is always forgiveness with the Lord, no matter how deep we have sunk. And that forgiveness changes how we feel toward God.
The NIV translation reads, “therefore you are feared”. Other translations say---therefore we should stand in awe of you---we should revere you---we should worship you.
We’re talking about the God who made the heavens and the earth, who is perfectly holy and who knows everything about us. There’s definitely an element of fear there. But awe and reverence and worship are also part of it, as we realize our need for forgiveness and the Lord’s willing offer of that forgiveness.
And then the psalm writer uses the image of a watchmen standing on the walls of a city during the night watch.
Psalm 130:5-6 “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”
What is the psalmist waiting for? He’s already said he knows God’s forgiveness. But he has been sinking to the depths and feeling separated from the Lord. Now he is waiting for that closeness to be restored. He is waiting for renewed experience of God’s presence.
Have you ever had to wait through the night for something? Waiting and hoping for good news? It’s especially hard doing that in the dark, like a watchman looking out for the enemy. You want morning to come, so you can be relieved of the watch, or at least have some light as you keep waiting. Waiting---most of us hate that word. We are dreadfully poor at waiting.
I know a missionary who served in Senegal, West Africa and he says that the people there are very good at waiting. They have to wait so much more than we do---for food, for transportation, for doctors, for work. In their society, patience is one of the primary virtues.
On that basis, you and I are not very virtuous. Which is why we need the season of Advent to teach us to wait. That missionary, Viking Dietrich, writes---“patience transforms these periods (of waiting) into moments of self-awareness and awareness of others. During the Advent season, through our faith in the coming of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, God empowers us to wait patiently and allows us an occasion to examine our understanding of ourselves and of our relationship with Him.”
And when we use that time of waiting well----hope grows.
“My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” The good thing about being in the dark waiting for the morning is that we know the morning will come. It always does. And it brings the hope of a new day.
The psalm concludes---
Psalm 130:7-8 “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”
When you’ve been sinking in the depths and then experience the saving forgiveness of the Lord, you want others to know the good news! ----- “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”
Redemption is a word that comes from the slave markets of the ancient Middle East. A slave was set free by someone paying the price. On their own, they had no hope. They couldn’t free themselves. But someone could redeem them. And that’s exactly the hope we have in Advent. That Jesus Christ has come to redeem us and set us free. We no longer need to be slaves to sin. Just as the Lord set the people of Israel free from slavery in Egypt, he sets us free from sin.
That was the good news the father of John the Baptist sang about in Luke 1---
Luke 1:68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.”
And that redemption is always being paid toward our account. But when we are in the depths we can lose sight of what is always there in the heights.
Has anybody noticed that it gets a little cloudy this time of year? It’s especially tough when you go for days straight with the clouds low or down to the ground. But is the sun gone? Of course not.
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s reassuring even when you only get a little patch of blue sky to remind you what’s up there. The clouds cover up the sun but they can never destroy it.
“O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” We can lose sight of the Lord when we are sinking deep, but the SON (S-O-N) is always there to save us.
What is our hope about? It is ultimately the hope of heaven.
CS Lewis wrote---"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
When we live our lives as the heaven bound people we are created to be, life on earth will be at its best!
No matter deep we may be sinking, we have hope in the heights of heaven. And when our aim is heaven, things on earth are filled with hope.
Verse 3 of our opening song today goes like this---
“So put your hope in God alone.
Take courage in His power to save.
Completely and forever won.
By Christ emerging from the grave”.