Good morning and welcome to Christ Lutheran Church. And welcome to those listening on the radio. We’re glad you’re with us in this time of waiting we call Advent.
We began Advent this year on December 2 and we’ve been talking about the importance of waiting, even though none of us like it. The good news is that our waiting for Christmas is nearly over---except that may be bad news if you’re not quite ready.
But the other news is that we still need to work on our waiting skills because there is a lot more waiting to come. We’re always waiting for something in life, and if we can learn to wait efficiently, creatively, we’ll be much better off.
We’ve been looking at the Psalms in the Bible these last few weeks and especially the ones that focus on waiting with expectation and hope.
Today we’re looking at Psalm 72. It is entitled a psalm of Solomon. His father David wrote many of the psalms. Solomon only a couple. But you may know of Solomon’s reputation for wisdom.
1 Kings 3:5, 7, 9 “At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” ….“Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties….So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”
Solomon was probably only 18 or 20 when he became king. But he got off to a great start in recognizing his need for God’s help. That showed a lot of humility for someone who had grown up in the palace of his father King David.
And Psalm 72 begins on a similar note from Solomon---
Psalm 72:1-4 “Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor.”
Solomon is humbly praying that he will rule with justice and righteousness and care for the needy and afflicted. He’s off to a good start as king. He did well for a while.
1 Kings 4:29-30, 34 “ God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore….. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.”
Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem as the Lord directed him. He expanded the boundaries of Israel to their greatest extent. Solomon’s power and wealth grew immensely.
In that culture, kings often cemented their relationship with surrounding kings by marrying their daughters. And as you might guess, that polygamy was a big part of Solomon’s downfall. Because those wives brought with them their own false gods and in time, Solomon tried to worship the Lord and these false gods.
1 Kings 11:4-6 “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD”
Pretending like you can worship the Lord and whatever other gods you like, didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. Solomon’s kingship, that began with such hope, ended with Israel on a downward spiral that led to the kingdom splitting in two, ultimately being conquered by foreign nations, having the temple destroyed and many of the people sent into exile.
Hope faded for Solomon and Israel because they went from a life based on the way of the Lord, to life based on the ways of the world.
Now that doesn’t imply a direct correlation between following the Lord and everything going just the way you want it to or not following the Lord and everything immediately falling apart. You may remember that Jesus asked---
Luke 13:4-5 “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
We want immediate results---it’s our problem with waiting. Following the Lord’s way doesn’t instantly make things go right. And following the world’s way doesn’t always instantly make things fall apart. In fact, living for all the earthly stuff can seem to work for a while---often long enough to fool us into thinking it is THE way.
Solomon started well but for all his wisdom, he fell victim to the wiles of the world and his rule as king ended poorly---and not only for him but for generations to come. Generations of despair.
John Stonestreet reports that for the 3rd year in a row, according to a November report from the Center for Disease Control, American life expectancy dropped.
The last time that happened was during the flu epidemic of the early 1900’s when 675,000 American died.
But the main problem this time is not disease, but suicide and drug overdoses, symptoms of despair. Centuries ago Thomas Aquinas described despair as “due to a man’s failure to hope that he will share in the goodness of God.”
Stonestreet writes that we suffer from despair when we put our hope in sex, stuff and self, instead of the one who is the source of all the things beneficial for life.
And even if the self you have is pretty strong and faithful, even if “Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom”, we can’t ignore the reality of sin that affects every king, every leader, every one of us. Every one of us is supremely capable of starting off well, just like Solomon, and then derailing just like Solomon.
And whether we try to depend on ourselves, any human leader, our 401K or the stuff we pile up, it will lead to despair if we put those ahead of our Lord.
Theologian Douglas John Hall refers to Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche as the great mis-evangelists
of the 19th century. And evangelist brings good news. A mis-evangelist is full of bad news. Each of those 3offered various theories of the hopelessness of life. And because they all discounted God as real and true, the only hope could come from people---and these 3 all knew the failings of people too well, and so in their views there was no hope in life. Followers of those mis-evangelists continue to live lives of despair.
We all are disappointed, sometimes devastated by the actions of the people in our lives. The bad news crew says that’s reason to give up on life. But our Christian faith deals with the failings of people, like you and me, head-on. The Bible teaches that sin is real, we’ve all got it, but God has provided the answer in Jesus, whose birth we’re waiting to celebrate.
The bad news crew says if you or someone you love fails, that’s it. But God came and still comes into human life to teach us that sin and failure don’t have to be the end. He offers forgiveness and new life in Christ. No matter how far we’ve fallen.
Armen Gesswein puts it this way---“When God is about to do something great he starts with a difficulty-when he is about to do something truly magnificent he starts with an impossibility”
But’s let’s get back to Psalm 72. Remember that the Lord works through imperfect humans like you and me and Solomon. What Solomon prayed for in Psalm 72, came to be for a while and in limited ways. But that doesn’t mean his prayer wasn’t answered. Because inspired by the Holy Spirit, Solomon wrote things about the Messiah, the King, infinitely greater than Solomon, that Solomon only understood in limited ways.
There are layers of meaning here with some of it applying to Solomon, but in incomplete ways, but then reaching completeness in the King of Kings, first in Jesus’ earthly ministry, and then fully when he comes again to finish God’s kingdom.
Psalm 72:5-7 “He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more.”
Solomon knew he himself wouldn’t endure as long as the sun. He writes about the Messiah, the Christ---
Psalm 72:8, 11 “He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth…..All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.
And this King will be concerned for all people---
Psalm 72:12-14 “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.”
Human kings and leaders can do some of that. Some are very good at that, but some are not. That is not reason to lose hope. Because Christ our King is always working to care for those in need. Sometimes he does it directly, sometimes he works through people like us. But when humans make a mess of things as always happens, the work of the Lord doesn’t stop, he keeps going. Hope in people has its limits. Even the best of people are not long for this earth.
But the Lord and his love endure forever---
Psalm 72:17 “May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.”
And Psalm 72 ends with a doxology, words of praise, for the King of kings---
Psalm 72:18-19 “Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen.”
Remember that when our hope in life is based on people or self or stuff, that sooner or later, our hope will crash. But if our hope is based on Jesus, it will last forever. As we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth, it is tremendously reassuring to know that if Christ could born in a rundown, messy stable there is certainly hope for him to be born in you and me.