To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my soul or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
Happy New Year! As I mentioned last week, today is the beginning of our year as Christians. We have reset the calendar to rediscover the love of God in our lives and in this place. From now until Christmas Eve, we will have a sermon series on the gifts of God. This is particularly fitting considering the fact that Advent is usually a time when we fret about what we will be purchasing for everyone else. However, this Advent, we will be reflecting on what God has given us. Today we begin the sermon series with God’s gift of truth.
Make me to know you ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
One of God’s greatest gifts to us is truth. God provides for us a way and a path for Christian living and they all point to the truth. The psalmist confesses the beauty of this truth and pleads for God to maintain the truth in all times and in all places.
Advent is a wonderful and strange time for us Christians. In four short weeks we, as a church, are expected to make time and space to prepare our lives for God’s indwelling. All the while, many of us want to quickly break out the carols to accompany the dizzying whirl of parties and purchasing the usually precede Christmas. We want Christmas morning to be here so badly, that we forget about the anticipation of Advent.
True confession: My Christmas lights were up three weeks ago. We had a particularly balmy day and I decided that I might as well get outside and string up the lights, even if I was wearing shorts and a tee shirt. I have almost purchased all of my Christmas presents. I keep a notebook with me throughout the year and whenever Lindsey makes mention of something she likes, I make a note of it so that I will be prepared for Christmas. And even this morning, while I was praying in our sanctuary and on the front lawn, I caught sight of a particularly beautiful Christmas tree that I will probably bring home this afternoon.
I am impatient. I get so excited about a particular time and event that I often lose sight of the time leading up to it, precious time to be savored and enjoyed. But here’s a truth that God provides for us impatient people: the anticipation is just as important as the thing itself.
If couples went from engagement immediately to the wedding they would not have the important time of really learning what their in-laws are like.
If young people were given a driver’s license without having a learner’s permit for nine months there would be a tremendous amount of fender benders in Robert E. Lee’s parking lot.
If we jumped straight from Thanksgiving to Christmas morning then we would believe Christmas is more about gifts under the tree than God’s gift of Jesus for you and me.
The anticipation is just as important as the thing itself.
The psalm describes a profound trust in the Lord, a trust in the Lord’s paths, ways, and truths. God reminds us of these truths through different people and events, and when we confront them we can’t help but admit how true they really are.
The psalm also proclaims an important truth that we all need to hear right now: God is the God of our salvation.
In our contemporary culture, people often use the language of salvation when referring to politicians. President Roosevelt was considered by many to be a savior as was Kennedy and Reagan. Today we still look at our politicians with a messianic lens.
I was walking down Beverley street a few weeks ago when I overheard a couple in front of me discussing Donald Trump’s political astuteness. One of them said, “If only he was president, he would fix all the problems that the democrats started!” I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard what they had to say and I kept on walking. But then when I got in the car and started to drive back to church I heard someone call into NPR to claim that Hillary Clinton has the power to unite all people and will bring us, as in Americans, to the Promised Land. And then I got an email from someone who asked me to use the pulpit as a means by which to convey to all of you that Ben Carson was handpicked by God to bring about infinite prosperity and a return to Christendom here in the United States. And then someone sent me a picture that said, “We should elect Bernie Sanders as a socialist Jew, because we worship another socialist Jew every Sunday in church.”
In a matter of hours, I heard about how four different political candidates would bring about a peace and wholeness in America that sounds impossible. Politicians cannot save us. They can advocate for us, they can institute law that can help us, but they cannot save us. Donald Trump cannot save us. Hillary Clinton cannot save us. Ben Carson cannot save us. Bernie Sanders cannot save us. Only Jesus saves.
This is one of God’s truths: only God can save. Yet, we all fall to the temptation of believing that political leaders are like messiahs who should be the ultimate objects of our trust and allegiance. Just drive around Staunton for an hour and look at all the political bumper stickers and yard signs covered in red white and blue. Countless Americans will contribute untold sums of money to political campaigns, they will use their precious free time to attend rallies and knock on doors, and they will jump at the first chance to get into an argument with someone who has a difference in political opinion.
Can you imagine what our community would be like if we actually worshipped Jesus like we worship our politicians? Can you picture what Staunton would look like if we put crosses on our cars (letting everyone know what we are supposed to act like) instead of political bumper stickers? Can you imagine what it would be like if we put up mangers in our front yards letting everyone know we worship the kings of kings instead of political banners?
We need politicians for our country. But we only need God for salvation.
That’s what God’s truths are like. On some fundamental level we know them to be true, but life tries to convince us otherwise. Getting excited about Christmas isn’t a bad thing; it’s only when we let the material become more important than the spiritual that God needs to remind us of the truth. Wanting politicians to make substantial and important changes isn’t a bag thing; it’s only when we start worshipping politicians like we are supposed to worship Jesus that God needs to remind us of the truth.
On Thursday evening I was sitting around the table at my parents house in Alexandria, VA for Thanksgiving. Family members had worked all day to get the food exactly the way we wanted, decorations had been set up across the house, and we were finally about to go around the table and share what we were thankful for this year. One of my cousins got the waterworks flowing as he shared that he was thankful for the new life that Lindsey and I will be bringing into the family in April. Both of my sisters expressed thankfulness for our family that has supported them throughout their lives. But then my grandmother started to share.
She told us about a family that lives across the street who has been through the ringer over the last few years: Divorce, unruly children, uncertain employment, etc. The mother of the family has grown close with my grandmother and they were out in the street talking a few weeks ago. The woman asked my grandmother what she would be doing for Thanksgiving and she described the very feast and fellowship that we were currently enjoying. The woman listened patiently to all the things my grandmother described and then said, “Do you know how blessed you are?”
My grandmother began to cry and she exclaimed how she takes so many of her blessings for granted: Good health, a family that loves one another, food on the table, her faithfulness. The joy and exuberance of the day quickly transformed into a brief time of silence as we all pondered about the blessings that we take for granted.
Want to know one of God’s truths that we miss the most? We are blessed. Amidst spinning truths and impending threats we have a God who loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Amidst all of our fears and frustrations we have a savior who was willing to die on a cross to save us. Amidst all of the uncertainties and hypocrisies we have a Spirit that breathes new life into us each and every day. We are blessed.
Good and upright is our God. He patiently instructs us through his Word in the way that leads to salvation. God leads the humble in what is right and teaches each of us the path to follow. All of the Lord’s ways are steadfast love and faithfulness so long as we remember the truth.
In a moment I’m going to invite us to encounter and confront one of these truths. Some of us will still wish it was Christmas day today, some of us will still worship politicians like we should worship Jesus Christ, but one of the things all of us can do is be thankful for the blessings in our lives. I would like each of us to pair up with someone in the church, someone that we don’t normally spend time with, and I want us to just have a conversation about how God has blessed us this year. Take a few moments to share, perhaps like you did on Thanksgiving, what you are thankful for right now.
One of the gifts of God this advent is the truth. The truth of God’s love made manifest in a baby born in a manger, a baby that embodied the Good News, a baby that carries the promise of transformation of life from sin to salvation, from slavery to freedom, from injustice to peace, and from death to resurrection. We are blessed. Amen.