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Advent Psalm: Psalm 85

LORD, you were favorable to your land;

you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

You forgave the iniquity of your people;

you covered all their sin. Selah

You withdrew all your wrath;

you turned from your hot anger.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,

and put away your indignation toward us!

Will you be angry with us forever?

Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

Will you not revive us again,

that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your steadfast love, O LORD,

and grant us your salvation.

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,

for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;

but let them not turn back to folly.

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,

that glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;

righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Faithfulness springs up from the ground,

and righteousness looks down from the sky.

Yes, the LORD will give what is good,

and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before him

and make his footsteps a way.Psalm 85

Last week, in Psalm 80, I talked about if we were ready for his coming? Are we ready to receive his forgiveness, mercy and grace? My answer was no, of course we are not ready. We can’t make ourselves ready enough for God. But what we can do is acknowledge that, bending low before God, ready to accept that he makes us ready despite our natures unwillingness to fully submit in a perfect expression before him. 

Psalm 85, this week’s psalm offering during advent, feels like a natural progression of last week’s passage. 

The first few lines of verse 85, cry out from the past. “Lord, you have been gracious to us! Be gracious once more!” I say gracious because it fits into the language we see here, 

LORD, you were favorable… 

you restored…

You forgave…

you covered…

You withdrew…

you turned…

This is phenomenal Gospel language! It’s good news for the one who can’t get out of his own way. I have a friend who loves to paint God as needy, expecting his followers to “jump through hoops” at any moment to receive blessings from him. But that is not this God. This God is the always the one who outstretches his hand to us, who leans in to us, even as we turn away from him. Right from the book of Genesis, at the fall, we see a God coming to Adam and his bride, even as they hide from him. This has always been his nature, and this nature has been fully realized in Christ, as he comes down in the form of man to move close to us, even as we turn from him, shun him from our lives. 

As my former pastor loves to ask, “Who is doing all the verbs here?”

The answer is God.

The psalmist is acknowledging this. As I said earlier, God has been gracious. The Psalmist says, “You forgave the iniquity of your people. You have covered all their sins.” This not just an acknowledgment of God giving them grace, but God working out that grace for us. He provides the sacrifice that forgive them, and he provides the atonement that covers their sin. The systems in place were established by God, and it is a pre-cursor to Christ being the once and for all sacrifice for the world.

The psalmist by historical knowledge, as well as God’s Spirit, knows God is good and merciful, and will do as he has done for his people over and again throughout history. “Restore them,” is not a boastful cry from the writer to God to do what he asks. It is a humble acknowledgement of God’s good and perfect nature. 

The next section is similar to last week’s psalm. It acknowledges God’s justification for his anger toward them. An honest posture before God is so important. Not necessarily for God to move in Grace and Mercy, but for us to recognize how good God has been to us, and still is. I heard Steve Brown of Key Life Ministries, wonder from the pulpit once, how many prodigal moments the son in the parable may have had. We get that one story of abandonment and restoration, but it’s not hard to imagine the son “forgetting himself” and traveling down that road to nowhere a few more times. 

How about you?

I don’t have enough wall-space to tally up my record of sin and God’s record of forgiveness scrawled over it. So, like the psalmist, I do cry out with tears, “Restore me O’ Lord! As you have done in the past!” I just think its important to come to God with that prostrate heart, and I’ll never stop emphasizing that. Not because God won’t forgive you otherwise, because we never come to God perfectly, but because it is good to come as open as possible, so we can recognize how fully forgiving God is. I know I struggle with holding onto things in my head, wondering if God will forgive that too. 

The answer, despite my misgivings and fear, is always yes, even if no one else will. That’s an honest wrestling match for me.

Forgiven, we can now come to God, with less burdens. We can look for the goodness and mercy of God without worry, which is what we get throughout the last part of this psalm.

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,

for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;

Again, listen to who is doing the work here. God has done the saving in the past, and he will do the saving going forward. His salvation for you speaks peace to your soul. If I struggle to believe this myself, it is not because it’s not true. It is because it is hard to imagine my overwhelmingly clear and convincing filth can be made sure and spotlessly clean. Our biggest problem will always be accepting the good gospel truths of God’s Word after the hard sin truths of God’s Word. Sinner just feels more real than saint. I want to stop at the hard sin truths, and remain begging for God’s mercy and forgiveness like the tax collector standing outside the temple, because it feels closer to my perpetual state of living. I have to literally will myself to read the rest of this psalm and believe that, “Righteousness goes before him and make his footsteps a way.” I have to keep grasping hard onto the redeeming reality that the tax collector went home fully justified by God.

Psalm 85 reminds us that our Father in Heaven has always been a God of perpetual redemption for messy, sinful people who come to him. He is the one we can cry out to in that mess and ask him again and again to be with us, to be for us again. More than anything, he is also the God who does come. He is the one who gives us peace and restoration. We see this realized at a well-used cross and an empty tomb. 

Thats what we remember this advent week.

God’s peace to you.

Amen.

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