As Advent begins and Christmas is right around the corner, I’m tempted to lament the pace of this season in our world. We often find ourselves trying to “fast-forward” the Advent season to get to Christmas right away: Christmas music plays in the stores before Halloween! If all we’re waiting for is an excuse to get presents and drink eggnog, then we probably should try to slow things down a little bit. If we’re waiting for something really great, however, it makes sense for us to try to push things along as fast as we can.

When I looked through the Advent readings for worship, I was struck this year by the Psalms. We, like most churches, tend to use the Psalm each Sunday as a call to worship and then preach from the Gospel or other passages. In Advent, that often means hearing the same beautiful words from Isaiah year after year. This year, however, I’m going to let Isaiah write our calls to worship and invite us to listen to the Psalms as a primary reading.

The Psalms are filled with expectations that God ought to do something great in our lives. They’re urgent pleas, prayers that God will restore the good fortunes of God’s people. Whereas Isaiah speaks to human beings, the Psalms speak directly to God. In the Psalms, we cry out to God and insist on the promises God has made to love and care for this world.

Isaiah is a good book for waiting. We’re used to reading Isaiah’s words of promise as if he knew that it would be over 700 years before the child we call Emmanuel (God with us) would be born. The Psalms don’t wait. They’re urgent: they want God’s presence, and they want it now. To be fair, most of the Psalms are at least as old as Isaiah’s words, and they’re even less open than Isaiah to the idea that their hopes won’t be fulfilled until some distant time in the future. Still, when we read them during Advent, we hear someone else’s words speaking our own prayers for God’s renewed presence.

It’s the continued work of the Holy Spirit that takes these ancient prayers and brings home their expectation in a new historical setting. The Spirit of God, which prays with us and for us, lets our hopes echo through words that were written long ago, by someone else, in a language almost none of us would even recognize. In the Psalms, we hear not only our anticipation of Jesus’ birth, but also our desire for justice in the world, peace on earth, and good news to those who need it most.

As we read these Psalms in worship, listen for your own prayers:

  • November 30, Psalm 80: “Show us your mercy, and we will be saved!”
  • December 7, Psalm 85: “Will you be angry with us forever?”
  • December 14, Psalm 126: “Let those who wept as they planted their crops, gather the harvest with joy!”
  • December 21, Psalm 89: “You said, ‘I have made a covenant with the one I chose…'”
  • December 24, Psalms 96 & 97: “Praise the Lord, all people on earth,” and “Light shines on the righteous.”

Those of you who pay close attention, you’ll also notice a change in our worship music during Advent. During the seasons of Pentecost and Ordinary Time, we’ve used the last verse of “Baptized in Water” as the Gloria following the Assurance of Grace. During Advent, we’ll use the refrain from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” as a slightly more reflective Gloria. At the end of the service, we’ll sing the first verse of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” in place of our “Song of Hope.” Varying this music is a way for us to mark the seasons of the church year and celebrate the range of good things God does for our world.

May our prayers sustain us all through Advent, until we celebrate on Christmas Eve that our hopes are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the presence of God in human flesh.

In peace and expectation,

Nathan

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