A Reflection on Psalm 85.8-13 by Canon Rob
December 10th, The Second Sunday of Advent
The opening verses of today’s psalm recall God’s forgiveness in the past and then, in verses 4 – 7, the author asks that God will forgive His people again in the present. “Restore us again, O God, our Saviour, and let your anger cease from us.” [Verse 4.] It is probable that the people are suffering again, perhaps through a poor harvest [see verses 11 and 12] and, as is often the case today, many will have believed they were being punished for their sins. So, in verses 5 we read “Will you be displeased with us for ever?” The mood changes though by the time we reach verse 8 and the following verses set for today which are appropriate for the Church’s season of Advent when we prepare for the coming of Christ. Whatever has happened in the past, the lone voice in verse 8 says, “I will listen to what the Lord will say.”
Listening is a very important part of praying although, perhaps, not the easiest. How do we listen to God? How do we know if and when He is speaking or listening? The answer lies in our preparedness to simply ‘sit in His presence’ and ‘wait upon Him.’ If you struggle with this you may like to try sitting comfortably, close your eyes and imagine that Jesus is sitting next to you, just as you might be sitting with someone whose company you enjoy including those times when you are quiet together. The prophet Elijah struggled to listen to God when he fled for his life. [See 1 Kings 19.1-15.] Elijah doesn’t experience God’s presence in the strong wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in “a sound of sheer silence.” Only then did he hear God speaking to him: whilst he waited patiently. Advent is a time of waiting, of preparation to be ready to receive Christ as and when he comes and speaks to us. And come he will. As the late Archbishop Donald Coggan once wrote, “God speaks because He loves.. [and].. Love always seeks to communicate.”
The author of the psalm has learned to trust God, not just for his own good, but for the good of the whole nation. As he says in verse 9, “Truly, his salvation is near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” All who fear God (or trust Him) can experience His saving power. The prophet Isaiah knew this to be true as well when he says of God, “I will bring my victory near….and my deliverance shall not be delayed…” [Isaiah 46.13.] Knowing this, the writer of the psalm speaks beautifully of mercy, truth, righteousness and peace, shown in the picture above. [See verse 10.] These are four blessings, blessings we can experience whenever God’s kingdom breaks through. Paul writes similarly in his letter to the Romans when he cautions his readers about judging others. Instead, “the kingdom of God….[is]…justice, peace and joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.” [Romans 14.17] Guided by God’s Spirit, we can experience the blessings, or gifts from God, and help to bring His kingdom nearer. It is this which we pray for every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven……your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….”
As mentioned above, verses 11 and 12 may refer to a poor harvest. The “all that is good” results in the land yielding its increase. [See verse 12.] As you reflect on this, remember those suffering through drought i parts of Africa which have not seen any rain (or “all that is good”) for many months. It is also possible though to read these two seeds in Jesus’ parable, which when sown produce a rich harvest of mercy, truth, righteousness and peace. Is it likely that these could refer to the “all that is good” which lead to the nation yielding an increase in harmony and justice? The world needs both!
Help me, Lord, to remain faithful to you and grant me your gifts of mercy, truth, righteousness and peace
that I may serve you and that your Kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.