First Advent Sunday

November 29  

Bible Portion: Psalm 80:1-3; 17-19: Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth 2  before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us. Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved… Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. Restore us, LORD God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

Focus: Restore us, LORD God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved (v.17).

Reflect: She might just have stepped out of the covers a historical novel. Her dark, leathery skin gave her an appearance of age and wisdom. But she still had the agility of a younger woman. She almost skipped along that northern Italian mountain path. With care, she avoided the numerous poisonous snakes that made their seasonal appearance. She drove her sheep (that to me looked more like goats), ahead of her. I puffed and wheezed trying to keep pace with her until she veered off to cross a field.

Shepherds—whether in the green valleys of Britain or Italy’s brown, high hills rising above the Waldensian valleys—conjure up a pastoral image to me: Amiable whistling men with flat caps and sheepdogs or a lone woman with her flock on a mountain meadow. You see it before I can even describe it.

The Bible includes some pastoral dimensions in the shepherd’s work. The word shepherd, however, denotes much more in Scripture. Yes, the shepherd is certainly the boy David with slings and stones pitted again the lion and bear, the wolf and Goliath. But the shepherd also stands as a symbol. He is appointed by God to lead God’s people. Judges and kings are God’s representatives on earth. They are to embody God’s values and reflect his character. They are to rule with equity. Justice speaks of a right relationship between God and his people, his people and the nations yet to hear of God’s hope.

When hope has almost gone—for the Hebrew people, and for us—with Asaph the psalmist, we cry out to God for his light to shine upon our face, light to brighten our darkness. In darkness, hope is often absent; there we lose our sense of a future. Advent brings hope: God initiates salvation—it is his idea. He is more ready to help than we to ask. In Advent, we invite God to restore salvation’s hope. We wait in hope for Christ's coming as Promised One, our Messiah. “Come Thou long expected Jesus”—come!

As you wait in hope for what you cannot yet see, how might you bring your disappointments and your dreams to God? As you wait in God’s holy presence, will you let your heart be filled with Christ’s peace?

Father, let your hope arise in my heart! Lifter of my head, open my eyes to see my hope in you alone. Release my heart from the anxiety, discouragements, and distractions that have filled my year. I pause to renew my hope in you. You know the end of my story. I give you thanks for your promise: a victorious ending to those who rest in your love and trust in your care. Grant me grace to close this year with joy. Holy Spirit, in this special Advent season, fill my heart again. Renew my holy awe, my real anticipation of Messiah’s coming. Let me be one with your people, waiting eagerly for Jesus to come again. In life and lip, I seek to give you glory and strive for peace in this season of goodwill and holy expectation. Amen.

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