Title: An Evening Sacrifice In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The prayer of a desperate man. That’s what we have before us in the psalm today…the prayer of a desperate man. David prayed this psalm in a bad situation…It’s apparent that he was on the run. Perhaps he was fleeing Absalom, perhaps Saul–the specifics of this psalm aren’t important, but what we hear in these words…a man seeking after God, rather seeking to be moved and made righteous by God; a man who knows the whole world around him is speaking deceit, working iniquity, indulging in the wickedness of this evil age…
And David prays. “Lord, I call upon you, please listen to me!” It’s that prayer that seems to capture the urgency of David’s plight. “May this prayer rise before You like incense,” and as scholars argue, at this time David was on the run, away from Jerusalem, unable to offer right sacrifices, so the lifting up of his hands in prayer and a holy life would have to suffice as offerings to the Lord.
The real bulk of David’s prayer is in the center section, it asks God to guard, to keep watch over, to keep the heart pure in the presence of the wicked. At times this looks like a righteous man striking. For example, the prophet Nathan, who came to confront David over his sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah, her husband. Let a righteous man strike me, let him rebuke me. God, send someone to call me to task.
It’s that kind of a prayer that, even we we pray it, we kind of hope God won’t answer it. There’s something in each of us that fears change. And no, it’s not called Lutheranism. It’s called sin. The sin in each of us is afraid of change. Deathly afraid of it. Because the change that the Lord brings eradicates sin. It drives it out, like light drives out darkness. And the war raging between the repentant saint and the hypocritical sinner in each of us is quite clear in our reading from Matthew…
John comes as the righteous man whose ministry it is to strike us, to rebuke us, to preach the fruits of repentance and faith into our lives, so that we despair of ourselves, and fully rely on God. John gives great words of hope and peace to those who come, confessing their sins to God. He says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Repent doesn’t sound like such a nice word, but if it’s on account of the fact that heaven’s King is coming among us, then by all means, turn around, away from your sins, the Lord is coming!….But his words to the Pharisees…these he calls brood of vipers, children of snakes…sons of the serpent. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance, he says.
And these words he says to the sinner living in each of us. What better place than the shores of a river to wash away these impurities, to hear the word of the Lord, and to drown the sin within us…
Now I’m sure you’re wondering what all of this has to do with Advent…and to that I’ll reply, “everything.” The entire season of Advent is devoted to the coming of the One who liberates us from our own sin. The One who is coming into the world, first as the babe of Bethlehem, to walk among us, to heal the sick, and preach to the poor; even now He comes among us in the breaking of the bread, in the lifting of the cup, in bread and wine, His body and His blood; in the splash of water, His saving bath–all of which at the command of His voice. This is Jesus, coming among us, here and now. And in Advent, we look to the One who is coming in a third, distinct way. He is coming again, to judge the living and the dead. We look and we wait as we live lives of repentance, as we turn from wickedness and flee toward the good. We look and we wait…and we pray: …Our eyes are turned to you, O God. We look to you as the One who has come and is coming again to call us your saints. Your word creates a guard over our mouths, it keeps watch over what we say. You continue to pull and tug us away from evildoers. You are our dwelling place, O Lord. In you we have hope and peace. In you we have safety. You prune us as a plant, cutting back that which hinders us, and you grant growth so that we might abound in fruit, the fruit of repentance and the fruit of faith, shown forth in love for You and our neighbor.
So, Lord, we wait in eager expectation. We pray the prayer that means our own death, but that Christ would live within us…We pray the prayer of all the saints, Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Come quickly, Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.