Psalm 80 - Restore us, O God

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To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph. A Psalm.
1) Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2) before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
3) Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
4) O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5) You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6) You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
our enemies laugh among themselves.
7) Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
8) You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9) You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10) The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
11) it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
12) Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13) The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
14) Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,
15) the stock that your right hand planted.
16) They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17) But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18) Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
19) Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Psalm 80 (NRSV)
1st Sunday in Advent, Year B, verses 1-7, 17-19
4th Sunday in Advent, Year A, verses 1-7, 17-19
4th Sunday in Advent, Year C, verses 1-7
Proper 15, Year C, Sunday between August 14 and August 20, verses 1-2, 8-19
Proper 22, Year C, Sunday between October 2 and October 8, verses 1-2, 7-15

This psalm is read every year in Advent, the season where the Church anticipates the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. It is one of a number of psalms which present God with a reminder of God's past favor, and a plea for help, implied or overt.

These psalms typically talk about the distress being suffered, and recall God's earlier faithfulness, God's promises, God's investment in this person and/or this community. They are certainly occasions to remember God's history and the present distress. In the act of remembering, the prayer hopes to move God to compassion, to action.

And a change is very much needed. "How long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure."

For much of history and certainly in the psalms, adversity is the norm. Whatever the problem, drought, famine, war, personal enmity, poverty, suffering always offers the occasion to doubt if God is on your side.

And, should we think that God is against us, we might wonder why, and more importantly, how to turn it around, how to get back in God's favor?

The psalmist here cuts a fine line. Without explicitly admitting wrongdoing, after recalling God's past favor, he propses that God change back to blessing us. "Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name."

We might not find this theologically sound, but it rings pastorally true. Bargaining with God is an ancient and contemporary approach.

And it's ok. One of the best pieces of guidance I have ever received is that in prayer, there are no rules. Meaning simply that prayer is a time to bring whatever you have, to be as honest as possible, not to worry about saying it "right," not to worry if your prayer is angry or manipulative or just a groan or a shout without words.

In prayer, the best we can offer is ourself. If we have doubts, we offer the doubts. If we have fear, we offer the fear. Anger, pain, hope or hopelessness, we bring what we have.

It is the witness of faith that God, who is faithful and just, who cares for us, who is intimately involved in our struggles and our destiny, uses the occasion of our prayer to work with us, to shape us, to take the ingredients we bring and begin to fashion them (and us) into something new.

Stir up your might, and come to save us!

These words are advent hope, that God will bring light that we may see the good and godly path in front of us, and give us the power to see us through.

Credits:
Tyler Davis, Vine texture, Public domain (CC0 1.0).

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