Psalm 42 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (ESV)
“Why are you cast down O my soul?” says the Psalmist. I imagine this is the general sentiment with some of us, as we enter this season of otherwise expected joy and happiness: “Why am I so glum when I’m supposed to be joyful?” “Getting and giving gifts is supposed to create joy and happiness.” “Parties and treats are supposed to lighten our dark days. So why am I still downcast, oh my soul?”
This “holiday” season can, if we’re not careful, provide for us a convenient escape from whatever is our current reality, and escaping doesn’t really achieve the good intentions of what Advent can be. In the Church Calendar, Advent is the start of the year, and thus purposefully postures us to sit in silence and contemplation as we look forward to a new year: hoping in what is to come, dealing with what is. We are encouraged to ponder the silence and stillness, and to grapple with our struggles and our questions so that we might move forward in the Hope of Jesus. During this season, we are reminded that preceding the joyful event of the birth of Christ, there were 400 years of silence from God: no new prophets, no new revelations, no new Scriptures. This was a season of waiting. As modern Christians, we too, are waiting: waiting for a new Advent – the Second Coming of Jesus when He will finish and complete the restoration of all things, bring His perfect and loving reign on this Earth, and establish His Kingdom rule over the whole world. This is amazing news – the best news – but, waiting is hard, no matter who you are. We find ourselves at times crying like the Psalmist: “Why, God!? How much longer, God!? When, God!?” Rest assured friends, that God is not afraid of our questions, and His ears are open to our cries.
In Advent, we teach the truth of the Scriptures that God heard His people’s cries, sent Jesus to be our Messiah and King, and gave us real Hope from darkness and silence (Matt 4.16). In Jesus we have true Hope through His plan of salvation from sin and despair now, but also in the perfect undefiled future that will be ours when He returns.
An integral part of Advent, and the first step to entering it well, is to create space to contemplate and ask our questions to God and be honest to Him. Then, just as the Israelites’ cries were answered by the angel’s proclamation of the Messiah, we must have faith that we have a God who actually hears us and meets us in our need. Let us, this season, re-engage with the truth from Scripture that God has already given us and find Hope in it. In the referenced Psalm, even the Psalmist’s questions are followed with declarations full of Hope:
 Why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you in turmoil within me?Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.
 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
As you enter the Advent season this year, resist the temptation to move too quickly to Christmas. Rather, let us wait in silence and feel the excitement of it’s coming yet the ache that it isn’t quite here. Spend some time opening your heart and express your feelings, your desires, your questions to a God who offers you His ear but also offers you His life, feely as a gift. God wants your questions and your cries for help and wants to remind you that He already secured for us that help in His Son Jesus whose Spirit is with us however long we need to wait until He comes again.
Are you cast down? Look to the Truth of Jesus this season. Are you in turmoil? Jesus comes into our brokenness to say that He has come and is coming again. Take the time this season to struggle, question, and ponder, but also to rejoice in the Hope of Jesus. Embrace these four weeks leading up to the festivities and joy of Christmas and be honest with your need for a savior. Often true joy is much more joyful when we’ve been honest with what pain and suffering exists in our lives, and when we embrace yet again the Hope of Christ we can rejoice all the more.
Blessings, Pastor Matt
The Book of Common Prayer Collect for the First Sunday of Advent
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
The Lectionary Readings for the First Sunday of Advent