Michael Whitnah
December 3, 2017
Advent 1
 
“Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”
Every week, we say or sing a psalm during our services. The Psalms are the ancient hymnal of
the people of Israel. We have our wonderful Hymnal 1982 with all the old favorites, but also a
few very strange offerings, let’s be honest. Like the hymns in the hymnal, the Psalms were both
composed for and used primarily in worship, in liturgy. They are meant to be sung, like any song
is, of course. And, like many songs, our Psalm appointed for today, Psalm 80, has a chorus that is
repeated several times:
 
“Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”
This chorus is an Advent chorus, isn’t it? Advent, these four weeks before Christmas, is a season
of light and hope and expectation, but it’s also a time for reflection, reflection upon our desperate
need for a savior in a world gone to hell. At the heart of Advent is this tension, as the anticipation
of the celebration of Jesus’ birth points us to a day of fear and trembling, when he will return in
power as king and judge, and all will stand before him. And this chorus, this one verse from
Israel’s ancient hymnal, gives voice to this tension—this expectation and hope for God to act in a
decisive way for his people who are living in darkness. There are four clauses in this verse, and
digging into each should help us to see this Advent tension.
 
“Restore us.” Something is wrong. Something is out of place. Things are not as they
should be. Things that are all perfect don’t need to be restored, right? We talk about being
“restored to health” after an illness, or property being “restored” to its rightful owner.
Restoration is about things being put back together. The Hebrew here has a sense of returning, of
being brought back. “Bring us back,” is how one scholar translates this phrase. Bring us back—
from the idolatry that corrupted our worship. From exile in a foreign land. Restore us, from all
those many things that we just heard in the Great Litany. “From all blindness of heart; from
pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity.”
Restore us—make us a people who follow you again. This psalm was likely written in the 8th
century B.C., when the kingdom of Assyria was at the doorstep, an existential threat to Israel,
and when Israel itself no longer followed God or obeyed his laws. Restore us from the disease of
idolatry, bring us back from wandering around in search of life apart from you. Help us to follow
you again.
 
“O God of Hosts.” Hosts is kind of a funny word, right? Not as in, people who show
hospitality, but here host is better translated “army.” Angel army, more specifically. God of
hosts—God of infinite angel armies. That’s great, Assyria, that you have a powerful army, but
our God is the God of infinite power and majesty. This is one name of God which the psalms use
regularly, and usually when they are crying out to God to restore his people. Thus, this second
clause, God of hosts, is the source and justification for the first clause. Who could possibly
restore us? Only the God of Hosts.
 
“Show us the light of your countenance.” Again, countenance is a word kind of like host;
not used very often in my everyday conversations. My eleven-month-old son doesn’t respond
when I say, “Charles, show me your countenance.” But, when I say, “Hey bud, over here,” he
does (occasionally) turn his face towards me. Show us the light of your countenance—light up
your face. Turn towards us, reveal yourself again. God is the source of Light and Life, and his
glory burns like a refining fire. To ask God to show us the light of his countenance is foolish—
no one can see the face of God and live. Show us your face, God, is a plea offered knowing that
if we were only reliant on our own merit, we would be consumed. Yet, who can live apart from
God? So, paradoxically, we must ask that God show us his face, knowing we can’t survive his
glory unless we have a mediator who stands in the gap for us. (Hint…we do have such a
mediator, but living in this paradox is what Advent is all about).
 
“And we shall be saved.” Despite all of that, this chorus ends with a statement, a
declaration: “We shall be saved.” Somehow, despite our unworthiness to stand before the face of
God, we will be saved. By God. We shall save ourselves? Nope. God, if you act, we shall be
saved, we shall be rescued. This final statement is full of the realism and confidence that is the
core of the Gospel. God, if you act, if you turn your face towards us, we will be rescued from our
own devices. We will be restored…and so this chorus of Psalm 80 comes full circle. From
petition (please restore us!) to worship (telling God who he is—the God of Hosts) to confident
affirmation of faith (we will be saved).
 
And isn’t that the Gospel, at least from the human perspective? The movement and
progression through realizing we need a Savior, acclaiming God for who he is, and knowing in
faith that through God’s action we will be saved. So, where does this 3,000-year-old song touch
your life this December
 
Where do you need restoration and healing in your life? Where are things out of whack?
Where is it that the destructive powers of this world are threatening to overwhelm you? Note, of
course, that these aren’t all the same question. There are certainly areas of sin in our lives, and
these need our attention. But we also live in a world that is broken, and we feel the consequences
of that brokenness not because of our individual sin, but because we are still waiting for the final
restoration of all things in Christ. We enter into Advent this week, acknowledging our need,
waiting, expecting God to act, and yearning for that final day when we will see, as Jesus
promises in our gospel reading, “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
 
Yet, that yearning is not foolish naiveté, something we’ll only experience at some vague
date in the future. Because the one for whom we wait is the God of Hosts, the one who has
already acted in a decisive way for his people. The restoration we long for has already begun.
When the psalmist was saying, “Show us the light of your countenance,” he was thinking
allegorically. God heard and said, “Well, I’m going to blow your mind, because I’m going to
answer your prayer literally, with flesh and blood.” And so, God became flesh and dwelt among
us, face to face. We can experience God’s restoration and healing in our lives today because of
Jesus Christ, the Light of the Father’s Countenance revealed. So, have the courage to honestly
ask, “Where do I need restoration and healing this Advent?” because that is where we will meet
the crucified and Risen One.
 
“Restore us, God of Hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”

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