Today marks the beginning of the Advent season, and the beginning of the Church calendar year that follows the life of Jesus. A lot of you grew up in churches that talked about Advent, so this is nothing new for you today – it feels comfortable and maybe even expected.
Others of you grew up in a more free church upbringing, and you may not have any idea what word we’re talking about when we say Advent, nor do you have any idea what it means or refers to. So here’s a quick summary, and then we’ll get into this.
The word Advent comes from a Latin word that simply means “coming.” So Advent refers to the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas where we look forward to the coming of Christ. And this thing of looking forward to his coming is two-sided… we put ourselves in the shoes of Old Testament believers, who longed for the Messiah to come – longed for rescue from their enemies – longed for hope. The whole Old Testament was several thousand years of waiting for the Advent of the Anointed One who would rescue Israel.
But of course the other side of the coin is that we are once again waiting for the Advent of the Messiah. He has come once already, that is what we celebrate here in the Christmas Season, but we are also told that he is coming again. There will be a second Advent. So the two merge together in these four weeks leading up to Christmas Day.
So, for the next four Sundays, we’re stepping out of our Luke series and into a few of the Psalms for the Advent season. When I was a worship leader, I loved the Psalms for a different reason than I do today. Many of the Psalms were written by worship leaders – King David, or Asaph, Sons of Korah, and a lot of them are intended to be set to music and sung in public worship. So you find these great expressions of praise, like Psalm 145 – I exalt you, My God the King, and bless your name forever and ever. I will bless you every day; I will praise your name forever and ever. The Lord is great and is highly praised; his greatness is unsearchable… on and on, praising his greatness.
But these days I love the Psalms because they also give us permission to be upset; to be fearful; to be anxious; to cry ourselves to sleep; to pray that God would take people down who are wicked; and they give us permission to question God –– basically, God not only allowed these Psalms to be written, but he included them in his holy, inspired, eternal word in order to give us permission to be human. To not have all the answers. To struggle with the limits of our humanity. To wrestle with the whole gamut of our emotions. And they show us how to take all of these things to the Lord who loves us even when we can’t see the end of the road.
If you’ve been around River City for the past few years, you know that I am not a hot take kind of preacher, which basically that means I don’t preach from the newspaper. I don’t talk about current events all that much, and the reason I don’t is because sometimes the truth takes a while to surface. The book of Proverbs says it’s foolish to make a judgment on something too quickly. So I don’t preach the news.
But if we never talk about the news, we can treat our Christian life as if it’s something separate from everything else that happens in the world. For example, the past month has brought us multiple instances of gun violence. For some of you, the past few months have brought family strife and the loss of loved ones. The last month has brought more division across our country as elections didn’t work out like some had hoped.
Where corruption used to lurk behind the corners, it now seems to be parading in the streets. Then of course, there are still wars, funerals, divorces. It all seems like too much to handle, and if we don’t find a way to make sense of it, we start to understand why people want to stockpile resources and hide out in the mountains.
Because all of us have to have some sort of lens that we process the world through. We have to have a way to make sense of what we hear and read and watch so that we don’t just despair, crawl in a hole and live in fear. And there are all kinds of lenses we look through, based on our political party, our upbringing, our understanding of where truth is found, our religious traditions, etc.
And what the Psalms do is give us new glasses, new lenses to see the world through, so that when things happen that we have to make sense of, we can see clearly what is really going on.
So today, we’re jumping into Psalm 5. If you’re not already there, I would love for you to have scripture open in front of you.
For the choir director: with the flutes. A psalm of David.
Let’s start right there. I know that looks like a throwaway title, but it’s actually part of the original languages. It’s not something that’s been added later. And while not every Psalm has a title like this, it’s important.
For the choir director: With the flutes.
This is meant to be a song that is sung corporately by the Israelites, probably as part of their gathered worship since it has some musical accompaniment. That means these are not just words on a page… just some guys' prayers when life is difficult. These are words that were designed for God’s people to interact with together; to memorize; to bury deep in their hearts.
Secondly, it says it’s a Psalm of David. This is the same David who would go on to become Israel’s second king. He knew trials and testing and hardship almost as much as anyone. You can hear it in his voice in those first couple of verses…
1 Listen to my words, Lord; consider my sighing. 2 Pay attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for I pray to you. 3 In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.
Our family experienced some family sorrow this Thanksgiving, so I am tracking pretty well with these first three verses. When we first heard the news, we sighed. Oh man. This is going to be tough. Then, we felt the weight of it and the tears came. Then, we began to call out to the Lord and plead for mercy, forgiveness, repentance, watching expectantly for him to do something, to make a move. Maybe some of you have similar experiences.
But isn’t that awesome already? We don’t have any idea what happened to David here, but through this Psalm, the Holy Spirit who inspired these words is already giving us permission to be frustrated, sorrowful, feeling the pain of being wronged, and sighing at the evil we see in the world. You have permission to feel!
Look at where David goes with these feelings:
Listen to my words, Lord. I pray to you. In the morning you hear my voice.
I’m convicted that if this were my Psalm written at certain points of my life, it might read something like this: “Listen to my words, spouse, co-worker, close friend! Pay attention to my opinions of what is going on! I plead my case on Facebook or Twitter and watch expectantly for someone to agree with me!”
Or maybe you’re someone who is more in your own head, where you prefer to vent to yourself. You vent to yourself about what’s wrong, what’s dangerous, how we need to fix it, etc, etc. I’ve been there before too.
I heard someone say once that anxiety is what happens when we pray to ourselves.
So, again, we don’t know what situation has happened here, but David vents to the Lord. And as he does, he puts on the glasses of truth. He sees the situation through the lenses of what is true.
4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil cannot dwell with you. 5 The boastful cannot stand in your sight; you hate all evildoers. 6 You destroy those who tell lies; the Lord abhors violent and treacherous people.
Here is where our process of understanding the world begins… by rehearsing what is true. When you see something gone wrong in the world, or you are wronged, the first thing David did was to rehearse what is true about God. It goes like this: Heavenly Father, I know for a fact that you are not a God who has a fondness for wickedness. It’s not who you are to enjoy evil, because you said it there in verse 4 that evil and you don’t live in the same house. It’s impossible. Evil can influence us, but it cannot be roommates with you. Lord, I know that arrogance and lying and violence and deception or deceitfulness are not things you love or will tolerate.
So when we see those kinds of things happening in our world or in our lives, the truth of God’s word tells us immediately, that arrogance and corruption are not part of God’s desire for human flourishing. Those things are foreign to his revealed will.
And as the loving Father that he is, maybe even surprisingly to you, God expresses intense emotion toward evil… he hates it. He’s angry with it. He goes on the offensive… he destroys liars and despises violent and deceitful and arrogant people. James 4:6 – God opposes the proud. He doesn’t just not like it when people are arrogant - he actively opposes them. We don’t always see God’s opposition to evil in the way we would like, or in the timing that we’re hoping for, but we are assured that evil will not win in the end.
That’s where we start. When you see evil in the world or in your own life, rehearse what is true about God. He will see to it that evil does not have the last word. David continues…
7 But I enter your house by the abundance of your faithful love; I bow down toward your holy temple in reverential awe of you.
This one is huge.
David says, “I enter your house.” First, we rehearse the truth about who God is, and the second thing then is to surround yourself with others who also rehearse the truth about God.
He started his prayers alone in his house soon after he woke up, but now he moves to the fellowship of believers. The best place or most obvious place for David to do that would be in the house of God. He would go to where he knew he would find encouragement and strength in working through the trial. David surrounds himself with people who can remind him of God’s faithful love and holiness. Instead of leading to more despair and anger, it leads to a right view of God: “I bow in reverential awe of you.”
One of the hot topics in our country is this issue of gun control. There have been multiple shootings over the last two weeks, and you probably have an opinion of what would solve the issue. Either make guns more difficult to come by, or put more guns in the hands of the good guys. But I would venture to guess that if you’ve ever sat down with like-minded people, and you’ve hashed out all the pros and cons of gun control, you’ve talked down the other side, you found ways to poke holes in the straw man arguments, and at the end of the discussion you go home very proud of some of the great points you made throughout the conversation, yet even after you put your own brilliance on display, it doesn’t lead to joy - only more angst. More anger.
Church – I know sometimes we might think the worship service starts when the countdown hits zero, and then we sing, pray, listen to preaching, sing a song and then it’s over. But can I remind you that as the gathered people of God, every conversation you have with someone else is part of worship. In the parking lot, on the way in, as you stand around drinking coffee, when you go to lunch with or get a phone call from a friend or business partner… What truths are you rehearsing in those conversations?
There is a very good chance that the person you talk to right after the closing song today, is a person in David’s shoes, looking to make sense of something that has happened in their lives. Do you see yourself as a minister of the gospel of peace and this is an opportunity to rehearse the truth of who God is? Or do you see this as an opportunity for you to share the opinion you’ve developed?
The vision of River City – that we are ambassadors for God – doesn’t only happen when we sing and preach. It happens in our conversations with others as we help each other see the world through the correct lenses. The outcome of brothers and sisters reminding each other of the gospel is that you both walk away with a higher view of God!
8 Lord, lead me in your righteousness because of my adversaries; make your way straight before me. 9 For there is nothing reliable in what they say; destruction is within them; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongues.
We live in an information age where anything can be faked, manipulated, spun, or strategically reported so that we believe what others want us to believe. There is so much lying, so much confusion, so much deception, so much flattery going around it’s hard to know what is true and what isn’t. Anyone feel that way?
That’s not just a characteristic of modern media. David dealt with that same problem thousands of years ago, and rather than run to a certain news outlet or social media platform, he hit his knees. Lord, show me what to do. Show me what the truth is. “Lead me in your righteousness.” Righteousness is a legal term that means “not guilty.” His prayer is another way of saying, help me to not sin. As I look to make sense of the world, keep my heart and my mind pure in your eyes. Lead me in your ways… and help me to trust you are in control.
10 Punish them, God; let them fall by their own schemes. Drive them out because of their many crimes, for they rebel against you.
David doesn’t reach for some false savior to solve the problem; he doesn’t reach for a better political system; He doesn’t reach for some hidden potential inside of himself; He doesn’t look to any other savior than Yahweh himself. God, you do it. Punish them. Let them fall. Drive them out.
Maybe that surprises you. You think, hey aren’t we supposed to pray for our enemies? Yes we are. But there are world systems and structures and rulers who set out to destroy and deceive and mislead people. I can pray that God brings down those power structures – that evildoers are brought to justice, that those systems fail, that darkness is exposed and brought into the light – at the same time as I pray that those who do those things are brought to salvation. But my comfort again rests in this, going back to verses 4-6: Evil will not win in the end.
And there at the end of verse 10 is what is at the heart of evil. At the heart of every school shooting, of every domestic abuse, of every instance of arrogant pride in a workplace cubicle, school classroom, or government corruption – every deception and every lie – underneath it all is rebellion against the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The evil you see in the world is not primarily political or racial or sexual – it is at its root, a concentrated effort to live independent of God, by our own wisdom, our own opinions, and our own efforts.
But over and above all of it is a God who will see to it that evil is exposed, punished, and driven out of his good world; a God who loves righteousness and justice and goodness; a God of mercy and compassion who welcomes the sinner who repents, and adopts them into his family.
David closes with this:
11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them shout for joy forever. May you shelter them, and may those who love your name boast about you. 12 For you, Lord, bless the righteous one; you surround him with favor like a shield.
Those who find their security, not in political systems or social structures, but in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will not end up in despair, hopelessness, and fear. They rejoice! They shout with joy, not just now, but forever! They don’t brag about anything other than how great Yahweh is!
Go back to the beginning – David experiences evil in the world. First thing he does is pray in the mornings, bringing his emotions to the Lord. Then he surrounds himself with worshipers who can help him rehearse the truth about who the Father is and how he views evil in the world. They pray together, worship together, seek the Lord for wisdom and revelation together. And when they do, look at verse 12, The presence of God is a shield! It is a protection against the lies, deceptions, the arrogance, the temptations of the enemy!
John 14, 15, 16 tell us that God the Holy Spirit is our Counselor, our Helper. He is the Spirit of truth who will guide you into all truth (16:13)! And not only is he with us, he lives in us. But the Holy Spirit cannot counsel us and lead us into all truth if we’re busy complaining to each other about what is wrong with the world! The Holy Spirit, the Wonderful Counselor, cannot give us revelation about what to do and what to believe and how to live if we’re not seeking him for counsel!
It’s easy to point fingers at the evil in the world, but we have to start with confession of the evil still in us. We have to address the fact that we have the potential for as much corruption, arrogance, violence, and deception as anyone else. We know that apart from the blood of Jesus that was poured out for the forgiveness of sins, we too would stand under God’s wrath, in line to be punished and driven out for our rebellion.
But the gospel tells us that this eternally loved Son showed us the abundance of the Father’s faithful love by sacrificially giving himself for us and to us, so that no matter how bleak the circumstances around us appear, we would be surrounded with the same love and favor that he is. In this world we may have trouble, but take heart, River City – Jesus has overcome the world.
So when you turn on or log onto the news tonight, when yet another thing happens that knocks the wind out of us and has us sighing, like verse 1, oh man, not again, I hope you now have a blueprint for how to start processing. We can put on the lens of Psalm 5 and say:
- God hates evil even more than we do. He hates what it does to his good world. Hates what it does to people made in his image. And is determined AND ABLE to not let evil have the last word.
- Confession and repentance. We can’t point fingers at anyone else without realizing our own contribution to the brokenness of the world first. Confess that at the bottom of sin is rebellion against God, which we have participated in, and remember that those who are unrepentant have God actively working against them.
- Run to the real Savior. There is no political, social, or educational system that will be an effective savior. Even turning to ourselves is not the solution. We can pray for wisdom, revelation, and discernment on what is true and what is not.
- Rest in the protection of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
- The Father is a loving and merciful refuge, a shelter, and a shield to those who run to him, and vengeance belongs to him. He will see to it that evil does not have the final word. And in his presence, there is rejoicing, joy, love, blessing, and favor.
- The Son is our forgiveness, our rescue, our salvation. As we sang earlier, his blood was the payment, his life was the cost. Verse 7 says, we enter God’s presence by the abundance of his faithful love… nowhere is that faithful love more clearly seen than in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
- The Holy Spirit is our Helper and our Counselor. He is the Spirit of truth that will guide us, comfort us, convict us, lead us, and empower us against our unseen enemy.