Yr B ~ Advent 2 ~ Psalm 85
Today we get to deal with the lovely Psalm 85 but really after a short look at the whole thing I’m going to spend most of my time looking at one verse – one beautiful verse – one awesome, marvellous, wonderful, fascinating and compelling verse! Yes, it’s that good!
As we talked about last week, psalms are intimate bits of writing like a diary might be. They’re poetry, or more accurately they’re song lyrics. It’s like their hymn book. Songs of praise and prayer, yearning and lament, and dreams of a life lived fully in God’s Presence. Because it’s poetry we can analyze it like an English teacher would a poem. In Psalm 85 the structure reveals a big piece of the meaning of it.
There are a couple ways to break it down but I like the sense that the psalm is structured in three parts – verses 1-3 which are about the past, then 4-7 which are about the present, then 8-13 which are about the future. “Hey God, you did good for me before, do good again now, and life will be good!” We do this in our own loving relationships all the time to signify the depth of our bond. “I’ve loved you for years – I love you right now – and I will love you forever.”
If you want something from someone it’s pretty smart to start by buttering them up! So the psalmist begins by expressing gratitude for God’s blessings and previous actions.
Then they move on to their present need: “restore us again, revive us again, turn us back.” Didn’t we hear that last week in Psalm 80? In fact, it’s a familiar refrain in their religious lives. “Restore us again, O God, and again, and again…” I guess that they needed to keep asking because they kept falling away from being present to God’s Presence – unlike us, of course, who only have to be told once and then we’re all good! Right? So a recurring refrain of “turn us back to you again, O God, because we need to see your face shine” sounds about right.
But it’s the future part that captivates us. In the season of Advent we talk about waiting – waiting for something, something that’s coming in the future – the very near future. In Advent 2 the thing we’re waiting for is always peace.
What does peace mean? In spiritual terms it means much more than just the absence of war or conflict – which are obviously desirable things. So, sure, praying for peace on earth is about people putting down their guns, stopping their violence and oppression, and finding less destructive more loving ways of settling differences. I’m sure we’d all pray for that!
But our faith calls us to pray for shalom on earth. And what is shalom? – inner peace, wholeness, wellness, and blessing. Psalm 85 paints a beautiful picture of what shalom looks like – or will look like, when it’s realized.
Did you notice my language there? I didn’t say “when it comes.” We’re not really waiting for shalom to come – we’re not really waiting for the light of the world to come.
It’s already here!
The language I used was “when it’s realized!” Shalom is here, all around us, ready to be noticed and claimed as our own. The thing we’re waiting for is already here – we just need to realize it and open ourselves to it.
And if you think about it – that means that it’s not us waiting for God’s light or shalom to come – the real Advent waiting is God waiting for us to notice!
God’s shalom is waiting for us.
God’s presence is longing for us.
Peace isn’t far off – we are!
This is why we need this Advent journey – to draw nearer to the light. God’s waiting for us – we’re waiting for us too – and we’re eagerly anticipating what will be when we’re ready.
How do we get there? The future section of Psalm 85 offers some delightful imagery. [S-hands] It starts with a desire to listen, a desire to notice.
Psalm 85:8 “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for God will speak peace to God’s people, to the faithful, to those who turn to God in their hearts.”
God’s people are not defined by a particular set of beliefs, or statements of faith, or liturgical practices. God’s people are those who will listen – those who “turn to God in their hearts” – those who are open and ready to receive.
Then the tricky bit: verse 9 “Surely God’s salvation is at hand for those who fear God, that God’s glory may dwell in our land.”
Don’t trip on the ‘fear of God’ part. The Hebrew word translated as fear doesn’t mean frightened as we tend to hear it. It means to be utterly overwhelmed with God’s awesomeness. The fear of God means the state of being in AWE of God. Now, God’s awesomeness is so awesome and holy that when we actually encounter it it buckles our knees and reduces us to a quivering puddle of goo – so “fear” isn’t exactly wrong. Encountering a force and entity so mind-bogglingly holy and pure had better produce some fear in us – but it’s more reverence than fright.
Those who turn to God in their hearts are open and ready to encounter Something MORE and that awesome communion is gloriously overwhelming!
What will it look like?
What will it feel like?
What is it that we have to look forward to as we awaken to God’s shalom and realize it’s transformational power?
Now we get to the most wonderful verse – verse 10! Here’s what it will be like:
“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
teadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
We’re going to dive into this deeply. There are four fundamental Jewish spiritual concepts jam-packed into this remarkable verse!
“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
Steadfast love is the glorious Hebrew word hesed. It gets translated with several different words: loving-kindness, mercy, kindness, truth, steadfast love. It’s usually used to express how full and deep and holy God’s love is.
It’s kind of like the Greek word agape which is reserved for a special kind of holy love that’s different from romance or friendship or family. Hesed, loving-kindness, God’s steadfast love – that’s the starting point, that’s the grounding point, that’s the foundation of everything. Love.
The next big word is faithfulness – ‘emet in Hebrew. It means firmness, to be true to your word, to honour your bond, to live out your commitment. Usually faithfulness comes in response to something. It’s hard to be faithful on your own – you need someone or something to be faithful with or faithful to.
So, the future, what salvation will feel like – it’s when hesed and ‘emet meet! – When God’s steadfast loving-kindness and our committed faithfulness connect, intertwine. God’s love and our response in union – that’s what salvation looks and feels like.
Then the next part, which is even better! – “righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
Righteousness is a powerful theological concept. In Hebrew it’s tzedek which means right living, a holy lifestyle, to enact justice. In Greek righteousness and justice are the same basic word. We tend to think of righteousness being our task and justice being God’s design. So here righteousness is our holy living.
The partner word to this in verse 10 is shalom. Here’s a Hebrew word you know very well! We use it at the beginning of every worship service, and we just talked about it a few minutes ago. What does shalom mean? – inner peace, wholeness, wellness, and blessing.
Ok, here’s the best part. I just love this!
How is our righteousness, our holy living, going to interact with God’s blessing of shalom?
They’re going to kiss!
Righteousness and peace, tzedek and shalom, two of the greatest spiritual concepts in the Judeo-Christian universe, will kiss each other – will kiss each other!
Who kisses? Lovers kiss. A kiss can be romantic, and passionate. Parents kiss their kids as an expression of nurturing and caring and acceptance. And grownups kiss each other when greeting one another. We’re more of a handshake culture but all over the world people offer kisses of greeting and friendship. In the New Testament letters Paul frequently instructs Christians to “greet one another with a holy kiss” [Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians].
And think about what a kiss communicates.
Literally, you can’t speak when you’re engaging in a kiss because your lips are busy!
But even without words your kiss certainly communicates on a deep level – perhaps even on a deeper level than your words could ever manage.
Now, what does salvation look like?
What does the kingdom of God look like?
What does living in the light of the world feel like?
What is it that we’re yearning for and waiting for and anticipating this Advent season?
— for a time when: “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
God’s steadfast loving-kindness and our committed faithfulness will intertwine; our righteousness and holy living and God’s shalom will greet one another with a holy kiss.
Here’s how a scholar summed this verse up. The language is a little dense, but it’s really elegant and beautiful.
“Steadfast love, hesed, God’s and their own covenant loyalty, and faithfulness, ‘emet, a strong bond of commitment to God and each other. These two realities that are only real to those who understand and live into them, will “meet.” So we conceive of two beloved, catching each other’s eyes, walking briskly but not rushing, up close, full of joy.
“And then it happens. Righteousness, tzedek, the disposition and lifestyle of the holy people of God whose holiness really is nothing more than the gift of God’s mercy, and peace, shalom, the richness of a life with God that is calm, reconciling, and unfailingly hopeful: these two stalwarts among Israel’s most marvelous words do not just meet but “kiss.”
“A kiss: gentle, tender, not consummating things physically or clinging for dear life to the long-lost beloved, but just a kiss, a touch of the parts of us that speak words like hesed, ‘emet, zedek and shalom.”
I just love that! Now, do you remember how we get there?
We wait. We prepare.
We listen for God’s word.
We open ourselves to God’s Presence.
We allow ourselves to be moved by God’s nudge.
And when we do these things we will find God waiting for us – with open arms – moving toward us like a beloved – embracing us – and greeting us with a holy kiss of peace.
Now, we know that God doesn’t have a human body (except ours, of course), but the physical imagery here is so helpful to show us how deep, and intimate, and loving our relationship with God can be.
And in Advent time we embrace another image of love and greeting us with a holy kiss of peace. We turn to the image of a little child being born in a humble way to a regular family in the middle of nowhere – and we call that birth the coming of the light of the world. And we wait, and prepare, to greet that light with a warm embrace, and to know that in its arrival we will experience the kiss of peace.