Monday, November 21, 2011

Of Fast Food and Advent

"Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved."  Psalm 80:3
 This is the resounding cry of Psalm 80.  It is a cry of deliverance repeated again in v. 7 and 19.  In between those verses the Psalmist recalls God's faithfulness to Israel.  God took his vine, Israel, out of Egypt, cleared ground for it, planted it, provided for it in every way and this vine grew and filled the land.  But now, the Psalmist says, God has broken down the wall that protected his vine and any passer-by or wild boar can pluck away or trample its fruit.  So the Psalmist cries out to God to restore Israel, wondering how long it will be until God hears this cry.

It seems likely that this cry of deliverance is in regard to the attack of the Assyrian army on Samaria in 721 B.C.  (since only Northern tribes are mentioned in v.2 and the Greek version of this Psalm even includes "on account of the Assyrians" in the title).  If that is the case then the answer to the Psalmist's question of "How long?" is a really long time, longer than the Psalmists own life.  That's because the people of Israel were not delivered from the Assyrian onslaught.  Instead, they were taken into exile and did not return home until 538 B.C.  Although it's impossible to say for sure when this Psalm was written in relation to Israel's exile, I think its fair to say that the "How long?" of this Psalm was being asked and prayed by the people of Israel for all of those nearly 200 years.

There is a sense in which this cry for deliverance must also be the Church's cry, especially in this season of Advent.  This is to be a season of waiting and hopeful expectation for us; a season in which we remember Israel's long, painfully long wait for deliverance as expressed in this Psalm.  And yet, how can this be our cry?  In a culture of I-want-what-I want-and-I-want-it-now, where I can have a hamburger in minutes or any book or movie in the world displayed on the screen in front of us in seconds and when it doesn't work that way we wonder what's gone wrong, how can we learn to wait on God?  Shouldn't God's answers be at least as fast Google's?

I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy these advances in technology as much as anyone.  But that is precisely why the need for the Church to take up this cry is all the more pressing.  The idea of having the world at our fingertips is so seductive that its not long before we begin to act as if anything worth having should be immediately available to said fingertips and if its not then its not worth the time it takes to find it.  The truth is that the Church is already a part of this culture of instant gratification.  We already expect God to conform to these standards and when he doesn't we usually just give up looking and satisfy ourselves with whatever else is more immediately available and easily manipulated to our own needs.

So the Church must take up this cry for God to deliver us precisely because we ourselves are so immersed in this sea of instantaneousness that only God can pluck us out, we can not save ourselves.  We must recognize the long term costs of our fast food spirituality and seek sustenance around the Lord's table.  We must pray "Restore us, O God, to be your people of patience and trust; let your face shine that we may be saved from our own ingenuity in meeting our own needs."  And then we must wait ...and pray...and wait.... and perhaps in waiting for God's deliverance we will find that God is delivering us in our waiting.

No comments: