Excerpted from Cultivating Care for Creation, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year A from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
Psalm 80: 1-7; 17-19
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Psalm 80 is a prayerful lament by the people of Israel who have strayed from their Shepherd and desire to be restored by the one from whom they have strayed. The people of Israel realize the consequences of drifting from the path of the Lord. In this Psalm we read their confession, not of sin, but of faith. They trust in the Lord to restore them, shine his face upon them, and save them from their own undoing.
The larger context of Psalm 80, not entirely presented in this reading for today, describes Israel as a vine that had been planted. It took root in the land and stretched from “sea” to “river.” Today’s passage tells us this vine had been cut down, burned, and is near its end. It is a metaphor not only for the nation of Israel and its people, but also for the land itself. God, creator of all things, is the original sower of seeds and we are again victims of our own undoing. The prophet Jeremiah describes how God “brought you into a land of plenty, to enjoy its gifts and goodness, but you ruined my land; you disgraced my heritage” (2:7). Humans have been defiling the land for generations.
Humans were given dominion and stewardship of God’s good creation, but we have turned care into carelessness and dominion into domination and exploitation. We must lament our own undoing and once again turn to the God of all life to save us from ourselves. Our compulsive desires leave us in a different kind of exile; one that has ripped us away from the original good gifts of creation we were meant to enjoy, protect, and preserve.
The Advent season is a time of both anticipation and remembering. If we all take the opportunity during Advent to confess how we have defiled the lands, to acknowledge our impact on God’s creation, and to commit to following scripture, we could begin to anticipate the new way of being and living that God intends for us. We must begin again and live in ways that care for God’s creation and all who share creation with us.
Let us join the Psalmist in honest confession of our brokenness as we seek to repent in how we treat others, how we treat the world, and how we treat the good gifts of creation. Let us once again turn to God to save us, knowing that once our faces and hearts have turned, our hands and feet will quickly follow.
Prayer: With the Psalmist, we pray:
Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine …
Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life and we will call on your name.
Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!”