Advent 2B Lectionary: Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13
8Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.9Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 10Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. 11Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. 12The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.13Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.
We like the image of God making a path for us to walk, giving us some sense of the direction in which we are called to go. It just makes it easier, as if we’ve sort of been handed a holy GPS that we can turn on when we get lost. But this psalm presents it a little bit differently. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps. What does that mean? Are WE being asked to prepare that path?
This Psalm was probably originally sung in response to the return from the Babylonian exile. Think about it. Their land was being returned to them, their lives were beginning to get a little better, sort of fall into place, and there was a sense of a sort of national forgiveness. There was hope that had not been present for a long time. But hope also calls one to take a good hard look at oneself. And the people knew what had happened and what wrongs they had done to each other. They recognized the pall of systemic sin that was present, a certain acceptance of poverty and injustices and divisive fractions in their midst. This Psalm is a lament that is spoken to the past and a reminder to listen to God and then look through the lens of righteousness to the beautiful path before them.
Yes, Psalms are uncomfortably timeless. They tend to point to the perils and beauty of humanity that happens over and over again. We, too, have wandered in a sort of exile this year. The Covid pandemic has forced us away from each other and, for some of us, have taken away so much. And for our society, this time has uncomfortably shined an all-too-bright light on things that we didn’t really confront in ourselves, in our community, in our nation, and in our world. Nationally, this pandemic has had more of a dramatic effect on those in our society that were already victims of injustices. But this time has made it worse and it forces us, like those post-exilic returnees of centuries ago, to look at ourselves and how we participate in allowing poverty and injustice and the isms that exist in our society. It’s a hard lesson for us. We cannot separate ourselves from each other. We are on this pathway together. And when one person is treated unjustly, when one person has little to eat, when one person doesn’t have fresh water or a safe place to live, when one person is hurt because of racism or sexism or any other type of exclusion, we have to open our eyes to the part we play in that.
Think about this. God HAS laid a pathway for us. But we’re not programmed robots. The pathway winds and turns. There are often multiple ways to go on it. Parts of it are drowned in weeds and undergrowth that make it difficult to see and treacherous to travel. Parts of it are too rocky for comfort or too wet and slippery for safe travel. The point is that the pathway IS there; but maybe we’re called to pave the way, clearing away the debris and making the way not just for US to travel but for everyone who walks with us.
That’s the way that, as the Psalmist sings, God’s steadfast love and our faithfulness will meet and righteousness and peace will be inseparable. It is that perfect love, hesed in Hebrew. And it is in clearing this pathway, readying it for others to walk easily, without the hindrances that we allow to exist, that we will also find our way. In this Season of Preparation, we are told to “Prepare the Way of the Lord.” Have you ever really thought about what that means? The path is there. It’s been traveled before. But it needs some of our work to make the Way visible, to make the Way that all of us can travel together.
God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God. God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Grace and Peace,