Restore

December 13, 2020 - Advent 3
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Restore

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

This is one instance where the NRSV translation of Psalm 126 is a bit misleading. The NRSV begins with verbs in the past tense “When the LORD RESTORED the fortunes of Zion…” but as Robert Altar points out, this is very much a prayer to God for restoration to come about.  “When the Lord restores Zion’s fortunes…” The fortunes that the psalmist speaks of is the return of Israel out of exile and back to their land—the land promised to Moses;  to Sarah and  Abraham.  The promised land taken from them by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.  These exilic psalms often dream of that day when the Babylonians would one day be punished for their actions and Israel would be restored to its place in the world.  The psalmist is dreaming of a better day much like Louis Armstrong did when he sang, “What a wonderful world…”. Perhaps, you can relate to the psalmist this day…dreaming of a day when we can come out of our caves and return to a normal existence.  

But with all respect to Louis Armstrong and our psalmist, I don’t know if I can ever just forget these past months. To illustrate my reasoning, I like to turn our attention to the book of Job. In the book of Job, we hear a man from the land of Uz was “sincere and upright, God-fearing and shunning evil.” He was married and had seven sons and three daughters.  Not only that, he had “seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of cattle, five hundred she- donkeys, and very much production; and the man was greater than all the children of the East.” Job did all the right sacrifices and burnt offerings to God.  But unbeknownst to Job, the day came when the angels of God, the Lord, and the Adversary known as the Ha-Satan—not Satan (or Lucifer), came together for a meeting.  

“The Lord said to the Adversary, "Where are you coming from?" And the Adversary answered the Lord and said, "From going to and fro on the earth and from walking in it.”

Now the Lord said to the Adversary, "Have you paid attention to My servant Job? For there is none like him on earth, a sincere and upright man, God-fearing and shunning evil.”

“And the Adversary answered the Lord and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven't You made a hedge around him, his household, and all that he has on all sides? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock has spread out in the land? But now, stretch forth Your hand and touch all that he has, will he not blaspheme You to Your face?”

The Lord said to the Adversary, "Behold, all that he has is in your hands; only upon him do not stretch forth your hand." And in a blink of an eye, everything that was of value and worth to Job was taken away.  Job was left with nothing.  No livestock.  His home destroyed.  His children all killed.  Job was left with only ashes of the life he once knew and loved.  Job spends the next 38 chapters arguing with his so-called friends who argue that Job must have done something to anger God.  Job defends himself the entire time.  Yet, his friends keep blaming him.  Eventually, God shows up, but does not tell him the truth.  The Lord does not tell him about the bet he made with the Adversary that Job would never blaspheme the Lord even if he were to lose all that he had.  Instead, the Lord says, “Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell if you know understanding…” Eventually, Job’s wealth is restored: "he now has fourteen thousand flocks and six thousand camels and a thousand yoke of cattle and a thousand she-donkeys, And he had fourteen sons and three daughters.” Job lives a very long life and was able to see four generations born. It appears that life has returned back to normal for Job and I have often read the story of job this way, but then then 2020 happen.  I realized this year that Job’s children from the beginning of the story.  They have no names and their lives came to an veery abrupt and violent end all because of a bet made between God and the Ha-Satan.  So much loss of life.  

Back in April, I told of the time when Thomas passed out in the back of my dad’s car and was not responsive.  I still get very choked up when I think about that day—a day when I nearly car jacked a person because I didn’t have a way to get home and rescue my son.  I think about that day and it makes me sick to my stomach knowing that we were so lucky that he was okay.  Even during this virus, my wife and I have taken so many extra precautions to protect our two boys.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose them.  I could not function.  I certainly could not be like Job who just seems to return to his old life unscathed by the past.  Job might have had the things taken away from him restored, he certainly would never have forgotten the day that he learned his life was in ashes. 

When the LORD restores Zion's fortunes.
we should be like dreamers.
Then will our mouth fill with laughter
and our tongue with glad song.
Then will they say in the nations: 
Great things has the LORD done with these."
Great things has the LORD done with us.
We shall rejoice.

If we are going to have an authentic Advent, we need to have an honest conversation—restoration does not mean things return back to normal.  The things taken from us, even if they are restored at double the rate they were taken, will never truly be replaced.  296,000 people have died in the United States.  1.6M worldwide.  You simply cannot replace the life of a loved one who died at the hands of an invisible disease.  Our world, our nation, our community will feel this loss for generations to come.  Every time I see someone walk into a store without a mask on, I shake my head and mumble under my breath.  It will take some time for all of us to no longer look with anger and suspicion at our neighbor.  It will take some time to get use to not wearing a mask.  For anyone expecting God to come down and bring a Job-like Restoration is going to be in for a rude awakening.  Job did grieve the loss of his children until the day of his death.  Job lived with the scars of his loss and there was no amount of restoration that could ever fix the pain the he would always feel.  

God will bring restoration, my brothers and sisters.  Covid19 will be in the rear-view mirror hopefully sooner rather than later.  But we will always have the scars of this time just like our Lord carried his scars from the cross in his hands and feet from the cross even as he was lifted up into heaven to take his rightful place on the throne of God.  To forget what has happened during this time is the same as denying our Lord was crucified.  To only focus on the resurrection means we forget the fact that on the cross our Lord died for you and me.  Restoration means living with the past as a constant reminder so that the future might be filled with less pain and misery. Restoration means we allow the mistakes of the past to educate us in all future endeavors.  Restoration means life, but it also means we will never forget the loss of life felt in the past.  As the psalmist reminds us, “what began in tears and weeping will end with shouts of joy and arms filled with proof of God’s great work in their midst… We are called to live expectantly, fully convinced that the tears and weeping of our day will not have the last word. The God we serve is the God of restoration and reversal…and as Advent reminds us, our waiting is not in vain.”

And so we wait, holed up in my homes, scared of what the future might well hold for us, for you, but we wait because we know God knows how to restore what has been tarnished and destroyed.  God knows how to fix this.  The pain you might be feeling today, the loneliness that you might be feeling today, the fear that you might feel today—God knows how to fix this.  But we must wait and be patient.  Yet, we are not a patient people and that is exactly why we need Advent, each and every year, to remind us of of the importance of waiting on our Lord.  Advent reminds us of this timeless truth - restoration will come and we will be glad indeed on that day.  Amen.  Come, Lord, Jesus.  

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

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