HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
December 10, 2017
Second Sunday of Advent
Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13 (CEB)
Lord, you’ve been kind to your land; you’ve changed Jacob’s circumstances for the better. 2You’ve forgiven your people’s wrongdoing; you’ve covered all their sins.
8Let me hear what the Lord God says, because he speaks peace to his people and to his faithful ones. Don’t let them return to foolish ways. 9God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him so that his glory can live in our land. 10Faithful love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed. 11Truth springs up from the ground; righteousness gazes down from heaven. 12Yes, the Lord gives what is good, and our land yields its produce. 13Righteousness walks before God, making a road for his steps.
I’ve lived in 10 different places in my life. And that’s if you count the multiple dorms or apartments of my college and seminary years as only one place. While I consider Oak Ridge my hometown, my family occupied three different houses as a child and teen, and I would consider two of them equally prominent in my memories of “home.” My Mom is the daughter of a United Methodist pastor and as such, she moved frequently and always lived in parsonages. She doesn’t really have a place that she considers “home.” My Dad is an only child, and his parents lived in the same house forever, but they both died when I was pretty young, and after that of course we never went back to that house, and spent very little time in his hometown. I was thinking this week about my own experience of home as a “meeting place,” and I realized that when I think of home in this way, for me at least, what comes to mind is not a house I grew up in.
Honestly, the first thing that popped into my mind was the 11pm Christmas Eve Candlelight service at my home church in Oak Ridge. For years, I looked forward to that evening even more than Christmas day. All my friends were there, no matter how far we had scattered. So many people who have meant so much to me through the years were always in that place. It was always like a reunion, a home-coming. But even that is a little different from a home-place. As I thought about it more, I remembered my grandparents’ home in Lake Junaluska. They bought a little servant’s quarters as a retirement home back in the 50s or 60s. My Mom would vacation there with her family, and over time my grandparents added on. They moved there when I was young and that home, to me, became our family meeting place. My mother’s family frequently gathered there for Thanksgiving, complete with the obligatory kids’ table and too much fun with cousins. We often went there for Christmas, and always for Annual Conference. I remember sitting on the floor in my grandparents’ den as great preachers told stories on late Annual Conference nights. When I was in college, my boyfriend and I would meet there for dates because it was halfway between my school and his home in Knoxville. There was no A/C or internet in that house, but I always loved going there, even after my grandmother died in 2009. For a few years after our wedding, Ken and I stayed there during Annual Conference with other members of our family, but he was just never as enthusiastic about it as I was—he didn’t have those same memories, the same attachment. When my family finally sold the house two years ago, it was kind of tough for some to let go. I guess because that was our “meeting place,” and no matter how far or wide we were scattered, it was always special to come together in that place.
This morning, we continue our series, “There’s No Place Like Home.” Through these weeks of worship leading up to Christmas we will take time to reflect on what it means that God came through his son, Jesus Christ, to make his home among us, and also what it means that we have a home with God. Last week, we reflected on Isaiah’s words to the people in exile, and their desire that God would not hide his face from them, but would tear open the heavens and come down, which is precisely what happened through the birth of Jesus Christ. Today, we have the words of Psalm 85 before us, and another message about what it means that God makes his home among us.
In this Psalm, we see a vision of restoration. God has turned back toward God’s people. God has restored the fortunes of Jacob. God has been merciful and offered pardon for sin. God has spoken peace to the faithful, to all who turn to the Lord in their hearts. To put it another way, God has returned to be at home among mortals. From beginning to end, this psalm affirms God’s blessing of the earth, where we will not only see God’s glory revealed, but where that glory will actually make its home. This is the picture of God tearing open the heavens and coming down. And the psalmist offers a vision of this salvation and God’s intention for the world that stretches from earth to heaven and back again. Listen again to these words, “Faithful love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed. Truth springs up from the ground; righteousness gazes down from heaven.” This is the coming together of everything that is good and right and perfect. This is God’s creation as it was always intended, and the making of earth “as it is in heaven!”
You know, when I think of “home,” it is a safe place, a comfortable place. It is a place of rest, and peace, and unconditional love. And that’s the vision of the psalmist here. This is blessings, not terror. This is not a vision of hellfire and brimstone, but God’s promise of faithful love, truth, peace, and righteousness. I hope we can begin to see with the psalmist that salvation is more than deliverance from enemies or release from captivity. Salvation is being at home with God. It is the presence of God, made known to us in Jesus Christ. It is that steadfast love, faithfulness, peace, and righteousness embodied in the world—not only by the Messiah, but by all who follow him. And even more, this is God actively present with us and with all of creation. Faithful love and truth don’t just coexist, they meet. Righteousness and peace aren’t simply static states, they kiss. Truth springs up. Righteousness gazes down. The Lord gives. The land produces. Righteousness walks before God.
Let’s think about what all this means for a minute; the fullness of God’s promises to the people. Faithful love is not just a momentary passion, or even a simple emotion; it is a conscious decision, an act that needs the strength and resolve of truth. It was an action that God took in sending his own son into the world. Truth in turn is enriched by faithful love because truth is more than just some dogged determination to be right; it is a commitment that must be nurtured and fed by love. “Faithful love and truth meet.” In the same way, God’s peace, true shalom, is not just the absence of conflict but the fullness of life. And peace needs true righteousness, but not puffed-up self-righteousness. This is righteousness that is all about right relations, with God and with one another. Yet for such righteousness to be more than legalistic fairness, it needs the fullness of God’s peace.
As Christians, when we look at steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace as they are described here in the 85th Psalm, what we actually see is Christ. The glory of God makes its home among us in the person of Jesus Christ, the one whose name means salvation, and in whose life these four gifts of salvation meet. And so that means for us that salvation is more than just believing in Christ, it is also embodying what he embodied in this world; it is allowing Christ to make his home in our lives. When faithful love and truth meet, when righteousness and peace embrace in our families, and schools, and workplaces, and around our world, then we can know God’s salvation is near at hand.
What is home? Perhaps home is simply the meeting place, wherever we gather, the places where we attend to the intersections of our lives—the various paths where our lives come in contact with the lives of others. On a deeper level, home may be a particular place where we come in contact with our Lord. But this psalm envisions something even more profound than that. According to the psalmist, home is the place where faithful love and truth meet. It is the place where righteousness and peace kiss each other. It is the place where faithfulness springs up from the ground and righteousness looks down from the sky. Home is indeed where we meet. But our true home is the place where we meet God; face-to-face and hand-in-hand. Home is the certainty that in the Christ-child, God came to make his home among us. Home is the assurance that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, proving God’s love for us. Home is the sure knowledge that we are saved by God’s grace. And ultimately, home is anywhere that we meet God’s people and welcome them in with the love of Christ.
You know, when I think of my grandparents’ home in Lake Junaluska, I am aware of what a dynamic place it was. Of course there were the holidays, which were always busy and active, but there were so many other special times too. Relaxing in the hammock under the thick leaves of the giant red bud tree. Climbing the logs at the corners of the old log cabin side of the house, even all the way up to the roof above the porch when I got a little older. I remember the smell of my grandmother’s casseroles and the way she used to pull the butter away from my grandfather’s end of the table so he wouldn’t eat too much cholesterol. There were hours and hours of talking and laughing with my extended family as we rocked on the front porch and greeted passers-by. There were all those nights of catching fireflies with my cousins over in the side yard. I remember the morning my Mom shook me awake about 2am to tell me that my grandfather had died. We knew the day was coming and so many of the family had descended upon the house that September weekend. Little by little my family gathered around my grandfather and said our final farewells. Then, we stood in the living room together, a giant, unbroken circle, and we prayed. That’s probably the saddest memory any of us have in that home, but is a memory of pure love. That’s why that home was so special—it was the place our family gathered, but more than that it was the meeting place of love, and joy, and rest, and peace. And isn’t it amazing to realize that God’s home is all that and so much more.