Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
“Restore us, O God.” We hear that cry in our own nation these days. “Restore us!” We dream of past days of glory when it seemed that everything was right in our world. “Restore us!” It is a national cry.
And it is a cry in the church. The Psalmist cried, “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.”
How tempting it is to look to the past. And, this season invites us to do so. People look to the traditions and wish, hope, dream of celebrations that recapture a distant past. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion in this season. We expect particular events and particular feelings to “restore” us to a sense of joy and wonder.
Years ago, I read a critique of nostalgia. The Christian author said that nostalgia and faith are not compatible. Nostalgia invites us to look to the past — and place our trust in an idealized picture of that past. Faith calls us to trust God in the present — and hope for the future.
Ah, but the people cried to God, “Restore us!” Why should we not do the same? Why shouldn’t we dream of days gone by when life was, perhaps, easier and more manageable?
God’s restoration never repeats the past. God’s restoration is always a new creation. In Isaiah we are given that beautiful imagery of God as the potter who shapes and reshapes God’s people. I asked Michelle, our resident potter, for pictures of her at work and she sent me a beautiful series of pictures. From a lump of clay, she fashioned a beautiful pot. It’s, at times, a messy process. Many potters tell of starting a project and having to stop and go back to the very beginning and start again.
Today we start our journey through Advent. The world around us is already celebrating Christmas. For the secular world, Advent means little or nothing. If people have heard of it, they may think of an arcane tradition with little meaning. I always find it hard to explain that this isn’t the season of Christmas carols. Christmas, for the church, begins on December 25th (and lasts 12 days!)
But this Advent season is a gift to us. Even as we get caught up in all the busy-ness and chaos of the season, we are invited to remember that God answers our prayers for restoration — not with a return to the past, but with transformation in the present and hope for the future. The Advent/Christmas season may seem to center around a long ago event, the birth of a child, but we, God’s people, need to find God’s presence in the world we inhabit today. We need to proclaim hope and work for a world that knows the good news of the season not as a long ago event to be recaptured with nostalgia, but a present reality because the Potter is present, reshaping and re-creating a troubled world. Amen.