Number 223 (2005)
by David Sweeny
copyright 2005

Advent 1, Psalm 80:1-7

Historical Description
Stark. David Sweeney’s whole Lament series stands out for its starkness. As personal as lament might be, Sweeney’s typographic words on paper are stenciled in repetition as if practicing to make a sign for a garage sale or some such thing. Even though the word “lament” might be reserved for the deepest of hurts, Sweeney’s “Number 223” makes it seem as if my lament is just another box to be marked and stacked in the warehouse.

Devotional Reflection
Laments are dangerous things in the season of Advent—which outside the liturgical world is more often known as the season of Christmas, the season of preparing to celebrate and celebrating, the season of planning parties and attending parties. Laments, when they come during Advent, might be boxed up, marked, and stored away. No one really wants to hear your lament of Christmas blues, and so you quietly stencil the box, tape it shut, and go back to the party for appetizers and shallow conversation.

Psalm 80:1-7, the reading for the First Sunday in Advent, Year B, stops us short. There’s the psalm making the request to the warehouse: “Bring out the box marked ‘Lament.’” There’s the psalm looking past the way in which we tried to hide our lament under the cover of starkly stenciled words. There’s the psalm not letting the lament be hidden until a more convenient time. There’s the psalm causing us to see that lament is most crucial to our understanding of Advent.

Psalm 80 calls on God to act: “Restore us.” It does not let God go quietly into the Christmas celebration as if that was enough: “Save us.” It does not settle for the glow of Christmas lights, but instead pleads for God’s benediction: “Make your face shine upon us.”

Psalm 80 remains aware of the urgent wondering and the blank stare we get when we look up into the sky. “O LORD God Almighty, how long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?” How long until you come to save us? Even now with the knowledge of salvation through the cross and resurrection of Christ, we still wonder how long until the skies open up to reveal Jesus returning. And until He returns, we lament. We cry out. “Restore us, save us, make your face shine upon us.”

Psalm 80 invites us to bring out the box from the back shelf, gently dust it off, open up the lament, and let God have it. And then we turn to Jesus and see that He promises to return to our Advent cries and restore us. We were never meant to warehouse those laments; we were meant to take them to God who promises He will save us.

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