A Fortress to Keep Me Safe: Advent Meditation, 12/19/2012

Psalm 71:1-6
December 19, 2012

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge,
a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
Psalm 71: 1-6

Advent is reaching a quiet boil. The joy of Christmas brims within us as we expect and await the birth of our savior, the rebirth of our hope.

And yet, in today’s psalm we sit quietly with an old man who trembles with fear.

It is late in King David’s reign when he pens this psalm, patching together songs from his youth. (This passage in particular appears almost in its entirety in Psalm 31.) Facing rebellions and unrest in his kingdom, David recalls both his own humble faithfulness and God’s steadfastness, reflected over and over again throughout the course of his life.

Recently, I spent a week with a missionary serving abroad through the Episcopal Church. I was reminded how difficult it can be to follow your vocation. This missionary discerned carefully where she should serve; she discerned what she might do. The arrangements were made; the departure date was set. But the reality on the ground was far more complicated when she arrived. Long days, hours in transit every day, lack of control and personal security made it hard to see how God could possibly call her to something so difficult.

We often hesitate just on the edge of God’s grace. We get cold feet, we doubt, we question our understanding of reality. Like David, we cower behind God in that moment, beg for the strength of a fortress, the endurance of solid rock.

In the moment he writes this psalm, David cannot know that the ripples of his faithfulness will wash through his lineage, down generations. He will never know that his human attempts to keep God’s commandments and God’s unfailing love will be knit forever together with the birth of Jesus. But he trusts, looking to his own life and the lives of those before him. He is able to move forward with the assurance of God’s strength welling from his own history and the history of his people.

Our missionary also cannot know what the ripples of her service will be; she cannot know what impact she will have on the people she serves. She may never know. She can only trust that she is humbly serving God as best she knows how, that God’s faithfulness will endure, and that beyond this doubt and difficulty lies transformation.

We trust because we know the stories of the Christians who have come before us and the Christians around us. We can trust because we have looked to our own history and seen God’s faithfulness. We can trust because David trusted, because Mary trusted, because Jesus manifested trust.

When saying goodbye, our missionary looked over my shoulder and past me into her own future. I was moved by the resolve in her eyes, her trust and her strength, and in that moment I saw her faith weave together with God’s steadfastness to become a fortress for her, her trust becoming the solid rock and fortress for me as well.

Oh Lord, as David knelt before you in his old age and as Mary must have hesitated before the angel and questioned herself at the birth of your son, may we also come before you in humility and by our faith be strengthened and transformed to do your work in the world around us. Make ours a story of trust that will inspire generations to follow and all those around us to find strength in your goodness and steadfastness. In your Son’s name we pray, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.