Week 2 of Advent is about faith, and we light the Bethleham candle. This candle reminds us of the faith Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethleham, believing God was fulfilling his promise to Israel and blessing their family at the same time. I began by reading Psalm 79. Most of the psalm is a lement over the destruction of Jesrusalem.
How Long, O Lord?
A Psalm of Asaph.
79:1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
2 They have given the bodies of your servants
to the birds of the heavens for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.
3 They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
mocked and derided by those around us.
5 How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?
Will your jealousy burn like fire?
6 Pour out your anger on the nations
that do not know you,
and on the kingdoms
that do not call upon your name!
7 For they have devoured Jacob
and laid waste his habitation.
8 Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake!
10 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes!
11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!
12 Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors
the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!
13 But we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
The psalmist begs God to not remember Israel’s transgression forever, but to restore the people and nation. He even suggests God himself is the subject of ridicule, and that he should smite those who do not worship him. There is the promise of eternal thankfulness at the end of the psalm, the first words of hope in this passage. Contrast this scripture to words of Mary in Luke 1, traditionally known as the Magnificat.
Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
The style is similar, and promises to Israel is the theme. But the general tone is very different. Mary’s attitude is one of thankfulness and gratitude all the way through. She is at the very cusp of God’s promises to Israel being fulfilled. She is about to witness, rather take part in, the birth of the promised Messiah. In the preceding verse, Elizabeth blesses her for having the faith that God will keep his promises. The psalmist is looking down the long tunnel of Israel’s waiting with no end in sight; Mary carries within her womb the very fulfillment of the promise.