Unsettling Advent 2023, Day 13
“Restore us, Lord God of heavenly forces! Make your face shine so that we can be saved!” (Psalm 80:19)
The culture of fear in the United States is palpable for casual tourists and engaged citizens alike. While I am grateful for the liberties and agency afforded to us, the past years have reminded us how fragile democracy is. We are inundated with headlines about the chaos in Congress. Entering a presidential election year with growing misinformation and disinformation raises concerns about increasing violence in our communities. None of the foundational issues are new, but the compounding realities of the last few years raise the stakes.
As we channeled our fears and shock toward advocacy, many of us have also experienced the weariness and hopelessness that come when our actions seem futile. It’s difficult to sustain our efforts when our victories merely enforce basic rights and democratic principles. If we’re honest, in the world of advocacy, outcomes drive our anxieties. We are anxious about what can happen. Some react to these anxieties with a paralyzing fear that leads to inaction and apathetic disengagement. For others, we are driven to compulsive action, yearning to ease the anxiety around the potential outcomes that impact our communities.
Perhaps it’s with honesty about our anxieties even amidst our work of advocacy that we are well-positioned to enter this Advent season. Advent is a season of longing and grief that propels us towards hope. This year, we are invited in Advent to pray the communal lament of Psalm 80:1-7 and 17-19:
Shepherd of Israel, listen!
You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Show yourself before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
Wake up your power!
Come to save us!
Restore us, God!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!
Lord God of heavenly forces, how long will you fume against your people’s prayer? You’ve fed them bread made of tears; you’ve given them tears to drink three times over! You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors; our enemies make fun of us. Restore us, God of heavenly forces! Make your face shine so that we can be saved!
… Let your hand be with the one on your right side — with the one whom you secured as your own — then we will not turn away from you! Revive us so that we can call on your name. Restore us, Lord God of heavenly forces! Make your face shine so that we can be saved!
Psalm 80 invites us into a different posture in advocacy. God’s people have witnessed the destruction of their capital city and their people are scattered. This is the song of a community that has engaged in its best advocacy efforts and tended to the needs of its people, yet they find themselves distraught and disillusioned. After all their efforts, they are left with a song of communal lament to sustain their community.
Anxieties are transformed by their collective grief and lament. This song invites a distraught community to remember that power is not in their hands or even in their petitions. Rather, it’s on God to care for the world as God promised. If it’s on God, then our anxieties are transformed into grief, lament, and anger in our prayers.
If you find yourself anxious, hopeless, and weary this Advent, join the chorus of lament. To embrace our grief, lament, and anger, we must embrace our powerlessness. We must take ourselves from the center of power, relinquishing our anxieties expressed through control.
While this song challenges us to loosen our grip on power, it also invites a community to stay and engage the world around them, no matter how tough it gets. May our collective song of lament sustain us in this work of hope.
Rev. Janna Louie is chief of staff for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. An ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches USA, she is the founder of the Coalition of Asian American Pacific Islander Churches.