It’s easy to become maudlin and sentimental around Advent and Christmas because we’re surrounded by maudlin and sentimental celebrations of Christmas. When we sing Psalms of Advent, we’ll be reminded again and again that Advent is inherently political.
Our desire for the Bridegroom’s arrival is a hunger and thirst for God’s kingdom, and that means a longing for God to come to judge the earth. As Bride, we long for justice. As Bride, we long for the overthrow of the unjust.
Psalm 58 is addressed to wicked “gods,” those who pass judgment in God’s name (v. 1). They’re supposed to weigh things with just weights and measures; they’re supposed to weigh evidence and testimony truthfully. Instead, their scales are tilted toward violence: “on earth you weigh out violence with your own hands” (v. 2).
They’re like their father the devil, speaking lies like the father of lies, with venom under their tongue. Their ears are closed, like the ears of a deaf cobra that doesn’t respond to the charmers (vv. 3-5).
David wants the Lord to come and shatter the teeth of the predatory gods (v. 6). He wants their arrows to become headless shafts (v. 7). He wants them to melt away like the slimy track of a snail, or to be like miscarried fetuses that never see the sun (v. 8).
When that happens, when the Lord comes and does that, the righteous will enjoy an Advent baptism: “the righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” Then the nations will know there’s a God who judges the judges of the earth (vv. 10-11).
Psalm 82 is also about the “gods” (v. 1). God takes up His place among the gods, the judges who show partiality to the wicked and judge unjustly. Asaph wants the Lord to “Arise” to judge the earth, to take possession of the nations (v. 8).
When Chief Justice shows up among the lesser judges, He gives them orders for their conduct in court: “Vindicate the weak and the fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (vv. 3-4).
He backs up His decree with a threat. The judges are “gods, sons of the Most High.” Yet they will die a perfectly normal human death. They’ll fall like every other human being (vv. 6-7).
At the beginning of Psalm 83, Israel’s enemies of Israel have gathered against the Lord’s treasured ones, prepared to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. Edomites and Ishmaelites – brother-nations, descendants of Esau and Ishmael – lead the charge (v. 6). They’re joined by Moab and Ammon – cousin nations, the sons of Lot – and by the Hagrites, Ammonites, Philistines, and people of Tyre and Assyria (vv. 7-8). It’s Israel versus the world.
Asaph wants Yahweh to make them like Sisera (v. 9), the general who was enticed into Jael’s tent and fell asleep. Then Jael pounded a tent peg through his skull. Asaph wants Yahweh to crush the skulls of Israel’s enemies.
He wants the Lord to make them like Zebah and Zalmunna (v. 11). What happened to them? They’re the kings of Midian whom Gideon defeated, then executed.
Asaph asks Yahweh to turn Israel’s enemies to fertilizer (v. 10). He wants them to become like whirling dust, like chaff (v. 13), burned up like a dry forest (v. 14). He wants the Lord to strike terror into them, and to fill their faces with dishonor, leaving them forever ashamed and dismayed, humiliated and dead (vv. 15-17).
The Psalm is evangelistic. Asaph longs for the Advent of the judge so everyone will know God is the Lord, the Most High over all the earth. He wants the nations to know that Yahweh defends Israel (v. 18).
Psalm 94 is a Psalm of Advent. The Psalmist calls on the God of vengeance to shine forth. He wants the Judge of the earth to rise up (vv. 1-2).
The reason? The proud and wicked exult. They speak arrogantly. They crush the people of God. They kill widows and strangers and murder orphans. And they think God doesn’t notice. They can hide their evil from the God of Jacob (vv. 3-7).
He does see. God made the ear, and he hears the cries of the oppressed. God made the eye, and He sees and evaluates and judges men (vv. 8-11). He chastens nations and rebukes them. He will bring the wickedness of the wicked back on then. He will destroy them in their evil.
Mary knew the Psalms of Advent, and her Magnificat is full of the politics of Advent (Luke 1:46-55). Through Mary’s Son, the Lord will alter the power structures of Israel: “He scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart” and “brought down rulers from their thrones, and exalted those who were humble” (vv. 51-52) He changes the distribution of goods: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away” (v. 53).
Mary sees herself as a type, an object-lesson of Advent. The Lord has had regard for the humble state of His bondservant, so that she will be called blessed to all generations. The Mighty One does great things for her, and so He will do great things for all Israel (vv. 47-49).
These are tough Psalms. On our own, we wouldn’t dare ask God to shatter the teeth of the wicked, or to make them like a dissolving snail or a stillborn child. We wouldn’t dare celebrate by dancing in the blood of the wicked. We wouldn’t think to ask God to crack the skulls of His enemies, or to spread them like shit on the ground, or to drive them away like chaff.
We’d hold back and hesitate to call on the God of vengeance to render a reward to the proud. We might feel the outrage. But we wouldn’t dare to express that outrage to God. We might feel joy when the wicked are overthrown, but we’d stop short of exulting in their destruction.
On our own, we wouldn’t dare sing such Psalms of Advent. But if we refrain, we aren’t singing about Advent at all, because Advent celebrates the arrival of the Judge who comes to judge. Through the Psalms, God trains us to sing Advent.
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