ADVENT PRAYER: Second Sunday Of Advent by Martin Shannon

Praying With the Psalms Through Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany

Second Sunday Of Advent by Martin Shannon

From My Soul Waits

Psalm 66

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me. (v. 16)

The Hebrew inscription of this psalm reads: “To the choirmaster – a song – a psalm.”  Most of the early Greek manuscripts (known as the Septuagint) add another word: anastaseos, meaning, “of the resurrection.”  This tells us that, by the second, or even late in the first century, Psalm 66 was probably sung by Christians at Easter, the feast of the Lord’s resurrection.

Before Christians adopted Psalm 66 as a song in celebration of the resurrection, it was a song in celebration of God’s deliverance of Israel.  You hear in these words the prayer of a faithful Jew, coming to make his sacrifice in the temple, in gratitude to God for his saving deeds, (v. 3).  On the one hand, those deeds took place generations ago, when the enslaved people of Israel were miraculously liberated from the fiery furnace of Egypt, (Deuteronomy 4:20), and brought through the Red Sea to a spacious land of promise and freedom, (Psalm 66:11-12).  But, to the psalmist, those “awesome deeds” had repeated in some way in his own personal life.  “I was in trouble,” (v. 14), he says to any who will listen.  “Come and hear, and I will tell you what the Lord has done for me,(v. 16).  To the psalmist, the delivering power of God is not something only from the distant past.  The same God who turned the sea into dry land generations ago has kept the poet’s feet from slipping in the mire today.  Just as God heard the groaning of Israel under bondage, (Exodus 2:23-24), “God has listened; he has given heed to the voice of my prayer,” (Psalm 66:19), the psalmist sings.

For Christians, then, this psalm serves a similar purpose.  In fourth-century Constantinople, John Chrysostom appointed it to be sung as the first antiphon at his divine liturgy for Easter.  The Passover of the Israelites has become the Passover of Christ, which has become our own Passover from death to life.  We can borrow the psalmist’s words for our own every time we sing them.  For we hear in them the words of our Savior, whose coming to bring victory over death and the grave has given us our own testimony:

You kept me among the living, even when it seemed I would fall into the wasteland.
You tested me, O God, smelted me in a furnace like silver.
It was as if you’d led me into a trap.
You laid an unbearable weight upon my back, and while I was bent over, you allowed everyone to lord it over me.
I was burned in the fire and drowned in the water…but you brought me back to life.

From The Fathers

Although the entrance is “straight and narrow,” once inside we see a vast and limitless space, greater than any other anywhere.  We have been told these things by eyewitnesses and heirs.  They speak of their trials and distresses: “You have placed afflictions before us,” but then they add, “You brought us out into a spacious place” – and, “You gave us space in our distress.” (Athanasius)

Father, you see the tight spot I am in.
The pressure seems to be coming from every direction…mostly from the inside.
It feels as though I can hardly move.
You tell me that the grave-cloth that binds me today will tomorrow become the white robe of praise.
In the meantime, hear my prayer, and do not leave me alone.

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