Fourth Sunday of Advent
1) Mi 5:1-4
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
2) Heb 10:5-10
Gospel: Lk 1:39-45
The Israelites who wrote the psalm in today’s liturgy had suffered military defeat, occupation, loss of independence. They wanted God to reverse this situation. “O God, restore us,” they prayed, and repeated it twice for emphasis (Ps 80:4, 8, 20).
But what are we praying for?
Well, we certainly need restoration. In our families, we experience broken relationships. In the church, we hurl criticisms and accusations at one another that destroy the fabric of our unity. In our society — but do I need to say anything about that?
“O God, restore us” is a pretty relevant prayer wherever we look.
It is interesting that the Hebrew word for “restore” is a form of the word “return.” It means “cause to return.” Also interesting: In the Old Testament, “return” is the word for repent. To repent and be converted is to return to God.
So while the psalm means, on one level, restore our nation, on another level it means cause us to return, that is, enable us to repent.
We have all made a mess in our relationships with each other, and God can only restore what is broken if we repent. But repentance does not come easily to us.
A Jewish sage, Israel of Rizhyn, once quoted seemingly contrasting texts: “Return to me,” says the Lord, “and I will return to you” (Zec 1:3) and “Bring us back to you, Lord, that we may return” (Lam 5:21).
The rabbi put his right hand down on the table when he cited the first and turned his hand palm up when he cited the second, and he did this several times.
This raised the question, which of these two movements comes first, our repenting or God bringing us back to himself?
In the end, he left his hand palm up. “Waves of anguish close over the people,” he said, and we “cannot govern” our hearts and return to God — unless God first enables us to return.
That God has acted to enable us to return is, of course, the Gospel in a nutshell (see Mk 1:15).
The anguish, pride, hurt, fear, anger, arrogance that hinder us from repenting and restoring our relationships are very difficult for us to face up to. But if we are now pondering this problem, God is already with us, giving us the grace to return.
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Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.