Advent is near, and hope, peace, joy, and love are eager to be born in us. We live our lives in a holy rhythm, often unknowingly, and this season is about seeing the world with less fear and suspicion, like newborn innocence. Once again, it is time to savor shorter days and longer nights, which make the lights of the season an added blessing.
As we enter Year B in the lectionary, I have chosen to use the selected Psalms for this year’s reflection. The refrain of Psalm 80 is: “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” A psalm of lament, it recounts Israel’s sense of desolation, being fed with “the bread of tears,” and having “tears to drink in full measure” (v. 5). Could they be restored?
The metaphor of the “shining face of God” weaves its way throughout Scripture. It is ancient wording, perhaps found first in the Aaronic benediction and later used in the temple worship in Jerusalem. It means presence, signifying that the holy God turns toward the people in concern and favor.
We hear echoes of this representation of holy presence in the New Testament as Paul describes the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6b). Followers of Jesus are meant to shine, also, as we reflect divine glory. It is because of concern and favor that God comes and shows us how to be born anew.
How can we grasp the idea that God’s face is turned toward us, indeed shines upon us? I recall Roberta Bondi’s struggle to feel beloved of God. She had felt that she had disappointed her father as a child and that, somehow, she was responsible for his disappearance from her family. It was not until she was an adult that she learned to think of God in a new way, a vision she derived from the Ammas and Abbas of the desert monastic tradition.
The weakness and ineptitude of a little one does not draw forth wrath, but compassion, and surely God is as patient and tender as a parent beholding the child in love. God beams forgiveness and mercy, a shining presence. In mature adulthood, she was able to make welcome the child, “little Roberta,” that she had so long blamed.
In this hopeful season of keeping vigil, may we be receptive to God’s shining presence. Surely our dark world needs illumining, but so does the human heart, especially the shadows of remembered sin and shame. Many of us carry heavy burdens from our past that God would be delighted to remove. And so we pray: “let your face shine so that we may be saved.”
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.