Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.Psalm 80
This is our last Advent Vespers Service this year, since next Wednesday is Christmas. I have been looking the last couple of weeks at the psalm appointed in the lectionary for the preceding Sunday. Tonight, I thought I would look at the psalm appointed for this coming Sunday, Psalm 80. Because this psalm includes a beautiful prayer that I want to focus on tonight: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Three times in this Psalm, in fact, we hear this refrain, this heartfelt plea: let your face shine, that we may be saved. There is something about the simplicity of this prayer, of this request, that I find deeply moving. It is prayer that is found elsewhere in the Book of Psalms. Psalms 4, 31, and 67 all include a prayer that God’s face would shine on us.
And it’s a prayer that calls to mind another very famous verse in Scripture, the oldest known Biblical text that has ever been found. There are artifacts dating back to the 7th century B.C. that have been discovered, with the words from the Book of Numbers, Chapter 6 on them, the words of the famous priestly blessing:
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The look look upon you with favor, and give you peace.Numbers 6
The Lord make his face shine on you. Throughout Scripture, God’s face is a source of awe and mystery. Moses was told by God that anyone who saw the face of God would not live. Often in the Old Testament, when God set His face against His enemies, they would be destroyed or at least put to flight. There is a famous story in the Book of Genesis of Jacob wrestling with God. After surviving the night, Jacob named the place, Peniel – which means the face of God – because Jacob believed that he saw God face to face, and lived. Stir up your might, and come to save us, prays the Psalmist. How? By letting your face shine.
We are getting close to Christmas, and we might wonder how this Psalm fits into the picture. It seems to me that it fits into the picture exactly through this prayer: that God’s face would shine on us. Isn’t that what happened at Christmas? Didn’t God’s face shine on us, and on all the world, when He gave His only Son? Scripture tells us that it is God’s Son, Jesus, who makes God known to us; who reveals God’s face to us. In Jesus, God’s face truly shines on us.
But think, too, of this: That when God chose to shine his face on us, he did it first through the face of His infant Son. Can you think of a less scary image than the face of a baby? (OK, when they’re crying, they might be a little scary, but you get the idea I hope!) God chose to show us His face first in a way that does not create fear, but trust and love. The word became flesh and lived among us, God’s Word tells us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. Or, as Paul puts it so beautifully in Second Corinthians:
For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2 Corinthians 4
Yes, God has answered the prayer of Psalm 80 – He let His face shine on us. And he did it through Jesus.
You remember that Blessing recorded in the Book of Numbers? Well, think of how Jesus himself fulfills that blessing: In Jesus, the Lord blesses us and keeps us. In Jesus, the Lord makes his face shine on and is gracious to us. In Jesus, the Lord looks upon us with favor. And in Jesus, the Lord gives us peace.
Jesus is the very way that God answers prayer, and Jesus is the very way that God blesses us. Jesus is the way that God shines his face upon us.
Next week, on Christmas Eve, we will gather here again, and we will sing a beloved Christmas Carol which seems inspired by the words of this Psalm. As we lift our candles, we will sing “Silent Night”. And verse 3 is a beautiful expression of how God shines his face on us through his son, Jesus.
Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light, radiant beams from your holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at your birth. Jesus, Lord, at your birth.
Jesus is love’s pure light. He is the radiant beam from God’s holy face. No wonder his birth is such a holy event. It is the night that God truly let his face shine upon us, and all the world.
May God’s face continue to shine upon us all, through God’s son, Jesus. Amen