"O LORD, I give my life to you.
I trust in you, my God!
Do not let me be disgraced,
or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.
No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,
but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.
Show me the right path, O LORD;
point out the road for me to follow.
Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for you are the God who saves me.
All day long I put my hope in you.
Remember, O LORD, your compassion and unfailing love,
which you have shown from long ages past.
Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth.
Remember me in the light of your unfailing love,
for you are merciful, O LORD.
The LORD is good and does what is right;
he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
He leads the humble in doing right,
teaching them his way.
The LORD leads with unfailing love and faithfulness
all who keep his covenant and obey his commands."
Psalm 25:1-10, NLT
Somewhere on the internet this past week, I saw a little tidbit about Frederick Buechner's 'last' book, one that he, one of the most popular Christian authors of the last 30 years, had a hard time getting published. To say I was stunned would be a very large understatement. So I promptly looked up the book (The Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany) and ordered a copy for myself. It was eventually published -- now fours years ago (!) -- and consists of remembrances, short essays, assorted bits and pieces from his long, literary life. I am loving it as I chew on a morsel or two each evening.
Here is a brief paragraph that grabbed me by the neck this past week and shook me pretty hard. It is part of a chapter entitled, "Bulletin Board," in which Buechner describes a variety of photographs scattered around his office, telling a brief story about each person pictured:
"Frank Tracy Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, is smiling benignly in his dog collar and steel-rimmed glasses, that strikingly intelligent, articulate, sweet-tempered man. He told me that once when he was taking a shower, he distinctly heard a voice from somewhere saying, 'Why do you take your sins so much more seriously than I do?' His first reaction was to burst into laughter. His second was to burst into tears."
All my life, I've been taught that my sins, and the sins of everyone else in this wide, wonderful world, are the reason that Jesus came in the flesh. The love of God was in there somewhere, but my own sin sort of took center stage in the teaching of my youth. So reading a small, explosive paragraph like this one sometimes stops me in my tracks.
Then I read through the psalm for today, the first day of Advent - the first Sunday of Advent. And I remembered: the Psalmist, singing centuries before that Baby was born in the stable, the Psalmist sings about 'unfailing love,' about mercy, about God's gentle guidance in the way that is right and true. This song is about God pointing the way, pointing the right way.
And I began to remember, to see, to celebrate that Jesus came to show us how: how to live in this world, how to die to this world, how to live forever. And showing us the way includes pointing out the sin that cripples and wounds us. It includes the shedding of precious blood and the rending of tender flesh that we might be healed. It includes learning to live in the center of God's goodness and grace and 'unfailing love.'
Contrition is right and good and necessary. Repentance is right and good and necessary. But focusing exclusively on how terrible we are ultimately turns the whole wonderful story completely on its head. Love comes first. Forgiveness comes first. Desire for relationship and healing and wholeness - these are far more serious than our sin. And that is cause for wonder, cause even for joyous laughter.
And that is also, of course, cause for tears. Tears of gratitude, humility, and tender homage. Because that precious Baby came -- and that Glorious Savior will come -- for love's sake alone. Imagine that!
Point us in the right direction, Jesus. As we step into Advent this year, remind us where we fall short, yes, we need those reminders. But O LORD, whisper to us of love, sing to us of forgiveness, beckon us toward holy righteousness. Because YOU are righteous and because of Jesus, so are we. Thank you!