This Sunday in church, my good friend Tanner read the 23rd Psalm as we prepared to take communion. You may be able to recite the entire psalm from memory, but here it is anyway:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
(NLT, emphasis mine)
I’ve heard or read that portion of scripture literally hundreds of times and have been affected by its beauty. But as I heard it read on Sunday, the image of the banquet table struck me in a powerful way.
Because it’s not what I would normally ask God for.
David wasn’t praising God for getting rid of his enemies. He still found himself surrounded by evil. No, he understood that life is involved walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet in the midst of it all, God was offering something better for him.
This is the essence of the season of Advent for me. The coming of Jesus into our world matters. As Trevor so eloquently put yesterday, Jesus “infuses life with meaning and beauty and shows a better way to be human.”
Yet that does not mean that the troubles of life are swept away. We are still surrounded by pain and death. We deal with the consequences of our fallen world.
But even in the middle of the chaos, Jesus came. He came to be with us even in our darkest valleys. And he shows us that something better is possible. That even in a world that seems to surround us with evil, we can come to the table to find true love and joy and peace and hope.
The season of Advent helps me to seek better things. To live better in the present instead of pining to leave this world behind. To stop asking God to take away all of my problems and instead allow Jesus’ light to penetrate the darkness.
Because this is where Jesus came and it’s where I live.
God promises us that one day we will be guests at a great banquet where there will be no more evil surrounding us. Until that day may we enjoy the table in the valley of the darkness.
Advent reminds us that it’s possible. I hope you celebrate the season with us.