Yes, I admit it. I am behind. Travelling will do that to me. The end of the semester will do that to me. Preparing for a concert where I am singing something totally new (like I am next week) pushes all sense of time and season out of the way. Today, however, I decided to face the truth — Advent has begun without me.
And so, while I am busy getting my act together, I convinced myself that one good Advent devotional activity would be to go back and read some of the things that I myself wrote in years past during this season. I hope you will not mind that I am recycling a thought or two while I get my Advent juices flowing, but this piece — written for Day 4 of Advent in 2013 — is still surprising fresh for me (although, Psalm 100 is not today’s ascribed text). I hope that it will be for you too…
Knowing it in Your Bones (originally posted December 4, 2013)
If you described my religious identity as a child as, well, confused, you would be generous. Raised and confirmed Presbyterian, reading the Daily Word from Unity School of Religious Science every morning with my vitamins as I left to go to school, attending Sunday school at the United Church of Christ, going to Youth Group with my friends at the United Methodist church. And in the quiet hours of Advent, alone in my room, building what I thought looked like a reasonable approximation of a Catholic altar — I put a nativity on one side of the dresser and a lit Christmas tree on the other (before you liturgical purists get all up in arms, I was EIGHT YEARS OLD)–and I spent long hours in the middle of the night praying on my knees before that altar.
Is it any wonder that as an adult I became a Baptist? And in particular, a Baptist pursuing a seminary education at an Episcopal seminary? I clearly need to embrace the ideas of the priesthood of believers and individual soul autonomy that would allow all these eclectic things to exist in my faith simultaneously.
Reading today’s passage for 4th day of Advent (again, I’m taking my readings from the wonderful, printable Advent calendar at by Merry Watters and Thomas Mousin), for some reason, makes me think of those nights in my room, talking to God and the Christmas tree in ways that only a child can:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
I have a distinct memory of kneeling before my Advent altar and singing quietly the words of Silent Night (most likely in the original German; yes, even then), but we rarely think of Advent as the time to “make a joyful noise”. Advent is the mournful, monkish sound of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, isn’t it? And we only dare lift our voices in the praising chords and melodies of Handel’s Messiah outside the worship service at one of the popular Messiah sing-alongs that populate the holiday calendars in cities small and large throughout the English-speaking world.
So why read Psalm 100 during Advent? There are some clues in the Psalm itself, if you will excuse me while I go all form critical on you. Those of us worshiping according to the Revised Common Lectionary will generally hear Psalm 100 in service after Pentecost and on Christ the King Sunday in November of Year A. This Psalm is the first of the enthronement Psalms, or Psalms that celebrate God’s lordship over all creation. It can also be described as a hymn of praise, which is a particular literary form found in the the book of Psalms. Here is the really interesting thing to me about the text–it is made up of a string of seven imperative verbs in the original Hebrew. Literally, we are commanded to “make a joyful noise,” ” worship,” “come,” “know,” “enter,” “give thanks,” and “bless”. And if that isn’t interesting enough, the word we translate as “know”, well, it just doesn’t mean what we think it means today.
The word “know” in the original Hebrew is the word yada. Knowing was not an intellectual activity when this text was written; it was a lot closer to what we mean when we say someone “knows it in their very bones.” If you take a minute and look at the use of yada translated as “knowledge” in Hosea 4:1 and 4:6, you will see that to know in this sense means to act; there is no space between word and deed. All the other verbs in this song of praise are actions, real physical actions if taken in context of worship in the Temple. And likewise, yada here means a kind of knowing bound to action, a kind of knowledge that is fully internalized. Knowing it in our bones.
So again I ask…why read Psalm 100 during Advent? Are we missing something when we see Advent as a “quiet time”, because the world around us certainly does not agree. Are we called to a “different kind” of Advent, not an Advent of prayerful waiting but an Advent where we step out in the action of faith, where we step out in the knowledge that this is time of remembrance of what has already come if we will but embrace it. Should we be singing Joy to the World from the very first day?
I think that in a life of faith, there comes a time when the waiting is over and be-ing must take over. Maybe that is the true meaning of Advent in a post-modern world. Maybe this is a time to arm yourself with the very spirit of action offered by the Psalmist: make a joyful noise, worship, come, enter, give thanks, bless, and know in your very bones that the Lord ALONE is God.