************ Candle Light Sermon on Psalm 43:3 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on December 25, 2016

Psalm 43
Psalm 43:3
"Send Forth Your Light and Your Truth"
2016 Advent # 7
Candle Light Service on Christmas Night

What do you miss in this Christmas season? Maybe it is a person -- a spouse, parent, grandparent, child, or friend who has died; or someone who moved away; or someone you have lost touch with; or classmates from your days in school. Maybe it is a place -- your home town, the farm you grew up on, the cottage or cabin or lake you vacation at. Maybe it is a pet -- a dog, a cat, a hamster. Maybe it is a favorite food -- something mom made for you as a child, something you can get in Holland or Canada or Iowa but not Visalia. Maybe it is a toy -- a bike, doll, train set, stuffed animal. Maybe a family tradition -- caroling, picking out and decorating a tree together, making almond pastries. Most of us have a thing or two we miss in this Christmas season.

The psalmist misses something too. He has a big hole in his life that needs filling. He offers a lament or cry about this hole in his life in Psalms 42 & 43. It is not a slip of the tongue on my part to mention Psalm 42. Though we are looking at Psalm 43, a note at the bottom of our pew Bibles informs us that in many Hebrew manuscripts Psalms 42 & 43 constitute one Psalm.

I What the Psalmist Misses
A To understand what the psalmist is praying about, I want to look at the who, what, why, and when.

Who is writing here at the start of Book II of the Psalms? The last verse of Book II says, "This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse" (Ps 72:20). So, we can safely conclude -- since there is no heading indicating otherwise -- that the author is King David.

What is going on? David is "downcast" as he misses something. That word "downcast" appears four times in Psalms 42 and 43. What a powerful word. What a pain-filled word. It means to groan loudly, moan, lament, to make a moaning or crying sound as a signal of distress. It means to be disturbed, in a state of anxiety and distress. It means to be in the darkness of despair.

Today we could use the word depressed. A doctor might say clinical depression. Think of those stuck in a depression so severe they can never see the light at the end of the tunnel. Think of those in such a hole of despair they can never imagine a time when they will be climbing out. Think of those moaning and groaning in a hospital bed, wracked with pain, giving up all hope of ever getting better. That's what "downcast" means.

David is in trouble. His soul is in turmoil. His life is in distress. He is in a world of tribulation. And he is feeling overwhelmed. He is in the darkness of despair. As a sign of what is going on do you notice what David does in verse 5? He talks to himself. Normal people don't talk to themselves. At least not in my house. Normal people don't talk to themselves but that is exactly what David is doing:
(Ps 43:5) Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
(Cf Ps 42:5,11)

The worst of David's troubles is that he feels forsaken by God. "You are God my stronghold" he writes. "Why have you rejected me?" (Ps 42:2). David forgets that the presence of pain does not mean the absence of God. The people of God must never think that because they are cast down they are therefore cast off. That is the pagan's view. Didn't God say, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Heb 13:5).

Why is David in this situation? According to verse 2 he has been oppressed by enemies (cf Ps 42:9). In verse 1 he prays for rescue from deceitful and wicked men.

When did this happen? Commentators cannot agree on the exact circumstances. Some say David is writing about his experience when Absalom rebelled against him. At that time David was driven from the land and enemies like Shimei publicly taunted him. Others say David is writing about the time he was hunted down like an animal by King Saul and reduced to living in holes and caves.

B So, in this bad situation what is it that David misses most? If you were in David's shoes, what would you miss most? Does David miss family most -- his wives, sons, daughters? Nope. Friends? Nope. Palace? Nope. His throne and scepter? Nope. His flocks and herds? Nope.

Look at verse 4. What David misses most is the altar. When his trials end, what David looks forward to seeing -- more than anything else -- is the altar. What altar? The altar in the Temple. In Jerusalem. This seems strange to us if we don't understand the place and role of the altar. The altar stands at the entrance to the Temple. It is through the altar that the people have access to God. It is the altar that allows the worship of God. Sinful people come to the altar with their sin offerings. They kill a sheep, a goat, a lamb, they sprinkle the blood, they confess their sins. Then they are free to worship God, sing His praises, and play their harps.

David in exile is downcast because he misses the altar. David fleeing from enemies is downcast because he misses going to the Temple. David being attacked by deceitful and wicked men is downcast because he misses the worship of God.

C Our altar is the cross. The cross is our only way to the presence of God. The cross is the only way our sins can be forgiven. The cross is the only way to the worship of God.

Do we ever feel the way David does? Do we ever experience the darkness of despair felt by David? We feel the same way as David when we have not taken the Lord's Supper for a long period. Our faith is refreshed and strengthened by the sacrament, and when it is long neglected, God's people can become dry in their spiritual life. Believers can also feel distant from God when they neglect Bible reading and prayer.

The situation in which David found himself was worsened by the trials he faced. This can be true for us as well. When things are most difficult, we hunger ever more for God's presence in our lives. And, when we neglect God's means of grace while dealing with problems, we can spiral into the darkness of despair.

II What the Psalmist Needs
A David is in the darkness of despair as he is kept away from the altar and the Temple and the worship of God. David is in the darkness of despair as it seems even God is against Him.

In this Candle Light service I want you to note what David prays for:
(Ps 43:3) Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.
This reminds me of the song based on Psalm 43 in the old blue Psalter Hymnal -- a song recognized by many here:
Send out thy light and Thy truth,
let them lead me;
O let them bring me to Thy holy hill ...

Lead me, O Lord, in the way everlasting;
O lead and guide me to Thy holy hill ...
The problem is darkness. The solution is light.

B To understand David's prayer, we need to look at what the Bible says about light.

As you know, in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was dark (Gen 1:2). Remember the first thing God made? God said, "Let there be light," and there was light and the light was good and God separated the darkness from the light (Gen 2:4). Ever since, God's light has been shining in the darkness.

When God visited Egypt with the ten plagues, do you remember what He did? He allowed the darkness to invade the light so total darkness covered all of Egypt for three days -- darkness that could be felt. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived (Ex 10:21-23).

Remember what God did at the Exodus? By day the LORD went ahead of the people of Israel in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people (Ex 13:21-22). The light of God's presence led the way through the darkness.

Remember what God included in the Tabernacle? He gave Moses commands for a golden lampstand to be set up in the Holy Place. It was placed just outside the curtain covering the entrance to the Most Holy Place (Ex 26:31-35). The purpose of the lampstand was to provide light for the priests to do their work, since there were no windows in the tabernacle through which light could enter. Later, a similar golden lampstand was placed in the Temple. Twice a day, every morning and every night, it was the job of the priests to replenish the oil so the light would never go out; in fact, the light was never to go out (Lev 24:2). The day the light went out -- when the Babylonians looted and then destroyed the Temple -- indicated that God was no longer protecting His people from darkness. The lampstand is a reminder that God is Light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 Jn 1:5). The lampstand is a reminder that to be in the light, the people have to be in the presence of God. The lampstand is a reminder that darkness is overcome by God.

Keeping all this in mind, do you hear what David is praying in Psalm 43? In the darkness of despair, in the darkness of exile, in the darkness of being away from the Temple and the altar and the worship of God, David is asking for light. For the light that leads to God's presence.
Send out thy light and Thy truth,
let them lead me;
O let them bring me to Thy holy hill ...

Lead me, O Lord, in the way everlasting;
O lead and guide me to Thy holy hill ...

III The New Testament Fulfilment
A There were three Feast of the Lord that required a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple: the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths.

In the Feast of Booths, the children of Israel came to Jerusalem and lived in booths for a week. The Feast of Booths reminded them of how they lived in tents and booths as they traveled through the wilderness for forty years. It reminded the people of God's provision and God's leading. It reminded the people that God was their light and their protection.

At the time of Jesus, the Jews celebrated the ceremony of lights as part of the Feast of Booths. In the courtyard of the Temple stood 4 towering lamps; they were 75 feet high -- that is twice as high as the high point of this ceiling. The lamps were so big that the reservoirs for oil held over 10 gallons each. Their wicks were made from the linen garments worn by the high priest in the previous year's Day of Atonement; the linens would be twisted and dipped into the oil and set ablaze. Each lamp had four long ladders leading up to the lamps. Young priests would climb the 75 feet up the ladder carrying large pitchers of olive oil to fill and refill the reservoirs. They would climb the 75 feet carrying the wicks. They would climb the 75 feet to light the lamps every night during the Feast of booths.

Josephus records that when the lamps were lit just at sundown the light was so bright that every home in all of Jerusalem could see the light reflected from the courtyard of the Temple.

Think about the scene. The Temple. The altar. The golden lampstand. The Feast of Booths. The ceremony of lights. Everyone could see the light. Everyone was drawn to the light, to the Temple, to the presence of God and the worship of God.
Send out thy light and Thy truth,
let them lead me;
O let them bring me to Thy holy hill ...

Lead me, O Lord, in the way everlasting;
O lead and guide me to Thy holy hill ...

B Now, consider what John writes in chapter 7 of his Gospel. He starts off this section with, "On the last and greatest day of the Feast" (Jn 7:37; cf 7:14). What Feast? The Feast of Booths. For 6 days now the young men have scampered 75 feet to the top of those 4 lamps in the Temple courtyard to trim the wicks and to fill the bowls and to light the lamps.

According to John, what happens of interest to us on the last and greatest day of the Feast? Jesus stood up and said,
(Jn 8:12) "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
The Pharisees knew what Jesus was claiming here: He was claiming to be God. They knew Jesus was claiming to be the light of God's presence -- the same light of God's presence that led Israel through the wilderness. They knew Jesus was claiming to be the Light spoken of by King David in Psalm 43. They knew Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah. They were familiar with the many titles in Scripture which ascribe light to the Messiah: the Star out of Jacob, the light of Israel, the light of the nations, a refiner's fire, a burning lamp, the Sun of righteousness. So they immediately called Jesus a liar (Jn 8:13).

Later that same day -- it is still the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles -- Jesus healed a blind man. He brought light into that man's darkened life. As He did so, He said, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (Jn 9:5). Again the Pharisees were angry with Jesus.

Before we end, let's go back to the cry of David. He is in the darkness of despair. He needs the Light.
Send out thy light and Thy truth,
let them lead me;
O let them bring me to Thy holy hill ...

Lead me, O Lord, in the way everlasting;
O lead and guide me to Thy holy hill ...

Do you see and hear what David needs, what David is praying for, Whom David is crying for? The Light David needs is Christ.

In this Candle Light service we celebrate that the Light is Christ. He is the Light of God's presence. He is the Light that chases away the darkness of despair. He is the Light that calls us and guides us to the altar and the worship of God. The Light is Christ. That's what we celebrate tonight.

In this Christmas season, what do you miss? My hope and my prayer is that nothing keeps you from the worship of God, from His Table, and from His Word. My hope and my prayer is that again and again you come to Christ for Whoever follows Him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
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