************ Advent Sermon on Psalm 74 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on November 27, 2016

Psalm 74
"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"
2016 Advent # 1

Advent has been hijacked. Advent has been hijacked by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Most people, including some here, consider these shopping days to be the start of the Christmas season.

Yet, as we all know, Advent has nothing to do with shopping days and shopping malls, Christmas decorations, and Santas. Instead, it has to do with the coming of Jesus. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."

Psalm 74 is an Advent Psalm. It starts with the need for Emmanuel. It continues with the victory of Emmanuel. And, it ends with a prayer for Emmanuel.

I The Need for Emmanuel
A Psalm 74 starts with three complaints.

Let's start with the second complaint which gives us the setting and helps us to understand the first complaint. The second complaint concerns the destruction of the sanctuary brought about by the enemy (Ps 74:3). The psalmist can only be talking about the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians.

What did the Babylonians do? "They set up their standards as signs" (Ps 74:5). A standard is a banner, a flag, representing their pagan gods. The Temple, which was the sign of God's presence, was desecrated by the sign of Bel's presence.

Look what else they did: They smashed the carved paneling (Ps 74:6), they burned the sanctuary to the ground (Ps 74:7), they burned every place where God was worshiped in the land (Ps 74:8). They destroyed the schools of the prophets (Ps 74:9) where God's Word was read and explained and where God's Name was praised and called up. But the schools and the prophets were destroyed. What we see is Babylon's great rage against true religion.

You might wonder what is the big deal? What is so horrible about this? After all, it was mostly business as usual after we had our fire (I notice our nursery is all fixed up). Do you remember Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well? This Samaritan woman said, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem" (Jn 4:20). The Jews believed God must be worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem. No Temple, no worship. It is as simple as that. For a devout Jew, the destruction of the Temple is devastating. No wonder, as Psalm 137 put it, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion" (Ps 137:1). Not only was the Temple destroyed, but the worship of God was also stopped.

Be thankful, congregation, for the coming of Jesus. The Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. The Samaritans worshiped at Gerizim.
(Jn 4:23) Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
That's what Jesus said to the woman at the well. Jesus said that with Emmanuel's coming no longer is there a need for a consecrated place. Any place will do: a school building, a prison, a cave, the catacombs, an open meadow, a clearing in the forest, someone's home. The only requirement is that God's people worship in spirit and in truth.

So what the psalmist wanted, what the people needed, was the coming of the Messiah, the coming of Emmanuel. Because then the tears of Babylon would turn into cries of joy in worship.

B This leads us to the first complaint. Jerusalem was in ruins. The Temple was destroyed. The prophets were killed. Worship was not possible. This leads the psalmist to complain that God has rejected His people:
(Ps 74:1) Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
Don't think bad of the psalmist here. In the New Testament we hear a similar cry from Jesus on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 26:34). If Jesus can cry this way, then surely the psalmist can as well.

In the face of all the hurt and pain and destruction, it seems God is silent:
(Ps 74:9) We are given no miraculous signs; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.
The silence of God can be heartrending. It shakes our faith. And when our faith is shaken, we yearn for a sign, a new word, the appearance of a prophet.

The psalmist knows something that we also know: that when there are troubles and calamities we need to cry out to God. For it is God Who has allowed the troubles. It is God Who allowed Israel to be delivered into the hands of wicked men. It is God Who allowed the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. So the complaint must be brought to God:
(Ps 74:1) Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?

To be forsaken by God, to be rejected by God, is the absolute worst thing that can happen to anyone. This should be our greatest dread. No wonder Hebrews tells us "not to be of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved" (Heb 10:39).

But now something Israel needs to realize; and, something we also need to realize: 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). Perhaps the psalmist forgot that God disciplines the sons he loves (Cf Heb 12:5-6).

And, we need to realize God promised a Mediator, a Messiah, Emmanuel. Someone Who is with them forever. Someone Who knows the answers to their questions.

C This brings us to the third complaint? The psalmist asks, "How long?"
(Ps 74:10-11) How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever? (11) Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
"How long?" Do you remember where else we have heard these words? We hear these words from heaven's altar.
(Rev 6:9-10) When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. (10) They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"
"How long?" How long must this punishment be endured? How long before the wicked are punished? How long before justice is experienced? How long?

"How long?" is also our cry on this earth and in this life and in this body. How long must we endure the contempt of those who hate God and Christ and the Gospel? How long must we also suffer under those who wish our destruction?

What Israel desperately needed, what we need, is Emmanuel:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

II The Victory of Emmanuel
A In all their sorrows and tears, the people of God call to mind the deeds of God. These deeds, when recalled, silence all our complaints and laments. Two things, especially, quiet the minds of those who find themselves afflicted.

First, the people who cry "How long?" must remember that God is a saving God:
(Ps 74:12) But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth.
What did He do? "It was you who split open the sea by your power" (Ps 74:13a). Remember what happened at the Red Sea? God divided the sea and Israel walked safely across the sea on dry ground. As for Pharaoh and his army, "you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan" (Ps 74:13b-14a). God provided victory. Already in Egypt we see this victory. The more Israel was afflicted in her slavery, the more she multiplied in number.

None but God could do this, and He did it with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.

Similarly, in Christ we see the seed of the woman crushing the serpent's head.

B Second, the people who cry "How long?" must see the might of God in Creation. He opens up springs and streams. He dries up flowing rivers. He establishes day and night and the changing seasons (cf Ps 74:15-17). He is the God of time. He controls the forces and laws of nature.

Why bring this up? The God Who controls the universe is more than able to look after the needs of His people. He Who preserves the sun, moon, and stars is more than able to keep His covenant with Abraham and his descendants after him.

C How do we respond to this saving God? How do we respond to the God of Creation? We sing and we pray:
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

III The Prayer for Emmanuel
A In verses 18-23 the psalmist pleads, in the name of the church, that God would appear for them against their enemies and put an end to their present troubles. He prays, "Rise up, O God, and defend your cause" (Ps 74:22).

Is God able to do this? Of course He is. He is the God Who split the sea. He is the God Who regulates day and night, summer and winter. How can such a God sit back and watch and remain silent while fools mock Him? "Rise up, O God, and defend your cause" (Ps 74:22).

What is God's cause? It is the Gospel. It is the Kingdom of heaven. It is the children of Israel. It is the church. "Rise up, O God, and defend your cause" (Ps 74:22).

The psalmist prays this in the face of enemies who mock God and His name, who afflict and oppress the lives of God's people, who destroy the sanctuary and the worship of God. The psalmist prays this for people who are part of the covenant.

Let's put the psalmist's prayer in New Testament terms. "Keep your church strong and add to it." "Destroy the Devil's work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your Word." "Rise up, O God, and defend your cause" (Ps 74:22).

B In the exile of Babylon this may seem an impossible dream. In the rubble of Jerusalem this may seem an impossible dream. When babies are being killed and women are being taken and men are being slaughtered, this may seem an impossible dream. But someday God does rise up. Someday God sends His Son. Someday this Son is crowned as King after He had suffered for a while. All His enemies and mine He will condemn to everlasting punishment.

C "Rise up, O God, and defend your cause" (Ps 74:22). This is what Israel was waiting for -- the Emmanuel. This is what we are waiting for -- the Emmanuel.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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