Advent 4: Wachet auf

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts;
there is no one who does good.

God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.

They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.

This is the beginning of Psalm 53, the appointed evening psalm for December 4. Really? This psalm is offered to us as a nighttime blessing early in the season of hope? This bleak view of humanity, this black cynicism, this misanthropic despair?   Who wants to go to sleep thinking these thoughts?  Even the last lines don’t give us enough hope to counteract the pessimistic lament so we can sleep through the night in peace. Or is that the point?  Is this psalm meant to wake us up to what for many is the only existence they know?  The desolation of loneliness, the gnawing hunger, the misery of grief – these are signs that nothing is right in the world.  The truth is: while we sleep in heavenly peace, others are suffering. The psalmist demands that we pay attention.  Advent demands that we do more than pay attention – that we wake up and get busy.  The time has come… the summons to action has been clearly spoken.

“Sleepers, wake!” A voice astounds us,
the shout of rampart-guards surrounds us:
“Awake, Jerusalem, arise!”
Midnight’s peace their cry has broken,
their urgent summons clearly spoken:
“The time has come, O maidens wise!
Rise up, and give us light;
the Bridegroom is in sight.
Alleluia!
Your lamps prepare and hasten there,
that you the wedding feast may share.”

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