Advent devotional: God stooped

“Hallelujah!

Give praise, you servants of the LORD;

Praise the Name of the LORD. (1)

Let the Name of the LORD be blessed,

From this time forth for evermore. (2)

From the rising of the sun to its going down

Let the Name of the LORD be praised. (3)

The LORD is high above all nations,

And his glory above the heavens. (4)

Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high,

But stoops to behold the heavens and the earth? (5)

He takes up the weak out of the dust

And lifts up the poor from the ashes. (6)

He sets them with the princes,

With the princes of his people. (7)

He makes the woman of a childless house

To be a joyful mother of children.” (8) (Psalm 113)

What may be an unfamiliar psalm during the Advent season sums up so well the reason we celebrate and worship God during this time -- God visited us. Or, as this psalm puts it, He stooped to behold us.

The first two verses of this Psalm give us its purpose. The psalmist cannot contain his joy over God's grace, mercy and love for His people. So he begins his song with praise to God and exhorts us to praise God along with him all day long and forevermore. But why should we praise God, you might ask? The psalmist answers this for us.

Just like I wrote in my first Advent post about how I was overwhelmed by the stark contrast between God's status and our status and yet how He came to us, the same is true of the psalmist. God is greater than all nations and His glory transcends higher than the heavens. He is seated on the highest post possible, higher than our imaginations can take us. He is so high that he looks down on both the heavens and the earth; neither can contain Him. He is that big! Then there is God's people. The imagery the psalmist uses is of one that describes the people being in extreme poverty and misery. They are as low as you can go. And, they are without dignity, as "the barren woman" suggests. Perhaps the psalmist had in mind Sarah, an old and barren woman, married to Abraham. Perhaps the psalmist had in mind his people when they were slaves in Egypt. There are many accounts in the Old Testament of which this psalm could be true.

The point, however, is that this God who is so great "stoops to behold" His people in order to raise the poor, lift the needy, give dignity, and make the barren women "the joyous mother of children." One scholar wrote, "This short hymn of praise celebrates the way in which the great and majestic God who rules over all takes notice of the lowly. … God's majesty never implies his remoteness from those who look to him; it implies instead his exhaustive attention to detail, and his inexhaustible ability to care for his faithful."*

As God intends, Scripture doesn't just point backwards or speak of present things, but it all points to His Son, Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God's stooping only came so far. He sent angels; He spoke through a burning bush; He worked through mighty acts of His people. But there came a day when God himself came to earth. As Philippians 2 tells us, Christ humbled himself. He left the majestic presence of the Trinity to become human. He didn't give up his deity, but became incarnate, both God and man, so that His name could be "Immanuel," which means "God with us."

As was true of Sarah, God made Mary pregnant. It was not because of her age that her pregnancy was a miracle. It was because she was a virgin. She had not had sexual relations with a man. There was also another who became pregnant, more like Sarah because of her age, and her name was Elizabeth. Unlike Mary, Elizabeth was not impregnated by the Holy Spirit but by her husband. Still her pregnancy was a miracle given her age. Elizabeth’s child, John, would prepare the way for the Christ child. In fact these two miracle pregnancies were indicators that God was up to something, was in the business of stooping to behold us.

Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, gets at this great reversal. God’s stooping results in the raising of the humble and poor in spirit and the demotion of the prideful and wicked.

The season of Advent, therefore, reminds us that God has not left us alone in our misery, in our poverty, or in our states of improbability. No; because of his great love for us He will raise us up to sit in the throne room of heaven with Him! "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

The greatest irony of all is that in His stooping to notice the lowly, He himself became lowly. A baby. Born in a place where animals are kept. Born to a poor family. But He became lowly so that in raising Himself up from the dead He might also raise us up to walk in the newness of life with Him!

So with the psalmist I, too, say, "Hallelujah! Give praise, you servants of the LORD! Praise the Name of the LORD! Let the Name of the LORD be blessed, from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its going down let the Name of the LORD be praised!" Amen.

*See ESV Study Bible notes on Psalm 113.

Humble Pie

One day last Spring my husband and I were driving home having a heated discussion on who knows what. At one point in the conversation I said, “You don’t have to get so mad about it.” He said, “I’m not mad; I’m Hispanic.” What he meant was that he was passionate and for him being Hispanic (or Caribbean Hispanic at least) means being passionate. Anyone who knows me knows I am a very passionate person. It’s part of my DNA. In fact I joke that I too must be Hispanic. Passion isn’t a bad thing, and in fact everyone is passionate about something. And everyone shows their passion in different ways. My husband and I just happen to be vocal and animated with our passions.

Politics and religion seem to be topics that stir up our passions. We’re passionate because we care, because we strongly believe in something, and because we think something is at stake. In the midst of this political season, we have already seen people’s passions come to the center stage.

Being passionate isn’t unbiblical. I think of Jesus who was so upset about the business taking place in the temple that He overturned the tables. He was passionate about the sacredness of the temple and authentic worship. Read any of Paul’s letters and you’ll find a very passionate individual who wasn’t afraid to confront the church and call out specific members on controversial issues.

But as I was kindly reminded last night by some of my best friends, if we are not careful to bridle our passions they may lead us to a place of sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Colossians 4:5-6 says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

So here are three reflections on how we are to handle our passions.

First, Cover your passion in prayer. Often I am too quick to speak and too slow to pray. It should be the other way around. Prayer acknowledges that God is the One who is in control, and through the discipline of prayer we submit to the Holy Spirit transforming our will to His. Sometimes my passions get so stirred I become angry. And sometimes when I get angry I sin. It’s OK to be angry (see Eph. 4:26), but it’s not OK to sin in your anger. I have noticed that when I spend time in devoted prayer, I am not as angry anymore, I am not as keen to react, and I have a peace that God is in control.

Secondly, Be sensitive in your passions. Last night God used my friends to bring to my attention that a recent reaction of mine was just as insensitive as those whose comments made me want to react. I have recently heard speeches and comments on the media and social media celebrating abortion. There’s no mention of loss of life; there’s no mention of sadness that abortion brings. Instead the issue of abortion is all about a woman’s right to end life and to be control of her own body. These remarks hit a button with me and my anger and passions were aroused. I thought, in that moment, the best way to make my voice heard was by saying something in 140 characters or less on Twitter. Although I believe in everything I said in that tweet, I did not show any sensitivity to those who may have had an abortion against their will or who were told that their baby was going to die no matter what. In fact, I heard about a woman through a friend of mine whose ultrasound revealed that the baby’s brain was growing outside of the skull. She ended up having an abortion. Did I change anyone’s mind about abortion by my tweet? Did I react with the same insensitivity as those who I was reacting against? Were my comments “gracious and seasoned with salt?” As I was personally reminded and as I remind you, let’s be sensitive, gracious and careful in our speech when it comes to those things we are so passionate about, especially in this political season.

Third, Do not let your passions hurt the cause of the gospel but rather help it. I believe we need to be passionate about salvation that only comes through Jesus Christ, about confronting sin that destroys the Church, about holiness, about missions, about Scripture and about gospel-centered social justice. But how I go about making my passions known and implementing them can point others to Christ or away from Christ. As I am constantly reminded, social media, for the most part, is not the way to go about it. It is so easy to get pulled in; I am so guilty of this! But God has constantly reminded me it isn’t the way. Arguing is not the way. Screaming is not the way. Bullying, having a one-sided argument, and labeling are not the way. James 3:5-6a, 13 says, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. … Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” How are we going to win the world and to demonstrate our passions in a way that wins others to Christ? Through gentle words, compassionate hands, pure actions and loving hearts.

I will pray for you and please pray for me that we don’t shriek from making a stand; but as we make a stand about those things we are most passionate about that we will do it with grace, love, forgiveness and a piece of humble pie.