Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me.
Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.Psalm 51:1-3,7-13 (CEB)
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins; wipe away all my guilty deeds!
Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you.
While we generally think of Advent as a season of hopeful waiting, there’s another aspect to the Advent season that we often forget. Like Lent, the Advent season is a time of repentance as we prepare ourselves spiritually for the birth of Jesus. We take time to hear the words of the Law, convicting us of our sin and challenging us to change our hearts and lives – returning to the Lord we will see on Christmas Day as the Gospel is revealed in Jesus. One of the best examples of repentance in Scripture is Psalm 51, written by David when he was confronted with the terrible acts he committed regarding Bathsheba, abusing his power over her and murdering her husband to cover it up.
The beautiful thing about this Psalm is the progression it shows. King David acknowledges that he has done wrong, and cries out to God for mercy. He doesn’t just pretend he didn’t sin, or trust in potential future forgiveness, he says, “I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me.” All too often, we ignore our own sins, never truly acknowledging them or changing the behaviors behind those sins. We count on others to be better than us, and forgive us even when we have not changed our hearts and lives. But that’s not what David is doing: he knows he is in the wrong.
And so he pleads with God to change his heart, through words that are familiar to us. He asks God to cleanse him from his sin and restore him to God’s presence. And then comes my favorite part of the Psalm: “Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you.” How can we share with others the good news of repentance and forgiveness when we haven’t repented ourselves? But when we do, we want to share; we want others to experience what we have experienced, through the combined efforts of God’s Law and Gospel, so that they may also return and be ready to experience Jesus anew at Christmas.
Pastor Mike Galica
Holy Cross Lutheran Church