A Song of Ascents – Part Two

My wife is a huge fan of the TV series, The Crown, on Netflix. The show, for those who may not know, is about the life of Queen Elizabeth II of England. The story follows her life from being the daughter of the man second in line to the English throne to becoming queen and living through successive generations of life and turmoil in Britain and the world. As someone who enjoys history and historical television (though I use the term historical somewhat loosely), I enjoy watching the show and seeing a fictional version of history come alive.

One of the things that strikes me about the character of Elizabeth and many of those around her, is this strict sense of duty. They regard duty about, well, everything. It comes before love, before self, before everything. All that matters is fulfilling the duty of your assigned role, which mostly being the monarch, learning to become the monarch, or supporting the monarch. One scene early in the series, a conversation between George VI and Philip, Elizabeth’s husband. They are sitting next to one another while hunting one day and George tells him,

You understand the titles, the… dukedom. They’re not the job…She is the job. She is the essence of your duty. Loving her. Protecting her. Of course, you’ll miss your career. But doing this for her, doing this for me… there may be no greater act of patriotism. Or love.[1]

For the monarchs of England and the royal family around them, everything revolves around this idea of duty to monarch and country. Duty is the highest goal to strive for and live into. Much of the series shows how Elizabeth never loses this sense of duty while those around her often fail or outright deny it.

In the passage today, we begin by reading, Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. This beginning tells us that the gist of the psalm will be about the king being or becoming a person of God’s justice and righteousness. From there the passage goes on to talk about both the king’s duties to live into that righteousness and the desire of the Psalmist to see the king and the kingdom blessed. The king is responsible for judge your people with righteousness and your poor with justice and to defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. The result of the king doing his duty will the blessing of god to king and country:

  • May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness
  • May he live while the sun endures and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
  • May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
  • In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

To borrow a British phrase, if the king is a person of righteousness, long live the king, forever in fact, so long as the sun and moon exist. But long live the king only if the king fulfills his duty, only if he takes care of the things a king is supposed to take care of. If the king fails to do this, as many kings of Israel did, the assumption was that God would withdraw any blessing they had on their lives and the kingdom itself. This was something called retributive theology, the idea of an eye for an eye, or in this case behave or be punished. The expectation of the king was to be a godly king.

So, what does this say to us and what does this say about Advent and our journey toward the coming of Jesus?

I think we have a duty toward Advent, a yearly quest to be taken: the journey of remembrance and response. Advent is about remembering. We have a duty to go back, each year, and make our pilgrimage from wherever we are in our lives to the birthplace of true hope. We retell the story and join in with the cast. We walk the road to Bethlehem, the dust under our feet, the dangers of open travel in the ancient world. We arrive in the village and find nowhere to stay. We feel the urgency, the humanity of the moment as a husband desperately seeks a place for her to bring a child into the world. We celebrate with least of these, the very people Jesus ministers to and seems to care most for, as the child comes into the world. We recognize with those from far off places the incredible importance of the child’s birth.

But not only do we remember, we respond. We live into Advent because we live into incarnation. The word incarnation literally means to bring into flesh. For our understanding of theology, incarnation is God with us, with the Christ as the perfect example of what this looks like. The incarnation for us is the Holy Spirit of God being revealed to us, working in us, molding and shaping us to be and act Christlike or as God would act. It is literally becoming the hands and feet of God in this world that this world may be changed. Our goal isn’t to last long enough to get to heaven, it is to work hard enough to bring heaven here. That is the reality of the kingdom of heaven, that all of Creation is restored. According to our theology as United Methodists,

Wesley’s vision is drawn from Scripture. The apostle Paul’s writings reflect an expectation of the day when the Kingdom of God will be fully established on earth. Jesus spoke of the coming Kingdom, too. He called us to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven that is already among us and yet to come.

Following Jesus’ teachings regarding how we treat one another reveals an experience with Wesley’s realized prediction of a changed humanity–a humanity that does not hurt one another and is free from the sorrow of separation.

God will not establish the New Creation through Divine force. Instead, we participate in its arrival. Just as humanity was given the job of stewarding the good creation of God in Genesis, so too we are called to be partners in establishing God’s harmonious order today.

Wesley sought to enlist others in participating in works of mercy and grace, allowing humanity to experience the beauty of the New Creation.[2]

Our participation on the Advent journey is a journey of renewal and rededication. Renewing our spirit to continue with the mission of restoration and a rededication of ourselves to that mission.

How will you live into this mission? How will you seek renewal of your spirit? How will you rededicate yourself to participate in works of mercy and grace, allowing humanity to experience the beauty of the New Creation? May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, amen

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5483578/quotes/?ref_=tt_trv_qu

[2] https://www.umc.org/en/content/social-principles-a-vision-of-heaven-on-earth