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Darkest Before the Dawn - Psalm 94 Sermon, December Prayer Service




Darkest Before the Dawn - Psalm 94 Sermon, December Prayer Service

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Wednesday December 4th 2019: Season of Advent / Psalm 94 "Darkest Before the Dawn"

O LORD, God of vengeance,
O God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth;
repay to the proud what they deserve!
O LORD, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
They crush Your people, O LORD,
and afflict Your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The LORD does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

Understand, O dullest of the people!
Fools, when will You be wise?
He who planted the ear, does He not hear?
He who formed the eye, does He not see?
He who disciplines the nations, does He not rebuke?
He who teaches man knowledge—
the LORD—knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath.

Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O LORD,
and whom you teach out of Your law,
to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.
For the LORD will not forsake His people;
He will not abandon His heritage;
for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?
If the LORD had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,”
Your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
Your consolations cheer my soul.
Can wicked rulers be allied with You,
those who frame injustice by statute?
They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.
But the LORD has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the LORD our God will wipe them out.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. The Wisdom of Solomon teaches us in Proverbs chapter 4 that, “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.”[1] When you are lost what are you supposed to do? When you are a child and you are lost what are you supposed to do? You sit. You do not move, if you keep walking where you think is best, if you press on to find your own way on your own terms, if you think you can find your way out of being lost by your own abilities and cleverness you may in fact simpley become more lost and in some cases you may fall upon unexpected dangers, how much more so would it be the case if you were trapped in total darkness unable to see where your steps were leading you, “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble,” or worse yet what if you were indifferent to the darkness and thought you walked in the light, a light of your own illumination, lit by the fire of your own reason? That is no light at all, if fact in the Book of Job we hear how, “the light of the wicked is put out, and the flame of his fire does not shine. The light is dark in his tent, and his lamp above him is put out. His strong steps are shortened, and his own schemes throw him down.”[2]

You have heard it said, and may have said it yourself, “It is always darkest before the dawn”[3] It is a adage that dovetails nicely with our Psalm this Advent evening; the opening verses of Psalm 94 break forth with the plea, “O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth!” The Psalm continues by painting a picture of just how dark it has become for the faithful who sit and wait for God to act, how dark it has become all around them as they pray that the LORD would burst forth with light and expose the wickedness of those who oppress them, the wicked who in their darkness have twisted into a proud people, men and women full of arrogance, who perpetrate murder and scoff at the faithful saying, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.” Here in Psalm 94 we see this same prognosis of the wicked that we found back in Psalm 10 where King David says, “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek [God]; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”[4]

How can this all fit into Advent? When the Old Testament comes to a close there is a roughly 400 year time of silence from God, from the Prophet Malachi until the birth of the Prophet John the Baptizer, this is a dark time, you might even say it is the darkest hour for God’s people as the faithful await the return of the Word of God; as they wait for God to shine forth! When John the Baptizer is born His father Zechariah who had been struck mute for not believing the Word of Promise from the Angel Gabriel about the coming birth of John finally breaks forth into song, singing, “you [John, my] child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, … the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”[5] The birth of Christ Jesus is the light that shines forth and Psalm 94 then is a Psalm for those who sit in darkness surrounded by wicked men of darkness and in this way Psalm 94 is a great Psalm for Advent because Advent is a time to look back to the dawning of this Light in the birth of Jesus who would later say of Himself “I Am The Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[6] For each of us in this Advent as we look into a World filled with darkness that presses in against us at every turn we can remember likewise how the Gospel of John begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[7]

No matter how dark the World becomes, no matter what darkness the wicked inflict on us, even when - as the Psalm says - they legislate laws that “condemn the innocent to death” as we see in our day with our government allowing for abortion and euthanasia, even in darkness like that when the unborn, the ill and the dying are murdered we confess as faithful Christians that the darkness by its own perceived strength or shrewdness of thinking, by its abundant pride and arrogance, “has not overcome The Light.” And therefore when we look to ourselves and see where the darkness is seeping into our own soul, where it is pouring out of the sins of our own heart[8] we then pray earnestly and trustingly to God saying, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a Light to my path.”[9]

When it was foretold by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah that John the Baptizer was to be born to make way for the Christ,[10] when it was foretold by Gabriel - this same messenger of God - to Mary that the Holy Spirit would conceive in Her virgin womb the promised Christ Child Jesus[11] it is there that the prayer of Psalm 94 began to be answered, “O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!” Remember what Simeon say to Mary and Joseph in the Temple when they brought the baby Jesus to be circumcised in order to fulfill all righteousness when he said, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”[12] As Pastor Albrecht said in his Sermon a couple weeks ago Jesus is the King who bring true and real justice and this is what Psalm 94 is calling for: Justice for the oppressed, vengeance against the wicked, protection and comfort in times of persecution and trouble for the faithful. The birth of Jesus which we are preparing to celebrate is this ‘shining forth’ of vengeance against sin, death, the devil, the world and even against our own sinful flesh, this is why we ask for ourselves mercy, why we turn to God with the Psalmist of Psalm 94 and pray that God would teach us out of His law and discipline us now in this life to give us peace today and eternal peace in Christ when Jesus returns in great glory.

Psalm 94 understands the daily life of repentance that is the life of the wise toward God when it says “When I thought, “My foot slips,” Your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul.” For the foolish wicked men and women of the world, in the day of the writing of this Psalm, in the day of the birth of Christ Jesus, in our day today the LORD is not their Stronghold as He is ours, and God is not their Rock of Refuge as He is ours. They do not pray this prayer in the darkness as we do. The two fold meaning of the coming of Christ which we remember in Advent comes to bear in the words of Psalm 94, first we see it in the longing expectation for the promised birth of Christ Jesus which brought the dawn of the Light of God to our world undone by sin just as the words of Psalm 94 secondarily likewise point to the final appearing of Christ Jesus on The Last Day when the LORD “will bring back on [the the foolish wicked unrepentant people all] their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness;” as the Psalmist says, “the LORD our God will wipe them out.” This promise of true justice is coming and it will dawn from on high when the Light of Christ Jesus on That Day will be seen by all people from Adam the first man right up to the last child born to men: the revelation of the Wisdom of God, Christ Jesus the incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended LORD who will once for all show that the wicked thoughts of man are but a breath.

With Christ Jesus as The Lamp for our feet, lighting The Way so that we would not be like those who do not know over what they stumble, this Advent season keep close to the prayers of your heart the promises of God found in Psalm 94, that “the LORD will not forsake His people; He will not abandon His heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.” All you who are sitting in darkness Christ Jesus is your light He is The Light of God that shines forth with vengeance against the wickedness of this life. When darkness presses in thick and heavy in the night He is the Light of the World and “you will find [Him as] a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger;”[13] just as you will find Him as the light of the sun failed on that Friday we call Good[14] the day He hung dead upon the cross; and you will find Him the Light of Life shining froth from a black and empty tomb; you will again find His light shining in the dark of the upper room of Easter evening with the doors locked for fear of the Jews as He stands risen with the forgiving words “peace be with you”[15] upon His lips even as all seemed black and bleak and filled with darkness; you will find Him casting His light over your sins and trouble at the communion rail as He gives Himself to you for the forgiveness of your sins unto life everlasting; and finally you will see with your own eyes in your resurrection from the dead on The Last Day[16] the Light who is Christ Jesus when morning dawns, and earth's dark night is past, when beauty gilds the eastern hills, and life to joy awakes. Until That happy Day we pray Psalm 94 remembering the promised birth of Christ which has come to pass and looking to His glorious appearing which is to come.

In the mean time during Advent and during all your days remember the solemn warning of Psalm 94, “He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see?” Remember and take note: There is no darkness so dark that God cannot see the condition of your heart, and there is no darkness so dark that His Light cannot shine forth to bring you repentance, forgiveness and peace by His Son Jesus, this, dear ones, is what He has done for you. Freedom from wickedness therefore can be found in no one but Christ Jesus the LORD attempting to find such freedom any other way will not work; in fact without the Light of Christ you could trip right over Jesus not knowing over what you stumbled, over who you stumbled. The wicked walk in darkness and want nothing to do with the light of Christ Jesus, “Therefore,” consider what St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, “do not become partners with [the wicked]; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light,”[17] It is He who is your refuge and your strength, even in the deepest darkness for He is your Light. Amen.

Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Proverbs 4:19
[2] Job 18:5–7
[3] While it may be a proverbial phrase from an earlier time Thomas Fuller put it to paper in his book, “A Pisgah Sight of Palestine” (1650) “It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.”
[4] Psalm 10:4
[5] Luke 1:76–79
[6] John 8:12
[7] John 1:1–5
[8] Mark 7:21
[9] Psalm 119:105
[10] Luke 1:19
[11] Luke 1:26-37
[12] Luke 2:34–35
[13] Luke 2:12
[14] Luke 23:45
[15] John 20:19
[16] Job 19:27
[17] Ephesians 5:7–8


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