Advent Psalm Reflection: Day One of Advent

Advent Reading No. 1: Psalm 80:1-7; 17-19 (Heb. 80:2-8; 18-20)

A Misty Advent Morning: Contemplation Amidst Chaos

I awoke to a misty, foggy first day of Advent this morning and turned on my Christmas tree lights. This is my favorite season for early rising. I am alone in a quiet house, enjoying my morning espresso and thinking about my day. In my mind, it is an extremely peace-filled moment. But in reality, I am constantly interrupted by the rambunxious energy of an 8-month-old puppy. Regardless, I want to make space to reflect on the Advent season because it is important to my heritage as a Christian.

Diving into Psalm 80: A Liturgical Guide

This morning, the liturgy guides me to read Psalm 80 from the Asaph collection in the Psalter. I am familiar with the Asaph collection of psalms because I did my extensive dissertation research on Psalm 82 of the same collection. But, as you may know, if you have done this kind of research, my focus was fairly narrow, and I am looking forward to consuming the Psalms this season as an Advent reflection. Today is the first Sunday of Advent in which we light the first candle for hope—”Jesus Christ is our hope.”

The Shepherd of Israel: A Unique Beginning

Psalm 80 is one of the few Asaph psalms that does not begin with an address to or about Elohim. Instead, it is a prayer to the Shepherd of Israel. The fact that Ephraim and Manasseh are directly mentioned also confirms this is a Northern psalm from early on in the Israelite’s history, likely even before they were a united kingdom. Ephraim and Manasseh were Joseph’s sons (Genesis 37-50). It seems to me that the earlier psalms, like this one, are less theologically narrow. They do not have the clear structure and organization found in many of David’s psalms. They are obscure and poetic, filled with metaphor, like the opening line.

Give ear, O shepherd of Israel
who leads Joseph like a flock!
Appear, You who are enthroned on the cherubim

at the head of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
Rouse Your might and come to our help!

Restore us, O God;
show Your favor that we may be delivered.

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel…” This prayer stretches out to God as from a sheep who has lost its Shepherd, looking for guidance, searching for answers. Pleading with God to reveal the divine face; even when God appears, salvation will be possible. The petition turns toward lament in verse four.

O LORD, God of hosts,
how long will You be wrathful
toward the prayers of Your people?

You have fed them tears as their daily bread,
made them drink great measures of tears.

You set us at strife with our neighbors;
our enemies mock us at will. 

O God of hosts, restore us;
show Your favor that we may be delivered.

Lament and Longing for Divine Presence

Everything is bitter because of the absence of God. The psalmist interprets this abandonment as anger and scorn. It is the very cause of their suffering. Suffering that is so great that their tears infiltrate food and drink—their suffering pours out and cycles back in. This passage reminds me of a line from Tevya in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, “Heal us O Lord, and we shall be healed; in other words, send us the cure; we’ve got the sickness already.” Nonetheless, the psalmist reminds us that salvation is near. God’s absence is not permanent. The liturgical reading skips past verses 8-16, which remember God’s grace in establishing the people in their land and urges God’s continued faithful provision. The liturgy picks up for the last three verses.

Grant Your help to the one at Your right hand,
the one You have taken as Your own. 

We will not turn away from You;
preserve our life that we may invoke Your name. 

Psalm 80 ends with a repetition of the plea for God to return and receive praise once again from God’s creation. The psalmist reminds God that they were nurtured and chosen by God to sit at the right hand of God’s throne, then repeats the line from earlier.

O LORD, God of hosts, restore us;
show Your favor that we may be delivered.

The Hebrew in this verse literally asks for God’s face to turn toward the light. The mere appearance of God will bring the cure they seek.

Advent Anticipation: Psalm 80 and the Messiah

Because it is Advent, I cannot help but think about how this psalm anticipates the coming Messiah, who was God incarnate. When read as a response to this psalmist’s plea, God’s coming to the earth in the flesh is a robust response. God does so much more than turn into the light so the divine face may shine upon creation. God steps out of heaven and appears in a form that is fully relational to humanity.

Coming Up on An Advent Psalm Reflection

Tomorrow begins an exploration of Psalm 79.

You can find the entire series, along with a link to the readings on the Advent Psalm Reflections page.

*The translations are JPS from

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