Lord's peace will spring from justice
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the Second Sunday of Advent
December 8, 2002
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalms 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Farmers in our diocese were hard hit by drought this past summer. There wasn't enough moisture for a good harvest of corn or soybeans. Hay and cattle were also affected. Ponds stood shallow. Foundations of homes weakened. November rains brought some relief to the soil, but it came too late for the harvest of 2002.
In the dryness of the summer months, farmers lifted a lot of prayers to God. Farmers pray a lot. There is so much of their work they cannot control. They hope God will send salvation with the right amount of rain.
Psalm 85 may have begun its life as a prayer for rain. Near the end of the psalm we sing, "The Lord himself will give his benefits; our land shall yield its increase." The psalm says salvation is near for those who fear God, and it will take the form of "glory dwelling in our land." The psalm connects salvation with good crops.
In its present form, Psalm 85 has two parts. The first part praises God for the blessings of the past and petitions God about conditions in the present. The second part of the psalm is an oracle of salvation, a prophetic utterance proclaiming peace.
The season of Advent has adopted Psalm 85 as one of its signature songs. The lectionary has named Psalm 85 one of the common psalms of Advent, meaning that you can sing it throughout the season after the first reading at Mass, in place of the recommended psalm for that day. If your community cannot learn to sing a new responsory week after week, you may repeat a common psalm throughout a given season. During Advent, Psalm 85 is a repeatable psalm.
To be specific, the repeatable song is the second half of Psalm 85. The lectionary omits the first half because the second half is so rich in the imagery we associate with Advent. As a refrain, we take verse eight from the first half of the psalm: "Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation," and intersperse it with the remainder of the text (verses 9-14).
As it happens, next Sunday's recommended responsory is Psalm 85. Not only is it the common psalm for Advent, it is also the specific psalm for next week. It follows a first reading of great joy (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11). The second part of the book of Isaiah opens with this prophecy to those in exile: "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. ... The glory of the Lord shall be revealed. ... Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!"
Psalm 85 will echo those words of comfort when the psalmist sings like a prophet and proclaims God's peace.
One reason this psalm fits Advent so well is the commentary on it given by St. Augustine (who died in 430 A.D.), bishop of Hippo in North Africa and the most influential of the church fathers of the West. Augustine makes the great Advent pun on the words "salvation" and "savior." Where the psalmist sings, "Grant us your salvation," Augustine says it means, "Grant us your Christ, that we may know your Christ, see your Christ; not as unbelievers saw him and crucified him, but as the angels see him and rejoice."
God proclaims peace, and Augustine says that the promised peace is God. "We shall have God as our common object of vision, God as our common possession, God as our common peace. For in place of what is now given to us, God shall be given to us instead of these gifts; this will be full and perfect peace."
"Kindness and truth shall meet," says the psalmist. Augustine says this is the kindness of the believer meeting the truth that comes from God alone. "Justice and peace shall kiss," the psalm continues. Augustine says everyone wants peace, but not everyone will work for justice. If you want true peace, work for justice.
"Truth shall spring out of the earth," the psalmist continues. Augustine reinterprets the sentence in a way that makes it fit the Advent season: "Christ is born of a woman. The Son of God has come forth of the flesh. What is truth? The son of God. What is the earth? Flesh."
Salvation takes on many forms. It comes like rain, like peace, like release from oppression, and like a Savior born in Bethlehem, born anew in the hearts of those who believe.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish, Cameron, and coordinates the Scripture columns for The Catholic Key.