Advent Reflection: Psalm 51

Yesterday I had the privilege of baptizing a high school student in the ocean. She first asked Jesus into her heart as a fourth grader in our children’s ministries. When she was in eighth grade it clicked: This is what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. She wanted to be baptized to “seal the deal” so that she “would never go back.” Her family, friends, youth and children’s leaders were all there to celebrate with her.

Baptism is a sign of what God has already done in our hearts. Going down into the water represents acknowledgment of sin and dying with Christ, and coming up out of the water represents washing away of sin and rising with Christ in his resurrection to new life (Romans 6). Baptism reminds us of what Jesus has done to address the reality of our sin and the promise of forgiveness.

The single event in David’s life that is most shocking and has the greatest ripple effect is his sin with Bathsheba. After all, David is a “man after God’s own heart,” the shepherd boy who courageously defeats Goliath, the patient and gracious leader who spares Saul’s life, and the poet-prayer whose psalms still evoke in us depth, emotion, inspiration and faith. Yet his sin not only impact generations to come, but takes him to the depth of personal pain. He writes,  

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. (Psalm 51:7-13)

David writes Psalm 51 as his own personal confession and prayer for forgiveness and restoration. His plea to God for forgiveness creates dramatic images of what happens when we are forgiven: we are cleansed, washed, whiter than snow; pure, renewed, and restored. But three times the word joy or rejoice is used as a description of forgiveness.

Let me hear joy and gladness.

He remembers what it was like to be in the gathering of believers in worship. He remembers what it was like before he was burdened by his own sin, not in community but separated: “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.” (Psalm 42:4) Our sin often separates us from others. We stop going to worship services, we feel isolated from those who would remind us of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Our sin separates us from God but also from each other. Forgiveness brings with it inclusion into the family of God, a welcome into the gathering where we hear joy and gladness. 

Let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 

Bones is a symbol of good health. The sin of David has made him sick. His bones ache. Is it depression, anxiety, stress that is causing his body to suffer because of his sin? Sometimes our sin makes us feel physically “in our bones” what we are experiencing spiritually. “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.” (Psalm 6:2) The guilt of our sin is often manifested in our physical body. We feel crushed. But the hope is those same bones (our bodies) will rejoice, be glad. The New English Bible translates verse 8: “Let the bones dance which thou hast broken.”

Restore to me the joy of your salvation.

Joy that comes from a right relationship. That deep sense of forgiveness, healing, satisfaction that everything is okay after a time of broken relationship. Joy I only recognize because before it was absent. Like the depth of crushed bones, we experience joy at the depth of our hearts, our spirits. Our clean hearts, our renewed spirits bring us life in our whole beings. 

Joy at Christmas is reflected in carols, decorations, presents and happy times with friends and families. Certainly there is joy in the activities and celebrations, but there is a deeper joy, a joy independent of circumstances that remind us of what God has done for us in sending Jesus for our salvation

The joy of Christmas if found in right relationship with God through Jesus. It is symbolized once in our baptism, and it is experienced every time we confess, come clean, admit our own failings and lean on the grace of God through Jesus, who “is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

Jesus comes to a location that would always remind us of the joy of our salvation: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”(Luke 2:11)


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