It happens in sporting contests all the time. After a brief consultation among the referees, time is put back on the clock and the teams resume play as if those seconds had never happened.
But life doesn’t work that way. It’s not uncommon to reach a point in life where you want to rewind the clock and go back to how things were before.
Before the storm
Before the break-up
Before the accident
Before the diagnosis
Before the lay-off
Before the bullying
Before the shooting
Before . . .
As we read Psalm 80, we see it too.
“Restore us, O God!” Return us to our former status when we were a strong, united nation of Israel. Turn back the clock! Remember the love and care with which you established us in the first place. Open your eyes and see the sad state of our current affairs. You are strong enough to save us. Stop ignoring us! If you save us we will never turn away from you again!
The refrain cries out with increasing intensity. “Restore us, O God” (verse 3). “Restore us, God Almighty” (verse 7). “Restore us, LORD God Almighty” (verse 19). Like a parent finally using all three of their child’s given names, the people of Israel plead for God’s attention. We can hear the increasing urgency of their prayer as we read. Over and over they ask to be saved. The Israelites had their eyes fixed on going back in time. They’ve done it before, in the wilderness when they cried out, asking for the old days of slavery in Egypt.
But God didn’t take them back to Egypt. He brought them to a new land.
And God didn’t re-unite the northern and southern tribes. He carried on with a single, remnant tribe.
He doesn’t take his people backward; he leads them forward in unexpected ways.
Beyond the storm
Beyond the break-up
Beyond the accident
Beyond the diagnosis
Beyond the lay-off
Beyond the bullying
Beyond the shooting
Beyond . . .
In this Advent Season we plead for God to restore us; and we’re tempted to cry out for a former time when life seemed better. The truth is, if we could go back, when we got there, it wouldn’t be the same. We can’t go back because we have been changed by the things that happened to us. We can’t go back because our memory is only a glimpse of what it really was like. We can’t go back because our deepest longing doesn’t really want the way it was, but rather, the way it will be.
We long for a future like the one Jesus already lived on earth. In that regard, “Restore us!” is a valid plea. It is the return to a former way, a way of life that Jesus has already lived. It has already happened, and it is happening today whenever we see glimpses of love and compassion, peace and wholeness. This is the continual advent (coming) of Christ in and through his people.
Restore us, LORD God Almighty!