You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye.
Do not be like the horse or like the mule,
Which have no understanding,
Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,
Else they will not come near you.
The word "Selah” appears throughout the Psalms, and— although the best of scholars have not been able to agree on its meaning—it conveys the sense of a pause. As a liturgical or literary device, it’s an opportunity to reflect on what has just been said in preparation for what is to come. The Amplified Bible attempts to explain the function of Selah with the words, "Pause, and calmly think of that”. It’s like a conjunction that links two thoughts.
As Father Randy Sly suggests
, perhaps we ought to look at the season of Advent each year as a Selah—a time to pause and reflect upon "the literal reality that Jesus Christ, God the Son, visited us in the flesh and gave Himself for the life of the world”. We can also remind ourselves that He not only came once, but that "He died, He rose again, He ascended, and he sent the Holy Spirit to guide His Church, and He is coming again.”
In our headlong rush to Christmas Day, Advent can serve as a pregnant pause and acknowledgement that we are between times, and as such the best is yet to come.
And our posture as we pause is one of peace.
God knows we need to find some peace this time of year. Donald Heinz, professor of religious studies at California State University, writes
that "some scholars now call Christmas the civil religion of capitalism. This new religion of the global market is compulsory for all citizens. While Christian faith is optional, holiday consumption is not.”
The annual onslaught of Christmas marketing campaigns is as inevitable as the re-appearance (which I eagerly await) in mid-November of Cranberry Bliss Bars in Starbucks stores everywhere. In this context, Heinz sees Advent as "a religious antidote to the powerful distractions of the market”, a way to "save the date for the presence of God, to schedule planned runnings into mystery.”
We can pause in peace in Advent because even though we do not know what the future holds, we know who holds the future. In the dialogue between a person and God recorded in Psalm 32, the writer says, "You are my hiding place, you shall preserve me from trouble”. He’s saying, "Over the course of time, you have proven trustworthy.” Then (after the Selah), God affirms that the person’s heart is in the place where God can guide him with the subtle motions of his eye, a place of submission where the person is ready to be instructed in the ways of God.
When I want to think of a Biblical character who had the ability to wait in peace, I think of Joseph—whose role in the Christmas narrative will be retold all over the world on the fourth Sunday of Advent
this year. When Joseph found out that his fiancée Mary was pregnant, he planned to protect her reputation by quietly breaking off the engagement. But then an angel appeared to him and explained to him what was going on, and told him that he was to name Mary’s child Jesus.
On the basis of nothing more than a dream, when Joseph awoke from sleep, "he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” Exactly what the angel commanded him. To act with such faith requires a certain level of trust in God, and willingness to peacefully wait to see the realization of the future you are trusting in.
Like all of Christ’s followers, we perform our daily acts of service between his first and second Advent. With every loving word, with every cup of water given in Jesus’ name, with every act of defiance against the unjust structures of society, we declare that the best is yet to come.
At times the tension between what we envision of God’s kingdom and what we experience today is more painful than others—as it was last summer when we learned that three of our IJM colleagues in Kenya had been brutally murdered
. Yet, it is entirely possible that out of this tragedy God will bring something incredibly beautiful. It is possible that this will bring about the end of police abuse of power in Kenya and awaken the world to the horrible injustices perpetrated with impunity upon the global poor on a daily basis. But, whatever the outcome, we wait in peace—knowing that God is trustworthy.
Pictured: Willie Kimani
In the days that remain in this Advent season, let’s take a Selah when and where we can—a pause to reflect on the kindness of God in visiting us in the flesh in the first Advent, our confidence in his promise to return, and his nearness to us each day between the times. Let’s also look for practical ways to wait in peace, to schedule "planned runnings into mystery”.
Attend a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service of a Christian tradition other than your own.
Take a walk in the quietness of the night after you’ve wrapped the last gift.
Schedule a coffee or lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in some time, even though you feel you don’t have the time.
Pause for thirty minutes or an hour to remind yourself of God’s many good gifts before braving the crowds to finish your holiday grocery shopping.
Pause and calmly think of everything you know to be true about God.
Join us in waiting and praying this Advent season. The prayer of Waiting and Longing is a great resource created by theologian Walter Brueggemann from his book "Prayers for a Privileged People". We've provided you with a free pdf copy to guide you in your times of prayer and reflection.
Free download here:
Read the entire series here