Distance Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Have you ever been deeply homesick? Have you ever missed someone so much that it physically hurt? Maybe you were away for work for an extended period of time. Perhaps you were in the military and deployed for months at a time. Or it may have been that you were away in school and could not be back with your family for some special time of the year. Whatever the reason your heart ached because you weren’t with the people you loved.

If you have experienced this, then you have something of a taste of the emotion found in Psalms 42 and 43. The Psalmist begins by speaking of his soul panting after God as a deer pants for streams of water. His soul thirsts for God, to come into his presence with shouts of praise. He remembers times when he led the throngs of God’s people into his presence, and now he is “homesick” because he lives separated from God and his people. This is where he is supposed to be, but he’s not there. His heart aches. His soul thirsts. For now his homesickness is not healed for God has, for some reason, chosen to keep him in this exilic state; to keep him aching and thirsting.

I’m quite certain that the Psalmist knew of the ever-presence of God with him. He knew that there was no place that God was not. He knew that even in the wilderness where he wandered he could speak to God privately. In this sense, he knew that God had not left him. But he also knew that the full experience of God’s presence could only be realized with the “multitude keeping festival” (Ps 42.4). The fullness of God’s presence, to be at home with God, meant to be with his people. That is the place where God promised to meet his people in a special and full way. In the midst of the people of God is where true life was found.

But he was not there. He questions as to why God has forgotten him and he is being oppressed by his enemy (Ps 42.9). This separation from the joyful fellowship with God amongst his people is seen as a victory for his enemies. If they can keep him from God’s presence among his people, this means that they are the victorious ones. They taunt him, “Where is your God?” If God is really on the Psalmist’s side, then surely he would immediately rout his enemies and bring him back into his presence.

Delay doesn’t mean defeat. The fact that God hasn’t done it now doesn’t mean that he won’t do it. The fact that the enemies of God’s people win victories now and again against God’s people doesn’t mean that this will always be the way things are. It is in this hope that the Psalmist prays: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps 42.5, 11; 43.5). The Psalmist, and all of the people of God who join him in this prayer-song, live in the aching confidence that God will change the fortunes of his people, defeating our enemies, and bringing us all together into the fullness of his presence.

This is one aspect of the hope of Advent. Yes, much has already been accomplished in Christ Jesus, but we still hope for more. The enemies still taunt us saying, “Where is your God?” as our brothers and sisters around the world are being imprisoned, tortured, maimed, and killed by God’s enemies. This is not the way things ought to be. This is not what we long for. We Christians war among ourselves, remaining divided by many things, some necessary and some unnecessary. The world looks at us and taunts, “Where is your God?” This is not the way things ought to be. This is not what we long for. Governments make and enforce godless laws, taunting Christians, “Where is your God?” This is not the way things ought to be. This is not what we long for. Death continues to separate us from those whom we love, taunting us, “Where is your God?” This is not the way things ought to be. This is not what we long for.

Hope in God. This is not the way things will always be regardless of the sinful confidence of our enemies. We are not there yet, and we shouldn’t waltz through life pretending that we are, denying all of the painful realities around us. The inspired Psalmist rebukes us if we do. However, the realities of our pain are not the end of the story. We have a hope that is steadfast and sure; a hope that strengthens us to look through and past the pain to what God has in store. This hope is rooted, not in wishful thinking, but in what God has already accomplished in Christ Jesus. Because Christ has already come, endured the taunting question, “Where is your God?” at the cross, and emerged on the other side of death in resurrection, we who are united to him by faith will not only share his suffering but also his resurrection. This is our hope.

Each Lord’s Day our hope is renewed. God fulfills our longings by gathering us into his presence as his people. There in his presence we get a taste of the way things ought to be: the presence of God with his people celebrating in joy. God assures us through Word and Sacrament that our hope is not in vain.

The question for each one of us is, “Is this your hope?” Do you become homesick during the week to be in the presence of God on the Lord’s Day because you know that this is the closest experience in the present of our future glory? Is this what your hope looks like? If it isn’t, then your hope needs reshaped by God’s Word and Spirit. Begin to pray Psalms 42 and 43. Meditate on them. Ask the Spirit to shape your heart’s desires into the desires expressed in these Psalms. When that happens you will have the appropriate homesickness and hope of Advent.