AND BEING: FRINGE LESSONS
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.
Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant. For the sake of your name, O LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him. He will spend his days in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.
My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.
Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles!
People of God:
You have probably noticed this clear advent theme - those who were aware of the wonder of Christ's first coming were those who seemed to be especially close to God. They were strong in faith, Zechariah and Elizabeth were "upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. Mary was a virgin who was willing in effect to say to God: "Your will be done." even though she well understood that her pregnancy by the Holy Spirit would be devastating to her relationship with Joseph who Matthew tells us was also a righteous man. Simeon was righteous and devout, the Holy Spirit was upon him, he was waiting for the consolation of Israel. Anna, an 80 year old widow never left the temple, worshiping night and day, fasting and praying. Repeatedly, these people in the middle of life's struggles are pictured as having an especially intimate relationship with God, a keen awareness of God's commands, a relationship that gave them an awareness of Christ's coming in his first advent. That is because they understood what it means to wait on the Lord - especially the kind of waiting we will be looking at this morning.
As we have found in our previous Advent Sundays, waiting has very little to do with the rush of time and the need for efficiency.
This morning's word for waiting is translated in the NIV, not with the word wait but with the word hope. If you had an RSV translation (a more literal translation) you would notice that verse 3 says
"Yea, let none that wait for thee be put to shame.",
verse 5 says
"Lead me in they truth and teach me, for thou art the God of my Salvation; for thee I wait all the day long."
and verse 21 says:
"May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for thee."
The word the NIV translates hope is actually the Hebrew word of wait, but it has nuances that our bound to the Hebrew culture which are very instructive.
Let me start by listing some of the ways that this word wait can be translated. It can be translated hope (as in the NIV), or it can be translated "to gather, to twist, to bind together, to stretch towards, to long for, to expect." Now this may seem like an especially confusing list of possible meanings, especially when we come to recognize that the root meaning of the consonants of this word is cord, string or rope. The kind of waiting referred to in this Psalm has something to do with a cord. What is it?
To understand that, we need to turn to Numbers 15:38-41
"Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.'"
In this passage, the Lord gave to the Israelites instructions for the tassels or the fringe corners of their prayer shawl. At each corner of the prayer shawl was a eyelet through which 4 tightly woven strings were to be inserted. These strings would then be braided and knoted with very specific ways to create a prayer shawl with tassels like this picture here.
In these prayer fringes or tassels, (the tzitzit as the Hebrews called them), the Israelites saw extensive symbolism. The purpose of these fringes, which were connected to the tallith, or prayer shawl, was to cause them to remember all of the commandments of the Lord and to do them diligently. (The Law of the Fringe By Douglas A. Wheeler, Ph.D., Th.D. Source: Restore Magazine)
For example, the letter numerical value of the word tzitzit was 600, the 4 strings coming through the eyelet, then being braided as 8 strings with 5 knots, which adds up to thirteen. 600 +13 = 613 - the exact number of laws that Hebrew scholars had found in the Torah. Furthermore, there were very specific instruction about how these fringes were to be made in the first place. "The construction of the fringes was begun by taking four strands of thread and weaving them into a string. Four separate strings or strands were made in this manner." (Ibid) You can see very quickly that making these tassels was no five minute project. 4 strands were hand twisted into a string and then the four strings (could not be 1 string cut into 4 pieces) were sent through the eyelet and hand braided and twisted and wrapped with the longer string to make the tassel. The Hebrews saw a special significance in using four strings. Their name for God had 3 consonants, and so the number symbolic of God was the number 3. With this was added, twisted, braided, one more string which made up each tassel. The symbolism that the Israelites saw in this was that they were the fourth string, wrapped up, twisted into, braided into God. Between the person who made the tassels, the person who prayed and meditated day and night on his commands, there was a uniting between the heart of God and the person who prayed. This is the cultural picture behind the word "wait" or "hope" in this passage - a cultural picture that is very instructive to us who 2000 years after Christ's birth are called to wait on the Lord.
Based on this cultural picture - what does it mean for us to wait on the Lord, place our hope in him?
First, waiting obviously involves time - time that appears at least inefficiently spent - like the time it would take to make the fringes on a Hebrew prayer shawl. This involved careful work and attention to detail. And as the Hebrew would make these tassels, (the more colourful and larger - the more authority he had), he would reflect on the truth of being close to the Lord and it appropriately took a significant amount of his time.
Second, in turning weak strands into strings and then binding them together in still a stronger way, the prayer would see where he gets his strength from. The Israelites did not have spools of string, or balls of wool like we do. String was made from fibers, fibers from plants or animal hairs like wool, and then these were combed and then twisted to make a strand, and then stands were twisted to make a string and so on. And each time the fibers were twisted together, they became stronger. Their strength came from being twisted tightly into God. And so the Psalmist could say No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame. Or to put the actual cultural concepts into this translation, "No one who is tightly twisted next to you will ever be put to shame." When Isaiah says in chapter 40 that "those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength" the waiting he was refering to was this word, where the prayer saw as he twisted the fibers into string how weak little fibers became amazingly strong when combined with others, just as we become strong when our lives are "twisted" into God.
Third, we see in this word "to wait" a very careful attention to the detail of the will of God. The Psalmist says "Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long." We might rephrase that last part "I am twisted close to you all day long." As the Hebrew waited on the Lord, he meditated all day long on the truths of the Word of God. He focused his attention of the words God had spoken, the commands God had given, the wisdom that was more precious than jewels. This fringe pointed him toward the 613 laws of the torah for meditation day and night. "The meaning is that the understanding of the proper use of the fringe kept a person's life pure, and so brought him into closer communion with God." (Ibid)
In this advent, we discover that waiting has very little to do with our urge for efficiency in the passing of time. It has everything to do with taking the time to be near to God, focusing on his word, finding our strength in being very close to him. And so, at the conclusion of this message is this basic question:
"Are you wrapping your life with the Lord? If so, how tightly? ... This twisting, this binding, will aid you in living your life, not seeking after your own heart and your own eyes, but after His. " (Ibid)
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.