Psalm 147 Praise the Lord For All Things
“Getting Christmas” Psalm 147 January 8, 2012
If we bother to look, we can always find a reason to praise God. Despite evil in the world, open eyes and open hearts will glorify God for the smallest blessing. So, let us look and raise our voices in song to the Lord!
Psalm 147 is a psalm of praise. God’s Word controls the universe and guides our very lives. If there was any reason to praise God, this insight would be the reason. God’s power is so overwhelming that it holds the galaxies in their orbits, the sub-atomic particles in their space, and the fate of nations in his hands.
Yet, the Lord has not forgotten me or you as individuals. When we are poor and needy, he sustains us. When we enjoy the produce of the land, he provides for us. When we see the good his will gives us, he blesses us. God takes care of us with all good things. Hallelujah, Praise God!
Psalm 147 is a combination of 3 sections or possibly 3 different psalms each a call to praise (CF: call to worship PCUSA) in 3 diff contexts. God’s care for Zion, God’s care for Nature, and God’s care for his people.
The first section (147:1-6) praised God for comforting the poor and needy in Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile. The God of the cosmos cared for the least significant, so great was his power.
The second song of praise (147:7-11) thanked God for his power, primarily shown in the rainy season. Through his gift, produce and livestock flourished. Notice the unspoken relationship between praise and an attitude of reliance on God for his many blessings.
The third song (147:12-20) addressed Jerusalem which believed God’s word originated with his presence in the Temple then spread to the corners of the world. The city should praise God for his protection and his blessing. There was a sense God’s creative power and Law was one and the same.
Today is the 2nd Sunday after Christmas. It’s hard to believe that two weeks have gone by already. It is also the first Sunday after Epiphany, which was Friday, and the Baptism of our Lord. But our focus will be on post-Christmas reflections today.
Christmas is known as a time for giving. We give to each other to celebrate God’s giving Jesus Christ the Light of the World to a world lost in darkness. Giving gifts is enjoyable, we like to see the ones we love smile with joy and appreciation at the gift we selected specially for them.
Now that our own gift giving is spent, perhaps we can reconsider this season, this story, and see ourselves not as givers but as “getters” from the true Giver of the truest Gift ever given, Jesus Christ.
Psalm 147:12-20 helps us to see this alternative view of ourselves not as givers but as ‘getters,’ and to see that this ‘season of giving; is instead the season of getting, of receiving. Psalm 147 brings us empty-handed into Jerusalem, into God’s presence, to receive all that God has done and gives. (Their return from exile)
The action in this psalm, the power at work in the world, belongs to God, not to us.
God is both subject and verb throughout these verses.
God strengthens the bars of Zion’s gates.
God blesses the children within.
God grants peace within Israel’s borders & fills people w/finest wheat.
God sends out commands; God’s word runs swiftly.
God sends snow and hail—and melts them, too.
God makes the winds blow and the waters flow.
In the presence of this divine power, recounted verse after verse, God’s people became keenly aware of their own powerlessness. Likewise, when we recount God’s generosity toward us, we recognize our empty-handedness and inability to meet our own needs.
Scholars believe Psalm 147 was most likely written after the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon. They returned to Jerusalem, but it still lay in ruins. When they arrived they probably had only the clothes on their back and a few portable possessions. They had to start over from scratch. They realized they could not provide for themselves. They knew only God could rebuild the glory that was once Jerusalem.
However, God had preserved and protected them during their exile. Now they faced the challenges of rebuilding the temple, reestablishing worship patterns; restructuring daily life; and remembering God’s laws so they could faithfully begin to reorder their community.
Yet even these good efforts would not secure what they most needed and desired; a covenantal life and secure future with God. They needed a relationship with their Creator and Shepherd of their souls. And it is this life and future that could only be received as a gift from God.
Rebuilding, restructuring, and reestablishing their community and way of life they could do themselves if need be. But only God could reestablish the covenantal community as it was meant to be. Only God could give them the hope they needed to proceed into the future. It was the gift of God’s forgiveness and acceptance the people needed to receive.
And isn’t that exactly what each one of us needs: God’s gift of forgiveness and acceptance, which we have through Jesus Christ, Savior and King.
Repeatedly, the Psalmist calls on God’s people to respond to God’s power and bounty with praise! To sing songs, make music, worship the Lord with thanksgiving. Why? Because God works not only in the vastness of creation but also in the specific life of a people. God gives snow and is the force behind the wind and the source of precious water in creation.
Yet God is also the One who strengthens Jerusalem’s gates and blesses Israel’s children. God’s power is far reaching in the world. Yet God’s power and care are also bestowed upon the life of a chosen people who are known by name, Jacob and Israel. A specific people made up of specific individuals.
And so, God knows each one of us by name. The creator of the universe cares about you. We don’t always understand God’s ways and why things happen the way they do. As in Christmas Readings for Advent and author William Willimon puts it:
“This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be.”
What a profound thought to consider this second Sunday after Christmas Day! God knows what we need before we do and knows what’s best for us in the long run. Now that our own gift giving is over, maybe we can reconsider this season, this story, this Child, and recognize ourselves not as ‘givers’ but as ‘getters;’ Getters from the true Giver of the truest Gift ever given, Jesus Christ.
Rabbi Michael Goldberg, in his book Jews and Christians says that “as a Jew he is impressed reading Matthew’s account of the nativity by how utterly passive the actors are. As a Jew, he answers to the story of the Exodus, a story of how God liberated the chosen people through the enlistment and prodding of people like Moses, Aaron and Miriam. But the Christmas story implies that what God wants to do for us is so strange, so beyond the bounds of human effort and striving, that God must resort to utterly unnatural, supernatural means.”
What God wanted to do for us was so far beyond our own imagining that God resorted to “angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky to get it done.” Says Willimon: “We didn’t think of it, understand it, or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it. A gift from a God we hardly knew.”
Thankfully and empty-handed we can reconsider ways to praise God that are in response to this ‘strange’ unimaginable gift we thought we didn’t need. And living in those ways, we may be transformed into people we do not necessarily want to be. Not for our sake, but for God’s sake and for God’s purpose and for the glory of God’s kingdom.
As we reflect back on the joy of giving at Christmas, let us also take our present need to God and receive him anew into our hearts and lives. Have you ‘gotten’ Christmas? We can ‘get’ Christmas every day of our lives if we look forward to the ultimate healing Jesus brings.
Take a few moments and look for reasons to praise God. Nothing is too small or too large. Make a list, if needed and with the psalmist, praise the Lord! Hallelujah!