Saturday, December 15, 2018

A Joy Unspeakable

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Ps. 118:1-4 

It is sometimes said that the Old Testament presents us with a somewhat limited view of God's love. Certainly it is in the New Testament that we see it placed in the brightest of all lights—the Cross—and that we find the argument in its most irresistible formHe that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not, with him also, freely give us all things? But one must have read the Old Testament in a very careless spirit if one has not been struck with its frequent and most impressive revelations of God's goodness. What scenes of gracious intercourse with his servants does it not present from first to last, what outpourings of affection, what yearnings of a father's heart! If there were many in Old Testament times whom these revelations left as heedless as they found them, there were certainly some whom they filled with wonder and roused to words of glowing gratitude. The Bible is not wont to repeat the same thought in the same words. But there is one truth and one only which we find repeated again and again in the Old Testament, in the same words, as if the writers were never weary of them—For his mercy endureth for ever. Not only is it the refrain of a whole psalm, but we find it at the beginning of three other psalms, we find it in David's song of dedication when the ark was brought up to Jerusalem, and we find also that on the same occasion a body of men, Heman and Jeduthun and others, were told expressly to give thanks to the Lord, because his mercy endureth for ever. This, indeed, is the great truth which gives the Old Testament its highest interest and beauty. In the New Testament, in its evangelical setting, it shines with incomparable brightness. Vividly realized, it makes the Christian's cup to flow over; as it fills him likewise with the hope of a joy to come—a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

 W.G. Blaikie (1893) 

Forgive my prejudice, Lord, when I assume your people of old did not see you as the same loving Parent you are in the time after Christ's birth. Help me to watch for and celebrate the signs of your extravagant love both before Matthew and after Malachi. In the Name of the One who was Love Incarnate, and who taught me to pray...

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Shortest Chapter

Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!
Ps. 117 

There are 1189 chapters in the scriptures and Psalm 117 is the 595th, making it the middle chapter of the entire Bible—an odd distinction for what is also the shortest chapter of the Bible, with just two verses. But what Psalm 117 lacks in length it makes up for in grand theme. In its straightforward praise, it is, indeed, worthy of study and repetition. One of the best ways to remember it is through a metrical version of it:
All who on earth do live,
to God all glory give:

Praise ye the Lord!
His loving-kindness bless,
his constant faithfulness

and changeless truth confess:
Praise ye the Lord!
Lord God, you have revealed your kindness to all peoples. Gather all nations to yourself, that in all the various tongues of the earth one hymn of praise may rise to you; through Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray...
 Lutheran Book of Worship (ELCA) 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Mother Church

Behold, Lord: for I am thy servant, I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast broken my bonds.
Ps. 116:16 

In seminary, a professor once had us write a brief essay in answer to the question, "Are you a little Christ?" I have thought about that often since then, and the answer has always been both Yes and No.

No, I am not God Incarnate and Savior of the world. But Yes, I hope that I am by the Savior anointed (and christ and messiah both mean anointed) to share the saving word. While Calvin had interpreted this psalm to be David's affirmation of unconditional election, and I had always thought of it in reference to Jesus' relationship to his heavenly Father and earthly mother, I think it's also quite possible for a Christian to think of it in terms of his or her relationship to the church.

The church—Christ's bride and God's servant—is, indeed, our mother. And through mother church we are born into God's service. As I meditate on the little Christ in the manger this Christmas, maybe I might dare think of myself as a little christ, son of God's servant the church, freed by God's power and love to proclaim the good news of salvation to all.

Thank you for those you have chosen to serve you through the ages, Lord. Thank you for Christ, born of your handmaid Mary. And thank you that, having been born into your servant church, I, too, am commissioned to carry your word to the nations. In his Name who taught me to pray...

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Abundantly Satisfied

Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
✙ Ps. 116:7 ✙

Heaven is an inheritance we must take as our home, our rest, and our everlasting good. We should look upon this world to be no more ours than the country we pass through on our way home to our Father's house. Those that have God as their portion have a goodly heritage. So return to your rest, O my soul, and seek no further. Gracious persons, though they still covet more of God, will never covet more than God; but, being satisfied with his loving-kindness, are abundantly satisfied with it: they envy no one their carnal mirth and delights.
✙ Matthew Henry (adapted) ✙

Thank you for my rest last night. But may I never truly rest until I am at rest in you, O Lord; in the Name of him who taught me to pray...

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Bondage to the Status Quo

The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. 
Then I called on the Name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

Ps. 116:3-4 

I am bothered by the Old Testament concept of death. All end up in Sheol, whether they're evil or good. And Sheol is a place of darkness and separation from God and all the living. Sheol might also be interpreted as nothingness, but is still negative. The only way I can reconcile it with anything but complete hopelessness is the notion that it is a place of sleep and rest.

I must, therefore, read this psalm from a Christian perspective, and interpret this as a prayer of Messiah, which was answered by God. Moreover, the First Letter of Peter has this to say about (what I believe to be) Sheol: