Year A – Christmas Day – Psalm 98

Psalm 98O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.  His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.  2 The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.  4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. 5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. 7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. 8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy 9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity (NRSV).

Summary:  If your life had a soundtrack, what would some of the songs be?  In our home, our daughter is the one most likely to spontaneously break into a song.  That is the how this psalm comes across, as a bursting forth in praise, towards God and his mighty ways.  God’s justice, mercy, and truth are praised just within the first three verses; but then the psalmist evokes the images of nature and nations, which also display the Lord’s awesomeness. This Psalm also points us to God’s victory in bringing about His redemptive plan through Christ. Just as so many prophetic books speak of God coming to a renewed Zion and bringing about justice and mercy, so we find the fulfillment of these in the birth of Christ and His redemptive work and the ongoing work of His body, the Church. This Psalm forms the basis of Isaac Watts well known Him, “Joy to the World” in which Christ comes to “make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” That is justice and mercy.

Insight:   People can act in all kinds of strange ways when in front of a police officer, even when those people have done nothing wrong.  Other times, it can be a comfort to see law enforcement walking around a community or sporting event.  God’s justice has a similar effect.  We react to God’s justice in many strange ways. Of course we would like to see an appropriate level of fairness around the world; But at the same time we have silly views about the treatment of others and ourselves.  Moreover, it can be difficult to explain God’s just ways before our fellow men.  We may speak of God’s comforting love and mercy, but accordingly this Psalm reminds us that God is just and that his justice should be a comfort as well.

Child Catechism:  How does God judge the world?  God judges the world with righteousness and fairness.

Discussion:  What are some of God’s victories in your life?  What are some of the ways that God showed his steadfast love and mercy toward Israel in the Old Testament?

Just and Merciful Father,  we thank you for all of your provisions–seen and unseen,  put a joyful noise not only in our hearts but in our mouths,  proclaiming your steadfast love to all we encounter!   In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Contributed by:  M. West

Year B – Proper 18 – O Let Thy Name Engraven Stand

O Let My Name Engraven Stand

A “fugue-ing” pattern is an alternating and repeating motif.  But between striving to get each note and entrance as well as our syncopation right, perhaps we have missed the great truth in the words we are singing–and if not, we may only remember something about harts, roes, and spices growing!  In order to worship God more vigorously and joyfully, let us look at each of its three verses in order.

As our hymnal places this hymn in the topical heading of “Supplication,” it is important to note at the outset that often in the Scriptures, man’s supplication (asking or pleading) to God is accompanied by rehearsing the truths known of God.  For example, in the Lord’s Prayer not only do we supplicate God to give us our daily bread and forgive our trespasses, we also reiterate our belief that His name is hallowed and that the kingdom, power, and glory are His forever.  This hymn follows much terminology found in Song of Solomon 8, to which we will as well allude.

In this hymn, verse 1 is a supplication.  It closely comports with Song of Solomon 8:6a.  Here, we ask God to remember our “name.”  Specifically, we plead that our names would be “engraven” on Christ’s “heart” and “hand,” and further that we would be “sealed” on His “arm.”  These engravings and seals are also a “pledge of love.”  In pointing out various physical characteristics, the author draws our thoughts to certain truths.  Christ, we know, suffered agony and pain because of His great love for us (Lk 22:44, 23:33, Jer 31:3, Jn 3:16) and so bears the “marks” of His sacrifice on His heart and hands.  Also, when the Bible speaks of God’s “arm,” it is often denoting His great power by which He protects, defends, and delivers His people.  Psalm 44:3 makes it clear that Israel’s own sword and arm did not save them, but God’s “right hand” and “arm.”  Likewise, we pray God that He would remember us and save us.

Verse 2, on the other hand, is a reiteration.  It follows Song of Solomon 8:6b-7.  In this verse, we rehearse truths we believe about God.  In a sense, too, this recapitulation shows our faith in the promises of God that He will indeed remember us.  We state that we know His love for His people is “stronger than death,” and recall His victory over death by His resurrection which we have so recently celebrated!  Christ’s love for us is indeed stronger than death, for when we were still bound by death as sinners, Christ Died for us (Rom 5:8), passing us “from death to life” (Jn 5:24), and the “fire” of His love is unquenchable making it sure that no one will snatch us out of His hand (Jn 10:28) though “hell and earth combine” to try to thwart His love.

We end again in supplication as we sing verse 3.  We see Song of Solomon 8:14 in this verse.  Here we term Christ our “Beloved,” a term also used by God of His Son (Mat 3:17), by God/Christ of His people (Dt 33:12, Ps 60:5), and by Christians for their brothers in Christ (Rom 12:19).  Expression of the desire of believers to see Christ finds voice in this verse, as we desire to be with Him where we will “be like Him for we shall see Him as He is” (1Jn 3:2).  Not only is our desire for presence with Christ, but also to see His kingdom come on earth as in heaven (Matt 6:10).  The last two lines of the hymn’s verse get at this idea.  The biblical imagery of a deer (hart/roe) is one of livelihood and vibrant life.  David, in giving thanks to God, says, “He made my feet like the feet of a deer” (2Sam 22:34).  God’s voice is said to “make the deer give birth” (Ps 29:9).  Isaiah, speaking before the coming of Christ, describes Him thus: “He will come and save you.  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is 35:4-6, cf. Acts 3:7-8).  And we the Church could be said to be a place “where spices grow” as spices are a good and expensive thing, used for anointing oils and known for their pleasing aromas.  So we may truly pray “Thy kingdom come” as we are a pleasing aroma of God and to God (2 Cor 2:15, Rev 8:4, Ps 141:2) that the earth may leap for joy as a deer!

This Lord’s Day, may we rejoice in the Love of our Beloved which is stronger than death.” (Jon Herr)

Year B – Proper 15 – Behold the Glories of the Lamb

The hymn, Behold the Glories of the Lamb, was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Watts was a prodigy in many ways.  In his youth he learned Greek, Latin, and He­brew and became a tutor. His father was a “Nonconformist” Minister (a puritan and not an Anglican). At the time these Calvinistic churches only sang Psalms but Isaac desired to change that by adding New Testament teaching to the hymns and psalms being sung. So he composed a book of Hymns and Spiritual Songs which interpreted the Psalms of David in terms of the New Covenant fulfillment in Christ. In 1728, the Un­i­ver­si­ty of Ed­in­burgh award­ed Watts a Doc­tor of Di­vin­i­ty de­gree. He wrote many books, including:
Specula­tions on the Hu­man Na­ture of the Lo­gos
Horæ Lyr­i­cae, 1706-1709
Hymns and Spir­it­u­al Songs, 1707-9
The Di­vine and Mor­al Songs for the Use of Child­ren, 1715
The Psalms of Da­vid Im­i­tat­ed in the Lan­guage of the New Tes­ta­ment (Lon­don: J. Clark, 1719)
Sermons, 1721-1727
Reliquiae Ju­ve­niles: Mis­cel­lan­e­ous Thoughts in Prose and Verse, on Na­tur­al, Mor­al, and Di­vine Sub­jects (Lon­don: 1734)
Remnants of Time (Lon­don: 1736)
The Im­prove­ment of the Mind, 1741
The World to Come, 1745
Catechisms, Scrip­ture His­to­ry, 1732

This particular hymn is a reflection of Revelation 5 when Christ is worship as God after He opens the sealed book of the history of redemption. All creatures worship the Father and the Lamb. Some of Watts  original verses not included in our hymnal (note verses 2-3), make clear the heavenly context.

Behold the glories of the Lamb
Amidst His Father’s throne.
Prepare new honors for His Name,
And songs before unknown.

Let elders worship at His feet,
The Church adore around,
With vials full of odors sweet,
And harps of sweeter sound.

Those are the prayers of the saints,
And these the hymns they raise;
Jesus is kind to our complaints,
He loves to hear our praise.

Revelation 5:6–10 NRSV –     Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 5:7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 5:8 When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 5:9 They sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; 5:10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth. . . .To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 5:14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.