A Reflection on Psalm 19. 1-6, by Canon Rob

Today we continue our journey through the Church’s season of Epiphany, which began with the visit to Jesus of the three kings, sometimes referred to as astrologers, who travelled from the East following the star which, St Matthew tells us, led them to the place where the child lay. (See Matthew’s Gospel 2.1-12.) The word “epiphany” means “manifestation” or “revelation” and this season reminds us that Jesus was born to show us what God is like. Each of the Gospels tell us this truth as understood by their authors who believed that Jesus Christ was revealed first to the Jewish people and then to the whole world. The three kings represent all of us who are Gentiles.

As is often the case in the use of language, the word epiphany is now used beyond its religious meaning. It can describe “a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.” A eureka moment! It has the “wow factor.” It might occur when you are looking up at a clear night sky and your breath is taken away by its sheer wonder and beauty. Even so we live in an age when new galaxies are being discovered as we search ever deeper into space. On Christmas Day the James Webb telescope was launched which, scientists hope, will “give us a glimpse at the first galaxies ever created.” But the three kings will not have had the knowledge we have nor, indeed, would the author of Psalm 19, part of which is set for today in Church Services throughout England.

The psalm begins with a celebration of God’s work in nature:

“The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
One day pours out its song to another and one night unfolds knowledge to another.”

The writer of Psalm 19 may not have had the knowledge which we have. Instead he will have believed that God created all that exists and it is God who causes the sun to rise at the beginning of each new day and then each night he will have seen the moon move across the sky accompanied by the stars. Such a revelation caused him to sing of God’s glory which he saw everywhere in nature. (See Genesis 1 – 2.4) He knew his place in creation, as one among many creatures, albeit the crown of creation and, being so, had the God-given responsibility to care for all around him.

I wonder if we have lost something of that sense of awe and humility in our scientific age. We can easily take for granted the world around us, which leads to neglect or abuse: hence the need for climate change conferences, like COP 26 in Glasgow late last year. So the psalmist doesn’t stop at simply celebrating God’s work of creation as a look at the verses beyond those set for today show.Verse 7 begins reminding its readers that, “The Law of Lord is perfect,reviving the soul….” We are called upon to follow God’s laws in order to live a life which is more fulfilled than it often seems to be.

The 18th Century philosopher, Immanual Kant, wrote,“There are two things that fill my soul with holy reverence and ever-growing wonder – the spectacle of the starry sky….. and the moral law which raises us to infinite dignity as intelligent agents.” (from his “Critique of Practical Reason.”) Kant would not have described himself as a Christian, as traditionally understood, but he saw the connection between celebrating creation and living as God would have us live and I think he would have agreed with all that the author of Psalm 19 had written as would Hayden whose oratorio, “The Creation”, depicts and celebrates the creation of the world as described in the Book of Genesis. In our modern world, where many believe that science has all the answers, we do well to remember our place in God’s creation and even recapture the sense of wonder we had as children.

Creator and ever loving God, I acknowledge your glory in all that you have made
Help me to be thankful and to cherish your creation always. Amen.

Hope for the New Year!

A Reflection on Psalm 147.13 – End

Readers may remember that, during the Vacancy, I wrote Reflections based on the Bible Readings for Sunday mornings. Much of the Vacancy coincided with weeks of lock-down or severe restrictions which meant that numbers able to attend Services were very limited. The Reflections were a way of keeping us in touch with each other. Peter and I have talked about these and he is happy for me to write Reflections again and I am very happy to do so, probably twice each month, and hopefully you will find them helpful.

Thank you so much to those who have sent Vicky and I Christmas cards or messages and especially messages of sympathy following my sister’s death.

At first sight the choice of this part of Psalm 147 for the first Sunday of a new year may seem strange . Verse 1, shown in the picture above, would surely be better than starting half way through!

It’s a bit like skipping the first chapters of a book! Perhaps those who compiled the lectionary – the Bible readings set for worship – chose the second half because verses 17 and 18 refer to snow and hailstones, normally associated with winter! Whatever the reason, the entire psalm is one of praise and thanksgiving and verse 13 picks up the theme of verse 1.

“Sing praises to the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion.”

It is, however, well worth reading the whole of this psalm which, as well as being a song of praise and thanksgiving, also reminds us that, whatever happens to us, God is with us at all times. The God of the Jews, for whom the psalms were originally written, was all powerful, the Creator of all, the world’s Saviour. He could be very angry and jealous when His people turned their backs on Him. But He was also a merciful, compassionate God who, as verse 3 says, “heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.”

Psalm 147 was written after the Jews had returned to their homeland after they had been in exile. Pondering its verses can therefore lead us to pray today for the thousands of refugees and others who are homeless and support them in any way we can. Those originally using this psalm would have much to be grateful for. Verses 13 to 15 celebrate their return to Jerusalem and, in time, the rebuilding of their Temple. From now on, the writer of the psalm says, they can look forward to security and peace.

But they can also enjoy God’s creation! See verses 4, 8, 9, 15 and 16.Reading this psalm we have a picture of the One who is in control – even if and when it doesn’t feel like it! In the run up to Christmas (and we are still in the season of Christmas) Vicky and I received several “newsletters” with cards, all of which referred to the past year as one in which the writers had been challenged by illness, covid restrictions and, in several, concerns about mental health. Many will look back to 2021 as a year when we were ‘disappointed’ that, largely because of the virus, it felt like a continuation of 2020. “We had hoped things would have been better this year!”

We don’t know yet what 2022 has in store for us. However, Psalm 147 can give us hope. For whatever happens, Christmas-tide reminds us that “God is with us!” And as long as we have faith – as the writer of this psalm clearly had – nothing can take this truth away from us.

May God be with you and give you hope throughout this New Year!

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