God’s promise fulfilled

A Reflection on Psalm 89.1-8 by Canon Rob
December 24th, 4th Sunday in Advent: Christmas Eve

We approach today’s psalm anticipating our celebrations for the coming of the Christ-child even though, when Psalm 89 was written, the birth of God’s Son will not have been anticipated. As always, we need to be aware that we don’t read into the scriptures what is not there and it is also important to remember that the verses of the psalm set for today are those appropriate for Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is not here: not quite! [Psalm 96 is set for tomorrow and is clearly a hymn of great joy, beginning with the words, “Sing to the Lord and new song; sing to the Lord all the earth.”] This morning’s psalm though is a bit of an enigma. It begins on a very positive note: “My song shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord…” but if you take the trouble to read all the verses (and there are fifty two of them!) you will find that the mood changes completely. God’s power in creation is referred to, there are many verses about the covenant between God and His people, King David is mentioned and also, and painfully expressed in verse 46, the whole nation is suffering: “How long will you hide yourself so utterly, O Lord? How long shall your anger burn like fire?” Remember the people believed that God punished them for their sins: it was therefore deserved. Now they seem to have neglected or even forsaken the covenant and, they believe, God has turned His back on them.

However, to return to the verses set for this morning: verses which are far from expressions of suffering. Indeed they are words of great encouragement and hope. God’s loving-kindness is recalled in the first verse and is used to describe the special relationship between God and His people and, as you can see in verse 2, it is “established for ever.” As you reflect on these words, you might recall others, written by St Paul in his Letter to the Romans: “For I am convinced that there is nothing….in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8.31-39]

The author of the psalm is certain of God’s everlasting love because of the covenant referred to above. “For you [the Lord] said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant:” [See verse 3] and it is through King David that the oath, or covenant, will last always. In the Second Book of Samuel we find what are called, in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the “Last Words of David” and among them, “…He [the God of Israel] has made with me an everlasting covenant…” [See 2 Sam.23.5]  For Christians that promise was fulfilled once and for all in Jesus Christ, as we are reminded in the Prayer of Thanksgiving at the Eucharist: “When supper was ended he [Jesus] took the cup of wine….gave it to them [the disciples] and said: Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant….” As you reflect upon the verses of today’s psalm, consider the promise, originally made to David for the House of Israel, and now renewed through Jesus, descended from David, [See Matthew 1.1-17] born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, and offered for all time and for all people everywhere.

The opening verses of Psalm 89 are a hymn in praise of God, but it is not just humans who join in the singing of it. “The heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, and your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.” [See verse 5.] Like other peoples, earlier Israelites believed in many gods, but by the time this psalm was written, the belief was in One God and “the holy ones” are His angels or messengers, like Gabriel who visited Mary, and those who sang to welcome he Prince of Peace. [See Luke 2.13 -14.] Verse 8 of today’s psalm proclaims that there is no God like this: “Who is like you, Lord God of hosts? Mighty Lord, our faithfulness is all around you.” Here is the God to be trusted, the Creator and Saviour of all. May He bless you

As we sing your love, O Lord, establish your covenant with us and anoint us with the seal of your Spirit.
[From the prayer after verse 18 of Psalm 89, in Common Worship, Daily Prayer.]

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Salvation is near

A Reflection on Psalm 85.8-13 by Canon Rob
December 10th, The Second Sunday of Advent

The opening verses of today’s psalm recall God’s forgiveness in the past and then, in verses 4 – 7, the author asks that God will forgive His people again in the present. “Restore us again, O God, our Saviour, and let your anger cease from us.” [Verse 4.] It is probable that the people are suffering again, perhaps through a poor harvest [see verses 11 and 12] and, as is often the case today, many will have believed they were being punished for their sins. So, in verses 5 we read “Will you be displeased with us for ever?” The mood changes though by the time we reach verse 8 and the following verses set for today which are appropriate for the Church’s season of Advent when we prepare for the coming of Christ. Whatever has happened in the past, the lone voice in verse 8 says, “I will listen to what the Lord will say.”

Listening is a very important part of praying although, perhaps, not the easiest. How do we listen to God? How do we know if and when He is speaking or listening? The answer lies in our preparedness to simply ‘sit in His presence’ and ‘wait upon Him.’ If you struggle with this you may like to try sitting comfortably, close your eyes and imagine that Jesus is sitting next to you, just as you might be sitting with someone whose company you enjoy including those times when you are quiet together. The prophet Elijah struggled to listen to God when he fled for his life. [See 1 Kings 19.1-15.] Elijah doesn’t experience God’s presence in the strong wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in “a sound of sheer silence.” Only then did he hear God speaking to him: whilst he waited patiently. Advent is a time of waiting, of preparation to be ready to receive Christ as and when he comes and speaks to us. And come he will. As the late Archbishop Donald Coggan once wrote, “God speaks because He loves.. [and].. Love always seeks to communicate.”

The author of the psalm has learned to trust God, not just for his own good, but for the good of the whole nation. As he says in verse 9, “Truly, his salvation is near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” All who fear God (or trust Him) can experience His saving power. The prophet Isaiah knew this to be true as well when he says of God, “I will bring my victory near….and my deliverance shall not be delayed…” [Isaiah 46.13.] Knowing this, the writer of the psalm speaks beautifully of mercy, truth, righteousness and peace, shown in the picture above. [See verse 10.] These are four blessings, blessings we can experience whenever God’s kingdom breaks through. Paul writes similarly in his letter to the Romans when he cautions his readers about judging others. Instead, “the kingdom of God….[is]…justice, peace and joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.” [Romans 14.17] Guided by God’s Spirit, we can experience the blessings, or gifts from God, and help to bring His kingdom nearer. It is this which we pray for every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven……your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….”

As mentioned above, verses 11 and 12 may refer to a poor harvest. The “all that is good” results in the land yielding its increase. [See verse 12.] As you reflect on this, remember those suffering through drought i parts of Africa which have not seen any rain (or “all that is good”) for many months. It is also possible though to read these two seeds in Jesus’ parable, which when sown produce a rich harvest of mercy, truth, righteousness and peace. Is it likely that these could refer to the “all that is good” which lead to the nation yielding an increase in harmony and justice? The world needs both!

Help me, Lord, to remain faithful to you and grant me your gifts of mercy, truth, righteousness and peace
that I may serve you and that your Kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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