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.]