Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

Christmas 1 (Year A)

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Psalm 148

1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
4Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
6He established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
8fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
12Young men and women alike, old and young together!
13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
14He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!

Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English version), alt, used with permission.

I was talking to my son, recently, about words we have adopted straight into English, from other languages, and here we have one of many. The Hebrew words pronounced something like Hallelu Yah are translated here is “Praise the Lord.” Next time you hear someone exclaim “Hallelujah” (in any of its written or spoken variants) it might be good to ask yourself if that person actually knows that he or she is declaring praise to God. In Australian society it is common to be thankful for the Christmas holiday period, whether or not someone is an active Christian. Why are we so afraid to say “Happy Christmas” (or “Merry Christmas”) when so many of us a thankful for the time of year – even if it is because we get days off work or extra pay? We don’t have a problem saying “Happy New Year”, and Christmas, to non-Christians, should be no worse than acknowledging that the holidays are a result of Christian worship. There is no call to member of other faiths to attend Christian services – though we’d be happy for them to do so if they so choose.

Only a few days ago I had the pleasure of attending a Christmas Carol service with the Tamil community which worships every week in our church hall. There were two things it was virtually impossible to miss: the celebration, and the desire to make a joyful noise for the Lord. That event was the epitome of taking to heart the words of Psalm 148. Every sentence in this Hebrew hymn is steeped in praise. It calls on us to celebrate, to have fun, to make a joyful noise, to let our hair down, just like the little boy, at that Tamil service, who was so young he had to be held up by his father as he sang praises to God.

When we sing “Hallelujah”, in the Anglican church at least, there is some sense of enjoyment, and worship of God, but when we sing, or worse, say, “Praise the Lord” it is often hard to get any sense of people doing more than reading words. That can, of course, be amplified when our songs of praise are taken too slowly, as I have heard many times over the 50 years I’ve been involved in church music.

I’m reminded of a story told by one of my theology lecturers when he visited Scotland. He noted that there were no musical instruments in a particular church, and was told “it’s OK for the Church of England, and the Church of Rome, but not in The House of God”. To be fair, though, that church had a fine reputation for unaccompanied singing. They didn’t need trumpets, lutes, harps, timbrels, strings, pipes, or cymbals (Ps 150), just the voices of the people as they sang (hopefully) joyfully to the Lord.

Psalm 148 makes it abundantly clear that God created everything, and everything should be praising God. Just as we find it hard to be thankful and offer praise when we are abused, how does the earth respond to God with praise when we plunder it for our own short-term gains, and don’t act as good stewards? Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that we might have fullness of life. He came to encourage us to focus again on worshipping God, not money or power, and His life was an example of His praise for God.

When we read scriptures in church, and when we sing songs and hymns in celebration of Christ’s coming do we “put our whole selves in and shake them all about” as if we really mean what we are saying, listening to, or singing, or are the words far too familiar and so we just rattle them off as we make moves to mark yet another all-too-commercialised Christmas season?

Our Jewish friends participate in the celebration of the Passover as if the event were happening there and then, in their own lives. It is a living experience. What would it be like for us Christians if we considered Christ’s birth as a living experience and really let go of our inhibitions as we “Praise the Lord”?

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