I Christmas, Year A
I Christmas, Year A
Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Well, here we are, at the end of another calendar year, and the threshold of a new one, in this twenty-first century. Contrary to all the fundamentalist preachers who have their own calendars for God and predicted Christ’s second coming—he failed to fulfill their predictions. As we look at this past year, it has proven to be quite a turbulent one. For many Christians who supported the Jubilee 2000 program; appealing to the world’s rich nations for a better deal by cancelling the astronomical debts of poor nations; this past year has to be and was a disappointment. It seems that the international pressure from Jubilee 2000 has had little, if any influence on the economic policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. If anything these organisations have become even more greedy and unwilling to change their policies—so that all nations of the world might be on an equal, level playing field as we begin a new millennium and century. This observation has been born out lately in the media, as we learn of the resignation of the president and economic minister in Argentina—due to pressure from that nation’s citizens for a better, more just economy to reduce the grinding poverty of that nation. The IMF has so far been entirely lacking in compassion—flatly refusing to do anything to better the economic situation in Argentina. Then, earlier this year, there was the international conference against racism in Durban, South Africa. This anti-racism conference, unfortunately, was transformed into a pro-racism conference as radical Palestinians hijacked it; who foisted their agenda onto everyone by with their anti-Israeli and antisemitic propaganda. In the end, however, the conference proved to be almost an exercise in futility; a veritable “paper tiger,” with little or no authority to implement anti-racial policies internationally. In addition to this, there were the tragic, evil events of September 11th; and the aftermath of countless grief and suffering of those who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks; as well as the tragic plight of the innocent Afghan civilians; seeking shelter in foreign refugee camps due to the international “war on terrorism” in their country. Top all of this off with the problems right here in Canada of, among others: homelessness, unemployment and underemployment, drought in the prairies, more cases of water contamination, and an alarming number of incidents of police brutality against non-violent protesters, to name only of few—and we have, all-in-all, a rather depressing picture of “the present state of the world.”
I know what some of you might be thinking right now; “I came here to worship God and continue celebrating Christmas. What’s all of “this worldly stuff” got to do with our worship today? Isn’t there enough of this in the media, without having to listen to it in the pulpit too? What’s it have to do with my faith and life right here, right now?” My immediate reply to you is: Please bear with me. It has everything to do with our worship today, if you will hear me out.
In today’s Psalm 148, all of God’s creation is summoned by the psalmist to join together in a cosmic hymn of praise to our Most Holy God. I don’t know if you noticed it, but there is actually a beautiful symmetry, a well balanced and ordered structure in this psalm.
The psalm begins with an introductory phrase, “Praise the LORD!” It also ends on this same high note of declaration, of joy and worship: “Praise the LORD!” In the Hebrew, the word is hallel, from which comes our English words Hallelujah and alleluia. In the days of ancient Israel, and even to a certain extent today in synagogue worship, the word praise or the phrase “Praise the LORD!” was and is an inviting call to the people to come and worship God. Later, in the history of Israel, it was definitely a joyous and victorious cry to God for saving them from their enemies. The early Christian church also used these Hebrew words and phrases in their liturgies for similar reasons. For example, in Revelation 19:1-8, the heavenly multitude along with God’s faithful offer their loud cries, praising God for God’s victory over the powers of evil.
Then, after the opening invitation to “Praise the LORD!” we learn that as the psalm unfolds there is an order of praise. First, the heavenly court is invited and summoned to praise God. From there, the hymn of praise flows outward to the heavenly bodies of sun, moon and shining stars, along with what the ancients believed was a watery canopy above the heavens.
From there, the hymn of praise resounds downwards to sea monsters and all deeps; along with the natural elements of fire, hail, snow, frost and stormy wind. What’s most interesting in summoning all of these “orders of creation” to praise God is that all of them were in ancient times—and to some extent, even today are—regarded as powers or forces to be feared because of their potential to harm and destroy human beings. The last one in this group, stormy wind, may stand out from the others in that the Hebrew word for wind is ruah, which can also be translated as spirit. We remember that back in Genesis, at the time when God transformed chaos into order by creating the universe; God’s very spirit, God’s wind, moved across the face of the waters. The deeper theological point for us to note here is that God’s Spirit cannot be held captive anywhere, but “blows where it wills,” making God’s presence known in the entire universe.
As the psalm continues, the great hymn of praise flows into the world—inviting mountains, all hills, fruit trees, all cedars, wild animals, all cattle, creeping things and flying birds to join together to praising God.
Then, the paean of praise moves on to include: kings and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth, young and old, men and women, all his faithful, and the people of Israel who are close to him. All humankind, from every nation, language, culture, social class, age, and gender are summoned to join the cosmic hymn of praise to the LORD of all creation.
Now do you see the psalmist’s vision?! Are you too not swept up with deep joy and gratitude, awe and wonder, reverence and enthusiasm as together everyone and everything sings their Hallelujahs to the God of all creation!?
Moreover, I believe this psalm is most instructive for us as we continue to celebrate the season of Christmas today. If we look carefully at the various “orders of creation” praising God here in the psalm; we are drawn to the conclusion—more implied than stated clearly—that each and every form of God’s creation praises God how? by being and doing what God created them to be and do. In other words, the sun, moon and stars praise God merely by shining their radiant light—the very purpose God created them for. The stormy wind or spirit fulfills God’s purpose merely by doing what it’s supposed to do—blowing. And so it is for each and every “order of creation,” including us human beings, created in God’s image.
What then are the implications of this for us as God’s people? Well, I believe they are quite profound! This, once again is why I began my sermon the way I did, with a brief overview of some of the events of 2001. You see, if everything is designed and created to praise God by being and doing what God created everything to be and do—then, everything and everyone matters—because we are all in this together! This way of viewing the whole creation is there in the New Testament too—especially in Paul’s letters; where he says in Christ the whole universe holds together. And when he speaks of the church as the body of Christ—saying when one member of the body hurts or rejoices, then every other member of the body hurts or rejoices. And again, when he speaks of the whole creation moaning and groaning and eager longing for the liberation and saving of all God’s people, along with all creation free from its bondage to decay. If this is the case, that all of creation is in this together and praises God by being and doing what God has created all creation to be and do; then we as people of faith shall be inspired to actively engage ourselves in the world with love and respect; care and stewardship of all creation.
Jesus was born as a human being in this world to heal and save the world. His love embraces all creation. Thus, as followers of Jesus, and as children of God, living in this world; we too shall endeavour to love God’s world by trying to live in harmony with it—not pollute and kill it. Unfortunately, we in the Western nations of the world have lost touch with the holiness of God’s creation. We have done so by living in highly developed urban environments quite removed from the daily ebb and flow of the ecosystems, which sustain us all.
It was the brilliant scientist, Albert Einstein, who once said:
One cannot but be in awe when (one) contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries to merely comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Never lose a holy curiosity. 1
In recent times, a group of scientists, following Einstein’s wonder and respect for the universe, signed a statement for Preserving and
Cherishing the Earth. Here is what they said:
As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred. 2
Of course, those of us who are faithful to the Judeo-Christian traditions do not endorse worshipping the creation itself. However, as we worship God, and follow Jesus, we shall certainly love, respect and care for this wonderful world—and in so doing, Praise the LORD!”