Third Sunday of Advent
What does God give you that no one else can or will? I could ask what does God give “us?” I might say ‘eternal life.’ No person, no matter how much they love me, can offer that. I might say, ‘complete forgiveness of sins.’ A friend can forgive me when I hurt him. But only God can wash away all the stains my sins leave on my life. In Jesus God does exactly that. I could offer any number of things that God does for all people – these categories are universal. Everyone needs them and only God meets these needs. Salvation, forgiveness, eternal hope, unfailing truth, a sense of purpose: these are all examples of what God gives us.
What does God give you? This is seriously personal. Focus on your walk with God in Jesus. Imagine the entirety of your life. What does God bring that no one else could give and that makes you who you are? What are the specific reasons in your life for praising God?
Psalm 146 begins a series of ‘Hallel’ Psalms, the final five Psalms of the book, and all are praise songs. I was filled with joy this past week as I went through the phrases of Psalm 146 and imagined the specific ways Jesus’ lived the attributes named. We will put these on the screen so if you want to, you can look up each passage and read it alongside the words of Psalm 146.[i]
Verse 5, “the Lord God of Jacob blesses everyone.” God chose Israel, but not in a way that cut the rest of the world off. Israel was to draw the world to God. All that is promised to Israel and through Israel is fulfilled in Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel, quoting Isaiah, declares Jesus “the hope of the nations.” All people, Jews, Gentiles, everyone is blessed by God’s appearing in Jesus.
Verse 6, “God made the Heaven and the Earth.” Chapter 1 in John’s gospel and chapter 1 in Colossians both affirm the central role of Jesus in creation of all that is. A few phrases later in Psalm 146:6: “God always keeps his word.” John 14 – Jesus is the truth. And John 17, there is but one true God and Jesus comes from Him.
“He gives justice to the poor and food to the hungry,” Psalm 146:7. In Matthew 19 a wealthy young man wants to earn eternal life. Jesus responds the only way he can is to give of his riches to help the poor and become a disciple of Jesus. Psalm 146:8: “The Lord sets the prisoner free and heals blind eyes.” Luke 4:18-19: Jesus has been anointed to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.
In the Psalm we see that the “Lord … looks after strangers” (v.9). In Luke 14, Jesus commends his disciples to invite the poor and infirmed to dinner. The Psalm sings of God’s care for orphans and widows even as God destroys the wicked. In his parable of sheep and goats in Matthew 25, Jesus extols the love of the weak and vulnerable, orphans and widows, as love of Jesus himself. Conversely, failure to love the needy is rejection of Jesus.
Why do we praise? More to the point, why is Psalm 146 a praise song for Jesus, one we sing during Advent in celebration of His birth? The verses of the Psalm give answer. Blessing, creation, truth, provision for the hungry, healing for the wounded, and care for the needy; this is what Jesus did in a way that only God could. The Psalm praises God. Jesus is God in the flesh.
The Psalm also boldly identifies what we humans face. We trudge along through a world that comes up short in the very things mentioned in the Psalm. Trustworthiness? We are bombarded with phone calls, emails, and knocks on our doors all coming from people trying to separate us from our money with stories of charity or products or importance. We are targeted by scammers whose goal is to possess what we have.
Justice? Is there justice in the world? A mayor in San Diego was found guilty of three sexual harassment misdemeanors and one felony. He could have been sentenced to as much as six years in prison. He got three months house arrest and probation. A felony conviction, but no jail time for the rich and powerful. In Somalia, a woman reported that she was raped. For doing so, she was imprisoned for tainting the reputation of the man who assaulted her.
In verse 7 the Psalm mentions and the hungry and those in prison, and we understand this to be people unjustly locked in chains. Our world knows hunger and unjust imprisonment. The Psalm mentions the blind. We have no cure for irreversible blindness. The pains that afflicted humanity still hurt us. By saying that God meets these hurts, the singer acknowledges the reality of these hurts.
Two thousand years after the coming of Jesus and in a time of the second coming of Jesus, we praise God thinking God’s gifts to us and we do this with three things in mind. First, Jesus performed miracles that went beyond what the original singer of the Psalm could have imagined. He fed 5000 with a few loaves. He made the lame walk and the blind see. He turned a group of uneducated fishermen into the leaders of the church – a church that would outlast the Roman Empire. We praise God knowing what God did in Jesus and believing that even in our scientific age, God still works miracles through the Holy Spirit.
Second, we praise God knowing God is at work in the world through the church. We cannot alleviate all poverty. But as God’s church, the body of Jesus Christ, we come alongside those who are poor. We use our hands and feet, our money and time, our hearts and minds to feed the hungry and educate and empower the orphan and comfort the ailing elderly. The works are not usually unexplainable miracle, but it is God at work through us and it is cause to praise God. Sometimes, the miracle happens.
Third, we praise anticipating that God will bring to completion the work of his church. At the end of time, at the last judgment, God will settle all accounts and bring full and complete redemption. Just as the promise of Psalm 146 came to life in Jesus and comes to life in the work of the church in the world, final, complete fulfillment is still to come. We lay claim to promise of God in 1 Corinthians 15 – that we will live in eternity in resurrected bodies that cannot be harmed or killed. We know the fellowship we enjoy with one another in the Holy Spirit now is a foreshadowing of the perfect love we will have with God in the eternal Kingdom of God.
Thus we praise God. Advent is a season of praise. I mentioned that Psalm 146 is the first of the five ‘Hallel’ Psalms that close out the book of Psalms. What does ‘Hallel’ mean? Each of these Psalms, 146-150 begins and ends with the same Hebrew word, a word often not translated. It is “Hallelujah.” These are Hallelujah songs.
We have explored particular themes of Jesus’ coming in the Psalms. In the first week of Advent, we thought about Advent as a special season of worship. Last week, we were reminded in Psalm 72 that Advent is a call to prayer, specifically, prayer for justice. This morning, in Psalm 146, we get intentional about raising Hallelujahs. Our praises are born out of specific acts of Jesus in his earthly life and in his continuing presence, the Holy Spirit at work in the world through the church.
In your life, where does the rubber meet the road? Where does the praise become more than something ‘we do at church?’ Where does the praise erupt in your heart because you know God is at work, is with you, is creating and re-creating you?
This could be difficult. The healing, the release, the justice, the blessing – you might not be feeling it. You might be in the middle of a storm and you don’t see land. Your life is tossed about, out of control, and you’d really like the final judgment and second coming to happen right now. You want to enter the joyous presence of Jesus immediately because your present reality is so tough.
That’s not everyone. Some have no trouble citing specific praises. God wants us all, even in rough times, to feel the blessing He has for us in Jesus. My encouragement as we conclude our thoughts on Psalm 146 is to seek and find the praise this week. Seek God in the most personal places in life. In the places of brokenness, meet Jesus. Invite him to help clean the skeletons out of the closet. Ask him into those rooms in the heart you’ve kept locked. Discover what it is to be forgiven, to be loved, to be a child of God. All problems won’t instantly be solved. But solutions will come into view and more importantly, you and I discover we don’t face things alone. God is with us.
In that discovery, we own the praises we lift. We praise in church, while walking, while driving. We go to bed thinking of praising God. We wake up and a song of praise is already playing in the heart. As we send Christmas cards, shop, and taken in all the trappings of the season, all the happiness of this time of year and other feelings, seek God by getting to know Jesus and in Him discover how wonderful it is to praise God from the depths of the heart.
Jesus did what only God can in history. Jesus does what only God can do in our lives. Hallelujah.