Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 10, 2019
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 98; Luke 20:27-38
Recently a cartoon made its rounds on Facebook. It was a picture of the fairy godmother holding Cinderella’s hands, looking kindly into her eyes. The caption read, “And when the clock strikes midnight, Halloween will end, then bam, Christmas carols everywhere.” Of course, it will be a while before the tunes of Christmas ring out in our morning worship. Nevertheless, as I began preparing today’s sermon, reading and re-reading Psalm 98—well it put me in the mood for Christmas. The words of “Joy to the World” kept running through my mind—maybe because this is the very psalm that inspired Isaac Watts to put pen to paper 300 years ago to write what has become a most beloved Christmas hymn.
Let’s be daring. Let’s be bold. Even before Advent begins, let’s raise our voices and sing the first verse together:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare him room.
And heaven and nature sing; and heaven and nature and sing;
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.
Such words—don’t they make you want to sing and shout for joy? From Watt’s perspective, the birth of Jesus is just the kind of event proclaimed in Psalm 98.
Indeed, joyful worship is in order. I imagine the psalmist as a dynamic worship leader, who has been given the important job of gathering God’s people to worship with a new song. First, he calls the people to praise the Lord. “Make a joyful noise to Yahweh,” he cries, “for he has done marvelous things.” The people respond with singing and dancing but that’s not adequate praise for Almighty God whose right hand and holy arm have given victory. “More! More!” The psalmist urges. “Strike up the band—let the instruments—the lyre, the trumpet, the horn—broadcast the joyful noise up to the heavens.” Sounds of jubilation break forth. Still, that’s not enough for the Lord who is known for steadfast love and faithfulness. “More! More!” God’s cheerleader cries. “Let creation join in with seas shouting, floods clapping, and hills singing.” God has done marvelous things and all the earth responds.
What a worship service! But a call to joyful worship isn’t for the people of Israel, alone. Nor is it just for the high holy days of Advent, Christmas, and Easter. Surely, of all people, followers of Jesus should excel at raising the roof and making some noise! Praise should be our calling card. It has been said that praise is our best response to the evil in the world. Praise is the cure for despair and loneliness. Praise is contagious because praise begets praise.
What a delight to be part of the song and dance of joy for the Lord. Joining earth’s celebration glorifying God, every creature adds its own distinct voice. The seas and rivers, meadows and hills add their response. “Sing praises to the Lord. Make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!”
That the whole earth participates in the song reminds me of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a lowly colt. When he approaches the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude begins to praise God, singing and shouting for joy. Some of the Pharisees are upset by the ruckus so they tell Jesus to make the people stop singing and shouting. Listen to Jesus’ response: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”[i]
“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Jesus’ words have often made me wonder, in this day and age, are we guilty of praising God so little, the earth may have to respond on our behalf?
Some years ago, Babbie Mason came out with a song entitled, “Keep the Rocks Silent.”
I’m gonna keep the rocks silent—one more day.
I’m gonna keep the rocks silent—oh, one more day
I don’t know about you, but I’ll keep praising his name, and I’m gonna keep the rocks silent—one more day!
The words of the song continue:
Well there’s all kinds of trouble weighing me down, I hear the voice of confusion, trying to turn me around. But I’m bound and determined to see this thing through. Until the end of my struggle—here’s what I’m gonna do—I’m gonna keep the rocks silent—one more day.
The words of the final verse are:
Now I don’t know much of nothing, about the end of my days, but I know a little something, about the power of praise. Cause I’ve been bound and determined, right from the start, to keep a rock in my right hand and praise in my heart.
I know a little something about the power of praise. The psalmist, by all accounts, knows a little something about the power of praise. But why should we praise? We should lift our voices in praise because of our amazement at God and God’s greatness. We should lift our voices in praise because of our awareness of both the power and the gentleness of the Creator. Praise moves us from an attitude of “Woe is me!” to an attitude of “How great Thou art!”
Psalm 98 praises the Lord for the marvelous things he has done. Of course, the most marvelous “thing” God does is come to the earth as Emmanuel—God with us. Jesus, by simply taking on flesh—by teaching, touching, suffering and rising—was and is marvelous. Jesus is the victory of God, and our only reasonable response is praise. One preacher put it this way:
In Christ Jesus the Lord’s power is on display as never before. Want to see power? Watch Jesus touch the untouchables. Watch Jesus wash the feet of those who would gladly have washed his. Watch Jesus surrender his very life, so powerful was his love. Watch Jesus forgive the very people who just spat on him and drove nails into his flesh. Watch Jesus breathe his last and then quite fantastically show up three days later. [ii]
God’s greatest gift is Jesus Christ the Messiah! How can we keep from joining the song of all creation—the moon and sun and the stars, the frogs and crickets, the dogs and birds? How can we keep from singing?
Advent and Christmas are just around the corner. Soon we will gather to sing, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and yes, Joy to the World. But let’s not wait until then to raise our voices in praise. Let us sing a new song to the Lord and let us begin even now.
[i] Luke 19:40
[ii] James Howell @http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=693
*Cover Art “Rejoice and Be Glad” by Jan Richardson; used by subscription