Heaven and Nature Sings
1st Sunday after Christmas – 2017 LSB #’s 387, 930
Text – Psalm 148:13
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth & heaven.
HEAVEN & NATURE SINGS
“Joy to the World” is one of the most beloved carols sung during the Christmas season. One of its great lines contains the refrain, “& heaven & nature sings, & heaven & nature sings”! My question is, “What do you think about this line?” “Heaven & nature” sings? I suppose the hymn writer might have had in mind the heavenly host of angels when he mentioned “heaven.”
That makes sense. We heard last week about the angels singing their praises over the hills of Bethlehem where the shepherds tended their flocks. But what about “nature” singing? And what about calling upon nature to sing at the coming of Christ? It is not just this particular hymn that speaks of nature singing. It bears echoes of the Psalm that was read earlier.
Just as the composer of our hymn calls upon heaven & nature to sing, so the psalmist calls upon every creaturely thing on earth to praise God as well. But, that doesn’t tell us why the psalm writer calls for all creation to praise God. Put bluntly, why should creation praise Him? Before answering that question, we’ll ask another question to point us in the right direction.
It’s basic & yet pretty profound. Why did God create the universe in the 1st place? Have you ever thought of that? Why did God create such a wondrous array of life on earth? The best answer may be that which we find in Luther’s Small Catechism when he explains the 1st article of the Apostles’ Creed.
Luther exclaims that God does all this “out of fatherly divine goodness & mercy without any merit or worthiness in me.” In other words, God creates because He loves. God loves life, so He lavishes life on His “blue marble” of an earth. He loves the richness of life & the diversity of life. He loves the beauty of life & the sound of life. He loves “pizazz” as Annie Dillard once put it, & if you don’t think He likes pizazz, consider the dazzling array of creatures He’s made: from the icefish to the emperor penguin to the whooping crane & the giraffe; not to mention humans & our ability to imitate, to some degree, God’s creativity by producing art & music.
Because God loves all that He’s made, He declares 6 times in Genesis 1 that it is “good” with a final declaration of “very good.” We could say that God is wildly enthusiastic about what He made. He then rests & delights in it on the 7th day. On the Sabbath, “God can smile & rejoice over His work,” or, as Psalm 104 puts it, “may you rejoice over your manifold works.”
When God says “it is very good,” His words resound throughout creation. They cause a resonance in His creatures, a resonance that resounds as praise. Elizabeth Achtemeier has suggested that praise is the creature’s answer to the love God displays. Creation’s praise becomes an echo of that love. So imagine it going something like this.
God sings, “It is very good.” Creation then rises up & sings in response, “yes, life is very good, indeed.” In this way, creation’s praise of God becomes an echo God’s own declaration & love. It draws attention to the work of the Creator, thus drawing attention to the Creator itself. But exactly how does creation praise God? By simply being what God intended it to be.
Creatures praise God by doing what they have been given to do. We might consider this analogy. When we give someone a gift for their birthday or Christmas, how do we know that it’s appreciated or honored? It is not only by saying “thank you,” but by making use of the gift.
If they simply put it in a closet never to use it, or even “repurpose” it by giving it to someone else, we would sense that our gift was worthless to them. So when creatures live as God intended them to live, they give praise & honor to God. Now, notice how the psalmist calls upon the entire expanse of creation to praise God. He calls them to be what God has made them to be. Birds praise God by being birds, elephants by being elephants, dolphins by being dolphins, chipmunks by being chipmunks, etc. And as each of them does so, praise goes forth in both action & sound. Throughout creation the “sound of music” is heard in rhythms & trills & melodies. Think of creation as a symphony or choir with different voices, instruments & parts.
Bernie Krause, who wrote a book, The Great Animal Orchestra, points out that sound & rhythms fill every niche of the musical spectrum in creation. Each contributes to the soundscape of the created universe. At Psalm 148:7 the psalmist begins with water – oceans, seas, lakes & rivers. There we hear humpback whales singing, otters splashing, waves crashing onto the shore.
The author then moves to the air & the creatures that exist there. We hear the howling of wind, the crackling of lightning, rain splashing on the ground & the thumping of hail. There are owls hooting, hummingbird wings beating the air, wrens trilling & cranes bugling.
Then the psalmist moves to the land. There we hear elephants trumpeting, horses snorting, dogs barking, cats mewing, chipmunks chirping. We hear the crunch of snow beneath our feet & the rhythm of hearts beating, lungs inhaling & exhaling; each of these sounds in creation is a response to God’s love – a being what God created them to be.
With Psalm 148, the sequence of everything in creation moves from the heavens to the earth. In verses 7‒14, which deal with the earth & its inhabitants, humans come last in the list. Why might that be? Did the psalmist save the best for last? Does He mention humans last because they are the most powerful of God’s creatures? The most noble of His creatures?
If that were the case, would they not be up by the angels who were listed first? Or is it possible, as biblical scholar Richard Bauckham suggests, that humans come last because they are the most reluctant to offer their praises to God? They are the ones most resistant to living as God intended, as God envisioned. They have to be encouraged & cajoled to do so. We prefer self-adulation to praise for God. With that desire to be at the center, man sounds not a discordant note, it was worse than that. Harmony was turned into disharmony. Worst of all, the music of creation was interrupted, & at times, silenced altogether. Our sin leads to the silencing of creation’s praise, a silence that undoes creation, a silence that returns it to a pre-creation state.
We may not be aware that it’s taking place or we’ve become so accustomed to it that we no longer notice. Songs of delight & laughter among God’s human creatures often turn into screams of pain, & cries of sorrow, by war & disease. We hear it in the whimpering of a child hungry for food, the sobbing of a woman for her dead husband.
Voices of praise are often turned into voices of criticism & hate. Voices of thanks are turned into grumbling & complaining for what we lack. We hear it in the creaking of our joints as we age. And it’s not just among humans that the silencing of praise occurs.
The songs of ivory billed woodpeckers, passenger pigeons & the like are no longer heard as we’ve taken away their chairs in the orchestra by denying them places to live out the lives God had given them. The songs of whales are drowned out with the rumblings of ships, the chirping of birds with the roar of car engines.
When we don’t want to hear the noises of our machines, we plug our ears with ear buds or cover them with headphones to tune out the world around us, so we can live within our own little world. There are fewer voices in the choir today than in the past. Though innocent, this aspect of creation has suffered the curse at the hands of God’s human creatures.
Most frighteningly, we see in the Gospel reading an attempt to silence the creation’s praise of welcome for the Son of God as He enters the world. Remember what the Gospel of John said? “He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.” That’s what we witness going in Matthew 2. King Herod heard that a king of the Jews had been born. He could not welcome – much less celebrate – such an event! So he set out to kill his perceived rival by killing all the infants that had been born during the previous two years. And the joy of mothers & fathers for the gift of new life was turned into the cries of grief over the death of their babies. Their children’s voices had been silenced.
Joseph & Mary had to pack their bags & flee to Egypt. Think of the tragic irony. The Son of God, who had given life to all, now had to flee for His. God’s own Son now needed protection from the very human creatures He had brought into existence. Psalm 148 provides an interesting contrast. The nonhuman creation offers up praise spontaneously & continuously.
In spite of our sin & the destruction we brought, silencing much of creation’s praise, creation’s praise continues to rise up to God. That same creation looks forward to the coming of Messiah. Isaiah spoke of the trees clapping at the arrival of the messianic age. Paul speaks of creation groaning in anticipation of our redemption, & of its own.
In the context of this psalm, the rest of creation leads the way. We are the ones who need to be encouraged & exhorted. But there is hope for us, & thus, hope for creation. Although we have given God nothing but trouble from almost the moment He created us, God has not washed His hands of us nor of His creation.
Yahweh would not let us go. He would not let death be the final word. He would not allow silence to fill His creation. The entire history of the Bible, & human history since Christ died & rose for us, reveals the limitless patience of the Creator that He continues to bother with this world at all.
In Christ Yahweh has set out to restore His creation by 1st restoring the creatures who caused Him the most trouble – His human creation! Jesus says we are of far greater value than the sparrows. God loves you more than all the wonders of His world. More than the whales, more than the birds, more than all the precious & colorful jewels found within the earth, more than Yosemite, more than anything! So here’s the wonder – being rejected time & again by His human creatures all through the OT, & now being hunted by Herod, Jesus will still grow up to redeem & rescue those same human creatures, & by extension the entire creation.
As God’s human creatures, we have all the more reason to offer God our praises. The praise of God’s human creatures has begun to arise once again. We heard it with the song of Elizabeth. We will hear it again with the song of Simeon. We hear it in the voices of God’s adopted children known as the Church.
God’s human creatures once again can lead the way. We can be conductors of creation’s symphony & choir, leading the way in praising God. With the birth of Christ, creation’s song hit a new key. Creation not only praises God for His original work of creation, but for a new work taking place within creation, removing the disharmonies & the cacophonies that we hear now.
Thomas Aquinas, once suggested that no one creature could exhaust the goodness of God. That’s why the world is filled with so many wondrous creatures. We may provide a corollary by asking whether or not our praise is sufficient to laud the love of such a God? Or do we not, with our Psalmist, need to be joined in our praise by a universal chorus?
Think of the world outside these doors as a cathedral – the cathedral of creation – a basilica in which the ceiling is painted in colors of blue & dotted with brilliant stars. Mountains form walls & trees create archways. Within all its various rooms, nooks & crannies are choirs & symphonies of sound. As they fulfill their duties, let heaven & nature sing! Amen.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room & heaven & nature sing. Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ, while fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains repeat the sounding joy. Amen. LSB 387:1-2.
Who Is This King of Glory?
Christmas Day – 2017 LSB #’s 341, 506
Text – Psalm 24:10
Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory!
WHO IS THIS KING OF GLORY?
It was 7:51 in the morning on January 12, 2007. A young man wearing jeans, a T-shirt, & a Washington Nationals baseball hat began playing his violin in a Washington DC subway station. He played for the next hour, performing six classical pieces. During that time 1,097 people passed by. Some even tossed money into his violin case, to the tune of $32.17.
Of those 1,097 people only seven paused longer than 60 seconds. Who was playing the violin in such a strange place? It was Joshua Bell, a Grammy-award winning violinist who had just filled Boston’s Symphony Hall. Though Bell’s talents typically command $1000 a minute, that day in the subway he made $32.17 for an hour’s worth of work.
You can’t fault his instrument. It was a Stradivarius worth $3.5 million. You can’t fault the music. Bell played a piece from Johann Sebastian Bach that he calls “one of the greatest achievements of any man in history.”
There were shoe-shine stands on either side of Joshua Bell. People were buying lattes & lotto tickets. Who had time to stop? Who could afford to be late to work? Not expecting majesty in the midst of the mundane – most people totally missed it!
Today is Christmas, a day filled with presents & parties & lots of dessert. We hear the cacophony of choruses, “Thank you so much,” “You shouldn’t have,” “It just fits.” We delight in the lyrics, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” “I’m dreaming of white a Christmas,” “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.”
Under the holiday spell we shelled out over $500 billion on toys, turkeys, travel, tinsel & beautifully decorated trees. But with all of the hype & hoopla it becomes so easy to pass by the majesty, the real meaning of Christmas. It is so easy to miss! Since His revelation on Mt. Sinai the LORD had lived in a mobile home called the tabernacle. But now David is moving the Ark of the Covenant from Gibeah to the capital city, Jerusalem. Soon a temple would be built for the LORD. For the occasion David composes Psalm 24.
We will focus our attention on the psalm’s last verse which begins with a question & ends with grand affirmation: “Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory!” Israel had seen a lot of kings come & go.
Abraham encountered monarchs called Melchizedek & Abimelech. Moses & Aaron confronted Pharaoh King of Egypt. Joshua defeated Sihon King of the Amorites & Og King of Bashan. And then the Book of Judges tells us about Eglon the King of Moab & Jaban the King of Canaan. So who is this King of Glory?
It is the LORD of hosts, coming to Jerusalem, in, with & under the Ark of the Covenant. He is the King of Glory! But so often this King comes & we miss Him. In the baptismal flood you & I were called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. In the eucharistic body & blood we are fed & nourished for the way.
God has again & again delivered us, saved us & come to us. And yet we still miss it! Why? Hear the word of the LORD from John 3:19: “This is the verdict, light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
We love the darkness of self-centered narcissism; live in the darkness of lies & half-truths; long for more of the darkness that feeds our flesh. The Prince of Darkness mocks our feeble discipleship, our failed relationships, & our fatal attractions.
Who is this King of Glory? We need to know. Oh God, we need to know! That’s why David begins Psalm 24 with the words, “The earth is the LORD’s & the fullness thereof, the world & those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas & established it upon the rivers.” The King of Glory is the King of creation! When He made the world the LORD was like a skilled engineer, building a structure by driving pylons deep into the ground to establish a firm foundation, even in the midst of seas & rivers.
The earth’s architecture is solid. The world is secure. The LORD made it so because, after all, it belongs to Him! “The earth is the LORD’s!” He is the King of Glory! The psalm continues: “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in His holy place?”
The questions are significant because the King of Glory calls for clean hands & a pure heart. He rejects what is false & deceitful. He wants every person to seek Him, to seek the face of the God of Jacob. These convicting words invite us to confess, repent & humble ourselves before this great King.
In the 3rd movement of Psalm 24 the questions change from “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in His holy place?” to the psalm’s most important question, “Who is this King of Glory?” Israel had multiple opportunities to get this right.
Moses tells us that divine glory is linked to a pillar of cloud & pillar of fire that led the people in the wilderness for 40 years. Isaiah announced that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory while David in Psalm 19 marvels that the heavens declare God’s glory.
When the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines one of Eli’s daughters-in-law names her son “Ichabod,” meaning, “Where is the glory?” Ezekiel dramatically witnessed God’s glory in the form of a supercharged war chariot. But over & over again Israel missed it!
“This is the verdict, light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” So the King of Glory would come again – not to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem; not in the Ark of the Covenant but in the flesh & blood of a real person. “For us men & for our salvation He came down” in the silence of a night, in the warmth of a candle, in the whisper of a baby. This Baby exchanged the robes of eternity for swaddling clothes. He exchanged His golden throne room for a dirty sheep pen. Worshiping angels singing “Holy, holy, holy” from eternity past were exchanged for bewildered shepherds.
Here is majesty in the midst of the mundane; holiness in the filth of manure. The King of Glory comes into the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager, under the protection of a carpenter.
The Son of the heavenly Father took on flesh & blood so He could take you into His arms, heal your hurts, forgive your filth & erase your darkness. He took on flesh, not to demonstrate the innocence of infancy, but to live the life we could not & die our death so we need not.
Jesus is not an assistant to the Father. He isn’t the vice-president of the world, a sort-of Mike Pence of the universe. Jesus isn’t a junior partner to the Father. No. He is a full-fledged member of the godhead, equal with the Father in every way, from eternity past – “Being of one substance with the Father.”
St. John wrote, “Through Him all things were made.” Paul proclaims, “He is the image of the invisible God.” And the Hebrew writer says Jesus is, “the radiance of God’s glory & the exact representation of His being.” There it is again, Jesus is the King of Glory!
It was on the cross that Jesus fully disclosed the glory of God. Any idea of divine glory needs to adjust to Jesus’s willingness to humble himself to death, even death on a cross. St. Paul tells us that the leaders of this age “crucified the Lord of glory.”
The source of truth, He is found guilty of a lie. The source of light, & for three hours He hangs in the darkness. The source of life – He is crucified, dead & buried. A sentimental, syrupy type of love, Jesus is not, but a fierce love for you; driven by nails, marked with scars, crowned with thorns, sealed in holy baptism & delivered to you in the holy supper of His real body & blood. He’s not merely a symbol or representation of love. Jesus is love.
A veteran NFL referee, named Art Holst, tells about a Sunday when Kansas City Chief tight end Fred Arbanas was tackled so hard that his artificial eye popped out. Soon the missing eye was found. Arbanas popped it back into place & was eager to resume play. Holst then said to Arbanas playfully,
“I’m impressed with your courage, Fred. But what would you have done if you had lost the other eye?” “That’s easy,” snapped Arbanas, “I’d become a referee!” Referees aren’t the only ones who live in the dark. So do we! And it is for that reason that we celebrate Christmas, because Jesus came to us as the Light of the world.
Listen to Psalm 24:10 one more time. “Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory!” Don’t miss Him! Amen.
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates! Behold, the King of glory waits. The King of kings is drawing near; the Savior of the world is here. Life & salvation He doth bring; therefore rejoice & gladly sing. To God the Father raise your joyful songs of praise. Amen. LSB 341:1.
Back to the Future
4th Sunday in Advent – B LSB #549:1-4, 7
Text – 2 Samuel 7:16
And your house & your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
This morning’s sermon title is the name of a blockbuster movie that opened in the year 1985. In the plot line, a young man is accidently sent back in time. After ensuring that his interaction there did not erase his future he struggles against the odds to get back to the future. The theme for this morning’s sermon has a similar plot.
In this case, the Son of God has entered time willingly & purposefully to re-establish His kingdom. It had been corrupted & destroyed by mankind’s fall into sin. Due to that disastrous interaction with Satan, the future of mankind was in danger of being erased & the lineage, or house, of David was struggling against the odds to get back to its original future.
The restoration of God’s rule looked to be going well enough with David & Solomon, but quickly went downhill from there. The books of 1 & 2 Kings record the names of 16 different rulers over Israel & Judah each of whose epitaph reads, “[He] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” Here’s a particular king from Israel as an example:
“Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, & did more evil than all who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:25 ESV) He’d begun ruling only 45 years after Solomon died. The royal line of David, the blood of kings – had already gone rotten. For all practical purposes, David’s bloodline had become so corrupt that it eventually disappeared from view.
It’s a safe bet to believe that Yahweh knew this was coming, David’s decision to replace God’s tabernacle with a house of cedar & stone. So the impending failure of David’s house, in the sense of his bloodline of evil kings, foreshadows how fallible any house of cedar & stone would be that David might build. The Holy Spirit reinforces that thought in Acts 17: “The God who made the world & everything in it, being Lord of heaven & earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mankind life & breath & everything.” (17:24-25 ESV)
Nothing that David builds will last, & the temple that God allowed Solomon to build was destroyed within 400 years. Rather than doing it David’s way, God tells the prophet Samuel to instruct him with these words:
“I will appoint a place for my people Israel & will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place & be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled & you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, & I will establish His kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, & I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever. And your house & your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. (7:10-13, 16 ESV)
Where King David had reached a point in his kingdom that he thought all was well, his heavenly Creator new better. Yahweh understood that it was not He who needed a place to rest, but David, & his descendants, & all of God’s people. David, his descendants & God’s people needed a new future, because the road they were on was doomed.
Is that what today is about – for you? Or, do you feel as if you have your life under control? Clearly, you should be answering, “No!” You see, it wasn’t just the kings following David of which it was spoken, “[He] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” The book of Judges records 7 different times where it’s also said of God’s people. Here’s chapter 3 verse 7:
“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God…” Seven years ago a song became a huge hit on ‘youtube.’ The lyrics came about because a 4-year-old, at a mall, saw the lineup of children waiting to see Santa Claus. Having been taught that Christmas is about the birth of God’s Son, this child asked, “Where’s the Line to See Jesus?” Inspired by the question, his grandfather wrote the lyrics for the song of that title in a just a few minutes. Since God’s house is where Jesus has promised to meet us, we should ask the question especially today, right here & now, “Where is the line to see Jesus?”
Like the people of Israel, who did evil in the sight of the Lord, have we forgotten the Lord our God? After the royal bloodline of David disappeared from view there came a time when no prophets were sent by God to speak. That 400 year silence of God ended, so today we celebrate: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Yahweh Himself has come to earth in the flesh, as Jesus Christ, willingly & purposefully in order to restore His creation to its rightful perfection. God does not need a house, but you & I do. Jesus died, & then rose from the dead, so that upon our death we might be taken back to the future, an eternal & everlasting future, in heaven.
When the temple was built, its essential characteristic was its role as the place for the manifestation & presence of God in the midst of His people. That essence did not cease with the destruction of the temple, but culminated in the appearance of Jesus Christ, in whom Yahweh Himself came to His people, as God the Word made human nature His dwelling place.
The essence of the temple will be perfected on the Last Day when the New Jerusalem descends to earth. Revelation 21 tells us that heaven will need no temple for God Himself will be with His people perfectly. Until then, the church & each congregation is the place of God’s presence, veiled as it is in Word & promise & Sacrament.
Through those means, God keeps breaking into our world, our time & our space, saving people from being trapped in the narrow confines of their own existence. False religions reduce all of life to the single dimension of our existence as creatures of this broken world. The OT reading from Samuel, inspired by the true God, leaps out into the future of His people. The bloodline of David, that had disappeared from view reappears in person of Jesus Christ – God & Man. There, ironically, the house of David will be shepherded by the Lamb of God.
In Him, David’s kingdom will be made sure forever. His throne will be established forever. Yahweh will plant His people, so that they may dwell in their own place & be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as today. God’s people will be given rest from all their enemies. David’s future, & ours, is now secure in Christ Jesus.
As Samuel prophesied to David of the coming Messiah, an angel in the Gospel of Luke prophesied to Mary concerning her role in the fulfillment of that prophecy:
“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb & bear a son, & you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great & will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, & He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, & of His kingdom there will be no end.’”
Every year, as Christmas approaches, children look ahead to opening presents. At the same time, many adults look back fondly to the days when they used to look ahead to opening presents. You & I also need to get back to the future so our existence is not erased in the depths of hell. We need a place where we will never again do evil in the sight of the Lord.
Jesus entered time to rescue us that He might take us back to the future – a future where there will be no time. It is the place we call heaven – the best gift we can ever receive. Merry Christmas. Amen.
Ye seed of Israel’s chosen race, Ye ransomed from the fall, hail Him who saves you by His grace & crown Him Lord of all. Hail Him, ye heirs of David’s line, Whom David Lord did call, the God incarnate, man divine, & crown Him Lord of all. Oh, that with yonder sacred throng we at His feet may fall! We’ll join the everlasting song & crown Him Lord of all. We’ll join the everlasting song & crown Him Lord of all. Amen. LSB 549:3-4, 7.
 Song and Lyrics by Steve Haupt & Chris Loesch
 Luke 2:11 ESV
 Luke 1:30-33 ESV
How Little. How Majestic!
Christmas Eve – 2017 LSB #803
Text – Psalm 8:9
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!
HOW LITTLE. HOW MAJESTIC!
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Now, that’s not a question. It is praise. The sentence ends with an exclamation point: “How majestic is your name in all the earth!” And above the heavens. And, in all the universe. Nevertheless, we should still ask the question, especially on the night of Christmas Eve: How majestic is our Lord?
Take a look at this number. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That is one septillion, with 24 zeros. When astronomers look into the most powerful telescopes & begin to ‘count’ the number of stars in the observable universe, they figure about 400 billion stars in our average sized galaxy, the Milky Way.
They estimate there are around 2 trillion galaxies. Multiple those two numbers together & you get just short of a septillion. That’s quite a number & the Triune God created the universe. How majestic is that! How majestic is our God!
The writer of Psalm 8, King David from ancient Israel, had no idea how huge the universe really was, but he knew how small he was in comparison. He asks, “Who am I? What is man that you are mindful of him?” Or of us? Each one of us is just a teeny, tiny little speck in comparison to the vastness of God’s universe.
If we put all the people who have ever lived into one spot, the billions & billions of people, together we would still be just a minuscule, microscopic dot in a tiny corner of one galaxy. Who am I? Who are you? Why would God even notice us? But he does.
King David looks at all that God has created & says it is the work of God’s fingers. In Psalm 139, David wrote that God formed his inward parts. God knit him together in his mother’s womb. God’s fingers knitting him together. He praises God because he is fearfully & wonderfully made. Same for us. God’s fingers knit you together when you were at your tiniest, in your mother’s womb. The God who created the entire universe takes the time to fearfully & wonderfully knit us together, right down to our own fingers.
A woman once made a present for her mother with the help of her children. She had them rub their hands & fingers in paint. Then, carefully, their hands were pressed to the front of a sweatshirt. Below the handprints of tiny fingers, it says, Best Great Grandma Around, Hands Down. The God of the universe knits each of us together in His own special way.
What’s more, God even listens to the praise of the littlest of us – the children & babies. In Matthew 21, Jesus quotes Psalm 8 when the children sing “Hosanna” to Him in the temple & on Palm Sunday. He mentions the praise for Him that comes out of their mouths. In our day it’s easy to think of how the youngest children in a Christmas program sing that praise.
For many, it might have been the 1st time we sang in front of the church. Dressed as little angels or lambs, the voices sing, “Away in a manger no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.” And what’s the next line? “The stars in the sky look down where He lay. The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”
From the septillion stars above to the tiniest voices below, all give praise to our majestic God. Yet there’s more. In the 1st book of the Bible, which tells of God creating everything, we read that not only are we wonderfully made, but we are specially made in God’s image. God doesn’t tells us what that all means, but we are created to be in a special relationship with Him.
We can think, feel, talk, love & trust our God. We can praise Him. Though we were made just a little lower than the angels, in fact, God has placed us over the rest of His earthly creation. King David wrote, “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands.” (Psalm 8:6 ESV) Sheep, oxen, birds & fish, whatever; we have been given the special task to care for this incredible world God has given us to live in. Specially knit together right down to our fingers, He listens to our praise even while we are so small. Special relationship with God; special responsibility to care for His creation – no wonder King David gives praise:
“How majestic is your name, O Lord, in all the earth!” But how little have we used our fingers, hands & voices to live as His special people? We have not cared for His creation as He wanted us to. In the garden of Eden, Adam & Eve took that special relationship, being just a little lower than heavenly beings, & tried to be like God.
The one thing God told them not to do, they did. Their fingers reached out to forbidden fruit, & ever since, the image God created us in, & all of creation, have suffered. Animals kill people. People kill each other. Whole species are destroyed in the name of progress. We invent machines, & then pollution dirties the beauty of our Lord’s handiwork.
We can split the atom to make electricity or to vaporize God’s creation. The Internet brings information & speed to life, but also pornography, scams & identity theft. Guns are used for crime & to threaten & terrorize students on campuses. Nature turns on us & firefighters lose their lives in a wildfire. Tornados ravage elementary schools & homes.
But the children, the littlest among us, are most vulnerable. Instead of praise their voices are silenced while they starve with a vacant look in their eyes. They cry as they are sold into prostitution. They whimper as they’re bullied & abused. With almost no restrictions on abortion they seem most vulnerable & unprotected when they are at their tiniest in their mothers’ wombs.
How horrendously we have treated God’s wonderfully made creation, & horribly marred His image in us. That’s not praise. It is the awful reality we now live in. If it was set to music, it would sound like discordant notes on the piano. Yet, in the midst of this mess we’ve made, one star stands out from all the rest. One star is given a special task. One star shone bright long ago. Wise men were looking for a newborn king. They have only a star to go by. They have only the guidance of one out of a septillion to bring them to Jesus. Yet that star does its work well. It shines its light on Jesus.
Jesus does just the opposite of Adam & Eve. They wanted to move up & become like God. Jesus comes down & becomes one of us. God himself takes on a human body & is born in Bethlehem. A newer Christmas song, “Mary Did You Know,” sings of this wonder, this marvel of the majesty of God becoming the name of Jesus:
“Mary, did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with His hand? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God?”
Mary holds Jesus in her hands. Her fingers caress his face. She puts her index finger into his hand & his little fingers wrap around it. God’s fingers that created the septillion stars are now just like yours & mine. He became one of us. He grows up to use His fingers, His hands to the glory of His name: Jesus – the One who saves us. Watch Him use His fingers.
A man with leprosy, a disease making a human being unclean & dead in the eyes of others, cries out for help. Jesus’s fingers reach out to touch him, to touch him. And in the majesty of God’s power, he is made whole in body & soul.
A woman is caught in adultery. The law demands that she die. The religious leaders bring her to Jesus. He writes something on the ground with His fingers. We don’t know what. Then He tells the crowd that the one without sin is to throw the 1st stone. No one does. The woman goes away forgiven & free.
A man is born blind. He’s never seen anything. Jesus comes along & has compassion on the man. He spits on the ground, makes some mud & His fingers rub it on the man’s eyes. The majestic power of God is seen once again. The man sees & does even more. He believes that Jesus is the One, the very Son of God, who will save him for life eternal.
Looking closer at Psalm 8 we find it’s not just about us. It’s about Jesus too. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was made a little lower than the angels in His humiliation. He was crowned with glory & honor, although, to us, a crown of thorns doesn’t look like honor. But the Son of God was doing just what His name calls for Him to do.
He is honoring what His Father gave Him to do. He gives His life for the whole of God’s creation. When His fingers go limp on the cross, they bring forgiveness for our failures, life for our death, hope for our despair, joy for our sadness, & peace for our violent world.
On the 3rd day His body comes back to life. His fingers, once stiff in death, move again. A body broken is now glorified. A body buried is now honored by knees that bow down to Him & voices that sing His praise. And God has placed all creation under His feet. How majestic is the name of Jesus!
We’ve been specially created, knit together by His fingers right from the very conception of life. We now have that special relationship with God restored by Jesus doing just what Psalm 8 called for. We still have that special task – taking care of His creation. There are multitudes of ways for us to care for God’s world, but let’s draw from Psalm 8 & care for the most vulnerable.
Pray for the children. Protect them from violence. Help feed & build them up to stand strong. Bring them to Jesus. Teach them the faith, so they might sing, as David says in Psalm 8, “out of the mouths of babies & infants God has established His strength.” Sonshine ECC & Holt Lutheran School are part of that. Then remember, all of us are children of God. Amen.
All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth & heaven reflect Thy rays, stars & angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise. Field & forest, vale & mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird & flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee. Amen. LSB 803:2.
Praising God's Salvation: So Big!
Advent Midweek 2 LSB #817
Text – Psalm 96:1-2
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day.
praising God’s salvAtion: So big!
In 1952 the Christian writer J. B. Phillips wrote a short book by the name “Your God is Too Small.” It challenged his readers to see God as so much more than a smiling old grandfather or some type of distant cosmic policeman.
All human beings are tempted to put God in a box that is safe & manageable, to be called upon in certain times of life, but not to get in the way of who we want to be or how we want to live. The truth is Yahweh is so much larger than we realize. He is the Almighty, the Creator of all the universe. His ways are beyond our understanding.
We can use words from confirmation class like omnipotent or omniscience to get at this truth, but a recent song by the Christian band Addison Road called “What Do I Know of Holy?” put it in a way that helps to see this bigger God we worship. Here are some lyrics: “I caught a glimpse of who You might be. The slightest hint of You brought me to my knees.”
Earlier in the song, the writer asked, “What do I know of You who spoke me into motion?” The Holy Trinity spoke us into motion, & not just human beings, but all of creation. From the motion of the electrons in a molecule to the waves on an ocean to the wheat swaying in a field to hands lifted in praise – God spoke everything into motion.
He is the Creator & even the slightest hint of who He is brings us to our knees. Psalm 96 calls us to sing praises to this Creator of all: “Sing a new song . . . Sing to the Lord . . . Proclaim His salvation & glory day after day.” And not just people, but all creation is to rejoice & be glad. The heavens, earth & sea; the mountains, fields & trees; all sing praises because the Lord reigns. He is ruler of all & His salvation is for all creation. So, how does a tree praise the Lord? Or a mountain? Or a rock? Perhaps we’re thinking too small when it comes to praise. Praise is more than singing a few words during a worship service. Praise is also the sounds & sights of being & doing just what God created a mountain or a bird or a tree to be & to do.
Imagine for a moment the most memorable scenes of God’s creation. The author remembers a family vacation. They got into their van & started driving due west through Missouri & Kansas. The latter one sure looks flat, but appearances can be deceiving. As you drive through that state, you’re actually climbing toward Colorado.
It’s a gentle climb, but then Denver comes into view. Behind that city you see mountains. The closer you get, the more you realize just how majestic those Rocky Mountains are. Finally you drive right through them, trying to peer out the window at how high & huge they really are. It’s incredible.
Perhaps you’ve stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon & looked down. Have you walked along an ocean beach & stared out to the horizon? Have you put your eye to a microscope & seen the intricacies of a skin cell? Now realize that God sees all this all the time from every possible point of view.
The Christian philosopher, Dallas Willard, wrote that God is the most joyous being in the universe. We pay money to get a tank with a few tropical fish & enjoy looking at their beauty as they swim around. God has oceans & seas of fish which He created & constantly enjoys. We might enjoy a song or a concert, but He experiences all that is right & beautiful & good.
Mr. Willard wrote, “All of the good & beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth & depth & richness.” (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy [HarperOne, 1998], 62‒64.) Creation praises God by being & doing what He created it to be & to do – the laughter of a three-year-old as his grandpa chases him down the hallway – a springtime calf jumping & mooing in the barnyard – birds singing in the early morning outside an open window – the rustling of leaves of corn in a field ripe for harvest – the heart beating faster with excitement as a dog fetches a stick in a park.
All these sights & sounds are music to God’s ears & beautiful in His eyes. He is the most joyous being in the universe, except these sights & sounds are also silenced & turned into something ugly. Driving down the road we see animals that were hit by cars – their bodies broken & bloated. Pollution has dirtied the skies & contaminated the water created by God.
Whole species of animals are extinct, no more to be seen or heard in their created wonder. Fires rage through drought stricken forests. Once majestic trees rage red in flame; turn black & die. Hurricanes & tornadoes destroy wildlife & crops just as much as they destroy hospitals, homes & cars.
Many animals cower in fear & try to make no sound at all or they’ll be seen or heard; then attacked & eaten. Pets make sounds that God loves to hear: contented meows or the welcome home bark. Then one day you notice they aren’t eating like usual. The trip to the vet may not be a happy one with the purring or barking silenced by disease.
The 8th chapter of Romans puts this ugliness & silencing of God’s creation into words: “For the creation was subjected to futility. . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.”
How can Psalm 96 call us to praise the Lord when so much ugliness, groaning & silencing of His creation is all around? The answer is God’s salvation. We can praise & sing because God is so big & so is His salvation: “Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day.” Don’t make God’s salvation small. It’s not simply about ending up in heaven. It’s not just seeing loved ones once again. It’s not only being with Jesus for eternity. Those wonderful blessings are a part of God’s salvation, but His plan is far bigger than that.
In Romans 8, creation hopes for the day it will be liberated from bondage to decay & brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. All creation is waiting for the redemption of our bodies, & that redemption of all creation began when stones sang out in praise. Yes, stones. Go back to a joyous day for Jesus & the disciples.
It’s a week before the Son of God will hang on the cross. Listen in as one of the disciples tells us what happened: “We were approaching Jerusalem, & Jesus told two of us to go into a small village just ahead of us. We’d find a small donkey, one that had never been ridden before. He said it would be tied up just as we entered the village.”
“Well, when Jesus told us to do something, we did it. Another disciple & I entered the village & the donkey was there, just as Jesus said. The donkey’s owners saw us untie the animal & asked what we were doing. Jesus knew this would happen, so He told us to say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ When the owners heard that, they let us take the donkey.”
“We got back & put our cloaks & garments on the donkey. We set Jesus on its back. We threw more coats on the road. People found palm branches & started to sing praises to Jesus: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.’ It was a victory parade. Shouts & cheers; praise & glory; all for Jesus. Hundreds of people leading Him into Jerusalem.”
“But not everyone was pleased. The Pharisees, of course, did not like Jesus. I can still see them coming up to Him & demanding that He stop the whole procession. Jesus answered, ‘I tell you if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ It sounded strange at the time. Not a week later, the Pharisees got their wish. They silenced Jesus. No more words came out of His mouth when He died on the cross & His body was set in a tomb. They chased His followers away. We hid, quiet & alone, in an upper room, afraid for our lives. Yes, the praises had stopped, but then the stones cried out. Yes, the stones. On Easter morning, can you hear the sound they made – stone against stone?”
“The stone in front of the tomb rolled back & scraped against the opening of the tomb that had been cut into stone. That grinding sound is just the noise a stone is supposed to make when a tomb is opened. What gave one of the 1st sounds of praise on Easter morning? The stones did as Jesus rises from the dead & the hope of our resurrection is born.”
Returning to tonight – yes, the redemption of all creation began with Jesus. What happened to His body, now alive & glorified, is the hope not just of you & me & all believers. It is a larger hope that that. It is the hope of all creation. All the earth & sea & heavens, all the trees & mountains & fields, look forward to the salvation Jesus will bring on that last day.
All of creation waits in eager anticipation for the moment when Jesus will return so the ugliness, groaning & silence can be replaced with the most joyous chorus of praise ever heard. Maybe Handel’s Messiah can give us a glimpse:
Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth, Hallelujah! The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord & of His Christ, & He shall reign for ever & ever, Hallelujah! King of Kings, & Lord of Lords, & He shall reign for ever & ever, Hallelujah!
Now, imagine the birds are singing along with the sopranos. Elephants trumpet out in joyous adoration. Cows are mooing the bass line. The fields are waving in harmony to the music. The mountains have never stood more majestic. Deer run & leap without fear. A cat purrs so loudly, as a young girl holds it, that the Lord smiles.
And the rocks like cymbals repeat the sounding joy of the resurrected Savior returning
in glory as Lord of Lords & King of Kings. He shall reign forever & forever. Now that’s a “ginormous” salvation. That is our God, larger than any can imagine.
That’s the sound of praise we look forward to, but also the sound of praise we are already privileged to sing. Here in church, of course, but also on Tuesday afternoon, Thursday morning, & next weekend when we join His creation in being & in doing what Yahweh created & redeemed us to be & to do. Amen.
Hail, wind & rain! Loud blowing snowstorm! Sing to the Lord a new song! Flowers & trees! Loud rustling dry leaves! Sing to the Lord a new song! Engines & steel! Loud pounding hammers! Sing to the Lord a new song! Limestone & beams! Loud building workers! Sing to the Lord a new song! He has done marvelous things. I too will praise Him with a new song! Amen. LSB 817:2, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet