Commentary on Psalm 148
The bloom is off the rose and it is not even New Year’s Day.
The tree is still up and the Creche awaits the Wise Men, but memories of food and fun and family are starting to fade. Families gathered are slowly making their ways home again. The decorations which were so festive a month ago, now remind us they must be boxed and returned to the attic. It is almost time to tuck in for the brunt of winter’s cold and snow.
Holidays pass so quickly. All the preparation amounts to a few hours of celebration. The baby is still in the creche, but our minds turn elsewhere. Yes, this Sunday we will still sing carols and next week too, but by the 6th of January, the songs seem a bit out of place. The world has moved on. All of the holiday radio channels have returned to regular programming. The endless cycle of holiday movies and shows are tucked away until next November. Christmas candy and toys are already being replaced by heart shaped boxes as the consumer machine grinds on. Even the lectionary has moved on, today the young Jesus teaches at the Temple even before the Wise Men make their way to Nazareth on Jan. 6th!
Enter Psalm 148. This psalm is all praise to the LORD. The Psalter itself moves from lament to praise and this psalm is part of its crescendo. Psalm 148 stands out from the other psalms in part because the praise does not begin with people. In fact, the people are not called to join in the chorus until verse 11. It is as if there is a praise party and we are the last ones invited.
Often when we think of worship and praise, our thoughts turn to Sunday gatherings and human voices lifted in song. This psalm reminds us God’s whole creation offers up praise. As our holiday celebrations fade into winter and the next thing, the praise of God offered by the creation continues unabated. Like Jesus’s statement in Luke 19:40 “If they [the people] are quiet, even the stones will cry out.” Creation will praise when the humans are silent.
The psalm begins the chorus in the heavens with God’s Council of messengers [NRSV, angels] and hosts (verses 1-2). Next the sun, moon, stars and clouds [waters above the heavens] join in (verse 3). Verses 5-6 provide the reasons for this praise. The heavens and sky are praising God for their creation and God’s continuing control of their purpose or course. The creation sings praise to God simply because they exist! The creation rings out in joy for the very purpose God has set it in place to do. When we are too busy, the sun and the stars and the moon and even the clouds shout with glory to their Creator.
At verse 7, the sea monsters and the deeps along with the fire and hail, and snow and frost, and the stormy wind join to celebrate fulfilling God’s purpose. After a fall full of hurricanes and massive fires, it is hard to understand these phenomena celebrating “fulfilling God’s command.” They disrupt our plans and at their worst destroy our homes. Would our human policies change if we thought more about the relationship between the weather and its God? I am not sure, but the psalm provides us with a new perspective. The weather belongs to God and praises God.
After all of the skies and seas, the surface of the earth is heard; mountains and hills, trees and wild animals and domestic animals and creepy things we do not like, and the birds (verses 9-10). All of this praise and song and celebration goes on before humans ever open their mouths! Everything made, even the animals and creatures which scare or repulse us, sing to their Lord and Maker.
Are we, like the rest of creation, made to offer constant praise? The psalms certainly imply this is the preferred state of all of creation including us. Yet everything seems to get in the way. As noted about, even before end of the Christmas season, other things occupy our minds. There is so much to do that praise is usually reserved for Sunday mornings and a few special services. Sure, I try to count my blessings and remember all of the gifts of God, but only for a few moments each day. Then I am back to the world. Yet Psalm 148 is still there, even in my busiest days as a reminder that the creation is still singing and offering an invitation to us.
Everyone is lamenting the state of the world, especially our meanness and divisiveness. It seems naïve to suggest that praise could fix our mean spirits. But is it really that naïve? The creation invites us to rejoin the song. Would we look at the world differently if praise was our default position? Would we treat each other differently if we heard and joined in them with joyful song? Like the Apostle Paul, I am foolish enough to think it just might change us. Psalm 148 reminds us that we are being invited to a massive praise party, every day, all the time. Maybe instead of worrying about the world and the packing away of the creche, we should simply join the party!
- Commentary first published on this site on Dec. 30, 2018.