First Sunday of Christmas (Year A)

Praise songs for Christmas!

December 29, 2013

View Bible Text

Commentary on Psalm 148

Praise songs for Christmas!

God forbid? In the so-called “worship wars,” traditionalists have been heard to grumble about “praise songs” and everything that’s wrong with them. One element of the litany of objections to “praise songs” is the alleged repetition. “It’s the same words repeated over and over again,” is perhaps the most common form of the traditionalist’s lament.

On the other hand, the fans of “praise and worship” music could simply point out that there’s certainly precedent for repetition here at the end of the Book of Psalms. Not to mention the fact that there’s plenty of repetition in traditional hymns like “How Great Thou Art” and “It Is Well with My Soul.”

As with Psalm 146-147 and 149-150, Psalm 148 is heavy on the praise chorus. “Praise the Lord” (hallelu-YH or hallelu-YHWH) is exclaimed four times, “Praise him” (hallelu-hu) is exclaimed six times, and “Praise the name of the Lord” (y’hallelu het-shem YHWH) is exclaimed twice. That’s a lot of praising.

Comedy troupe Monty Python’s oeuvre includes a few memorable riffs on this praising business. At the start of Life of Brian, Mandy (mother of Brian) asks the Three Wise Men: “You do a lot of this then?” “What?” asks the tallest of the magi. “This praising,” Mandy responds. “No, no,” the wiseman answers.

And what about the English Boarding School Chapel scene in The Meaning of Life, the one where the chaplain begins: “Let us praise God,” and continues with “Oh, Lord…Ooo, you are so big…So absolutely huge…Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you…”

Then there’s the bit from The Holy Grail where God appears in a cloud to King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (who dance when e’er their able, who do routines and chorus scenes…). As Arthur and the rest bow in worship, God complains: “Oh, don’t grovel; one thing I can’t stand, it’s people groveling.” (Arthur averts his eyes.) “What are you doing now?” God asks. Arthur: “Averting my eyes, O Lord.” God: “Well don’t. It’s like those miserable Psalms — they’re so depressing. Now knock it off.”

However, here at the end of the Psalter, the overall sentiment can hardly be called depressing. There’s unbridled enthusiasm here. And, sure, Monty Python can get a laugh preposterously praising God for being so absolutely huge, but Psalm 148 seems to take preposterousness one step further where it envisions the sun and the moon lifting up their voices in praise. This audacious psalm commands sea monsters and fruit trees and cattle to praise the Lord.

And in the end, there’s a vision for intergenerational worship: “young men and women alike; old and young together.” Imagine that. Psalm 148 presents us with a utopia of praise: not only all of God’s people (including both traditional and contemporary worship warriors), but all of creation united in praise, exalting the only One worth exalting. Nice.