My church in Smyrna, Georgia, has an exceptionally vibrant music ministry. The church’s half dozen choirs include a nationally traveled youth choir. The church’s journey through Advent 2017 was uniquely special because Christmas Eve dawned on the sabbath. The singers were active in five distinct worship services, concluding with a midnight candlelight service. The Lord’s day was made complete with all as one singing “Silent Night.” Our “voice [went] out through all the earth, and [our] words to the end of the world.”
This grand musical experience helped me to grasp the role of the psalms in Israel’s experience of God’s grandeur. Psalm 19 was likely part of the music of Israel’s return from exile. We can easily imagine Psalm 19 as part of the ceremony of the events that unfold in the Nehemiah story. Nehemiah records a monumental rebuilding effort being undertaken in Jerusalem. This recovery is more than reconstruction of the wall or rebuilding of the Temple. It is expiation for a wayward people. It begs for a consistent presence of worshipful song. Four times in the preceding chapter, Nehemiah speaks of the singers who have returned from exile (7:1, 44, 67, 73).
Imagine the moment in the Water Gate square as Ezra and Nehemiah stand before the people to reestablish the covenant, and the words of Psalm 19 wash over all that is happening, “The law of the Lord is perfect. . . . The precepts of the Lord are right.” We can sense God’s awareness of our human propensities as the singers repeat the words of verse 13, “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me” (niv). In the economy of God’s creation, all is sufficiently efficient until humanity begins to obstruct the way. When we seek words acceptable in God’s sight, we can experience the glory of God.
God, as we worship you in our return, may our words be acceptable to you. Amen.
How do we feel when we read the Word of God? The Israelites rejoice in God’s law. At the time of the restoration of Jerusalem after the return from exile, Ezra reads from the Law and explains its meaning to the people. They respond by holding a feast because understanding God’s teachings is a source of joy. The psalmist says that God’s law revives the soul, causes the heart to rejoice, and helps us to see clearly. Paul continues with his teaching on spiritual gifts, emphasizing that all members of the body of Christ have an important role. No one can claim to be any more important than anyone else. In Luke, Jesus reads from Isaiah and declares that his messianic ministry will focus on justice, mercy, and healing.
Read Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10. When has God’s word overwhelmed you? How did you react?
Read Psalm 19. How do you seek to speak or sing words acceptable to God? How does this shape your life?
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. Within the body of Christ, as within our human bodies, parts compensate for one another. How do you take on more to support the body of Christ when others struggle? How do you allow others to take on your roles when you struggle?
Read Luke 4:14-21. In what ways have you rejected Jesus?
Respond by posting a prayer.
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.