Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. Its 176 verses say one thing over and over: the law is great. It is an acrostic poem, in which each letter of the Hebrew alphabet gets eight lines. The law is beautiful from aleph to tov, from alpha to omega, from A to Z.
Christians do not always speak so exuberantly about the law. Paul considers the law as one of the enemies Christ defeats. (See Galatians 2:16.) How strange then to see our Jewish neighbors, our elder siblings in faith, describe the law as a delight. On the festival of Simchat Torah, the end of the annual reading of the Torah in the synagogue, Jews dance with the scroll. The large Torah scroll is passed around from worshiper to worshiper, each of whom reels with it like a bride on her wedding day.
The Jews are reading Psalm 119, which we also call scripture, better than we do. The law is “sweeter than honey,” the psalmist insists. This psalm cries out in ecstasy about the loveliness of the law. The Torah makes the ones praying wiser than their enemies, wiser even than their teachers, their elders. Jews often wear a prayer shawl in worship. It is a symbol of being covered in the law, enveloped by God’s mercy. Remember Psalm 119 when you read Paul—he is wearing one of those shawls. He argues that Gentiles have access to divine mercy in Christ without having to live by Torah. His anger is reserved for those who think Gentile converts must become Jews. Jews—go on observing the Torah. Gentiles—no need. All—mercy is here in full, as Jeremiah promises.
Such a proclamation of mercy will set you to writing long poems, to dancing with scrolls, and to delighting in the law, in one another, and in God.
Lord, delight us with your law, sweeter than honey, which sets our feet to dancing. Amen.
At last Jeremiah is able to bring a message of restoration and hope. God promises a new covenant with the people, and they will internalize the law in their hearts so that they will keep it. The psalmist rejoices in such a reality. He meditates on God’s law all day and has been granted profound understanding. This allows him to walk faithfully in God’s paths. The reading from Second Timothy confirms the ongoing power of God’s law in scripture, which is given by God for our good. Timothy is charged always to be ready to preach it faithfully. Luke hits on a different theme: the importance of persistent prayer. In the parable a heartless judge finally yields to a persistent widow, so we should be similarly tenacious with our prayers to God.
Read Jeremiah 31:27-34. How have you broken your covenant with God? How has God responded?
Read Psalm 119:97-104. The Jewish laws of the Hebrew scriptures are part of our Christian heritage. How can you delight in the law?
Read 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5. How can you learn or teach from scriptures you do not normally read?
Read Luke 18:1-8. Through the familiar call to pray always, the author reminds us that we are called to pray for what God wants. What is at stake when you pray for justice and mercy?
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.