Psalm 97 – Repetitions that Delight – Christmas 2011

Christmas 2011             Repetitions that Delight
Isaiah 9:2-7          Psalm 97              1 Titus 3:4-7                  Luke 2:1-20
When my son, Dan, was a baby, he had one book he wanted me to read over and over and over, Busy Timmy, to point where he had it memorized at 1 year.  Needless to say, I grew tired of this repetition much quicker than he did.  When we like something, we tend to want to repeat the experience over and over, whether watching a favorite video, reading a favorite book, eating a delicious dessert, or listening to music.  Good stuff of life bears repeating. 
Some repetitions are annoying, scales on the piano by the beginner, the refrain “Are we there yet?” while undertaking a long trip with children, muzak on elevators.  I recently traveled to New York for the weekend.  Riding on the subway, I quickly tired of refrain, “stand away from the door,” at every stop.
Some repetitions never fail to delight, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, a starry sky at night, the Harvest moon, that first cup of coffee in the morning to greet a new day, the great works of literature, Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoi and others, love stories – we love a good love story, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, vice versa, and every variation thereof.  That’s why there are so many books, movies, songs about love.  We never tire of them.
Psalm for today states nothing new or unusual, nothing we haven’t heard before, some might say why even include it in the book of Psalms, could easily be eliminated or condensed into another psalm, like a Readers Digest condensed book, yet it is worth keeping, worth repeating.
It is a psalm of praise of our God, the wonder of God, that God reigns as king forever.  It isn’t the words themselves that are so wonderful or unique, but the passion for the subject by the writer.  These are words written by someone who knows his subject, loves his subject, and that makes all the difference.
The psalm follows a traditional format, three parts.  First verse introduces the subject, the theme for the psalm.  Verses 2-6 speak of the cosmic power of God enthroned in heaven.  Traditional terms for a theophany are used, showing God in nature, with dark clouds and lightning. Verses 7-9 contrasts the shame of idolatry with rejoicing of Zion, God’s people.  Verses 10-12 exhorts the faithful to hate evil and rejoice in the Lord.
Every good story has conflict and plot twists, true of this psalm.  The conflict seen in verses 2-6 is our desire to know God, yet God is covered with a veil of mystery.  The darkness is lit up from within by blazing fires and lightning, glimpses of God, but more often than not our path is dark, we don’t know our future, don’t know our God, don’t even know ourselves all that well at times.  While on this earth we walk in darkness, yet walk we must.  We get glimpses of God, moments of clarity when the way seems clear, but those are short lived.  This causes conflict, yet the conflict creates interest in knowing how it will turn out. 
The other conflict in the psalm is between believers and unbelievers.  We are reassured that our God guards the lives of those who are faithful, that right will prevail, we need only remain true to our God.
Our Gospel reading for today is the beginning of the greatest story ever told, a great love story, the continuation of the story of God’s love for his people which echoes in the Old Testament and starts anew in the New Testament with the birth of a baby, something new and unique, never before seen, never to be seen again.  The story is repeated every year, yet never gets old.  Well worth the repeating.  With years of life the story is enriched by memories, memories of Christmas’s past, Christmas’ yet to come, full of nuances, light and dark.  Not every Christmas memory is pleasant.  The first Christmas without a loved one at the table can be very difficult, yet the story goes on,
God so loved the world.  God’s love for us goes on; we need to keep repeating the story, through good times and hard times.  So much of our life is darkness.  We need to treasure these moments of light when God’s presence reveals itself to us through the darkness.  Treasure this time when the people who walk in darkness, all of us, see God’s light.  They are all the more precious for being few and far between.
And so, as we gather here today on yet another Christmas, let us relish the story of that first Christmas long ago; let us remember other Christmases in our lives, not so long ago.   
This Christmas, may we be a light in the darkness to others during difficult times.  May our light shine before others, showing them the way to our God, leading them to Jesus.  And may we never tire of repeating the story, the story of God’s great love.
Robertson copyright December 2011
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