Benedictus: Zecharaiah’s song

Zechariah--annunciation

Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah / Domenico Ghirlandaio (1490) Fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence

Zechariah’s song (known as the Benedictus) doesn’t get nearly the attention as Mary’s (the Magnificat) earlier in the chapter, but it is the first recorded prophetic word since the Book of Malachi some 400 years earlier.

Its outpouring of praise culminates a long life of both piety and disappointment. After years of waiting and hoping, Zechariah, an aging priest, drew the lot for the once-in-a-lifetime assignment of burning incense in the temple.

The angel Gabriel appeared to him and said his prayer was answered. What prayer?… Read the rest

How to rejoice when it seems unreasonable

jumping for joyChristians know that the Bible says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

In fact, those are the texts of two popular rounds that are probably going through your head right now.

We know what the Word says. That doesn’t make it easy for us to wrap our minds around what it really means or how to do it. Sometimes, life is so miserable that there doesn’t seem to be anything to rejoice about at all.

And yet Paul, the man who wrote those words, didn’t exactly have an easy life.… Read the rest

A blessing for the Gentiles

Two Old Men Disputing / Rembrandt, 1628. The two old men are often interpreted as Peter and Paul

Two Old Men Disputing / Rembrandt, 1628. The two old men are often interpreted as Peter and Paul

In Fiddler on the Roof, the rabbi’s son asked if there were a proper blessing for the tsar. “A blessing for the tsar? Of course. ‘May God bless and keep the tsar—far away from us.”

I imagine someone asked one of the ancient temple singers if there were a proper blessing for the Gentiles. The answer was almost as short, but profoundly different:

“Oh praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud him all you peoples! For his merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever.” – Psalm 117 (NKJV)

Gentiles

Who are Gentiles?… Read the rest

See what God has done: praise in rough times

In an earlier post, I wrote of the struggles I used to have with the meaning of praise. From the opening of Psalm 66, I explained both my problem and what I came to learn about it.

When in v. 5 of the same psalm David writes, “Come and see what God has done,” he turns his focus from telling God how wonderful he is to reminding those who sang it of a familiar and beloved story.

Looking back

Worshiping the golden calf, as in Exodus 32:1-35, illustration from a Bible card published 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company

The escape from Egypt through the sea and entrance into the Promised Land through the Jordan River at flood stage formed the backdrop for the Jews’ entire national and religious identity.… Read the rest

Lent and the spiritual wilderness experience

Death Valley

Death Valley, California

The season of Lent recalls Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness. All Christians sooner or later go through their own spiritual wilderness. And so, in the Old Testament, did one of the Sons of Korah, who left behind Psalms 42 and 43to instruct and comfort us in our own struggles with wilderness experience.

These two psalms appear to have been originally one song of three verses with refrain: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (I use “verse” in the sense of familiar songs or hymns, not in the sense of a verse of scripture.)

Read the rest

What does it mean to praise the Lord?


I used to have a lot of trouble dealing with praise in the psalms. So much of it seemed to consist of telling others to praise God, and perhaps the louder the better, but just what is praise? Going around shouting “Praise the Lord” just doesn’t cut it. The first three verses of Psalm 66 demonstrate both my problem and what I eventually learned about praise.

The first verse says, “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.” In other words, the throng of people gathered at the temple for worship are not content to offer their own praise. They invite all people anywhere on earth to join them.… Read the rest

Rejoice? Always!

A popular praise chorus goes, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” That’s Scripture, actually: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Is it really practical in this day and age? Or is it the case, as Jean Kerr observed, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation.”

 

The troubles we’ve seen

For the last couple of years, our economy has been rocked by very tough conditions: high unemployment, long term unemployment, lots of foreclosures on peoples’  houses.… Read the rest

Rejoice? Always?

“Rejoice always; pray constantly; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (RSV)

Does it sometimes look like the writers of the Bible just didn’t get it? Perhaps people living when it was written just didn’t face the troubles we do. After all, who can rejoice always with all we have to live through?

For the last couple of years, our economy has been rocked by very tough conditions: high unemployment, long term unemployment, lots of foreclosures on peoples’ houses.

We just had a particularly nasty election, with no limits on how much anonymous corporate entities could spend on vicious attack ads.… Read the rest

Praise and Thanksgiving

On this Thanksgiving day, the nation pauses to render thanks for the blessings we have received. We commemorate the thanksgiving banquet celebrated by the Pilgrims for a bountiful harvest following a rough winter. As our society becomes more secular and materialistic, it seems that our giving of thanks to God can easily become perfunctory.

Just before I started to write this post, I received A Word on Gratitude from a professional blogger. I do not know if he is Christian or not, but I found his words so refreshing I decided to share them with you.

My intention for this post is to focus attention not on thanksgiving itself, but praise.… Read the rest

Grace and forgiveness for the chief of sinners—and the rest of us

My mind often races around like a fly, landing here and there from time to time, but circling around unpredictably and at random. That’s weird, but I guess it’s normal enough. I’ve heard and read about enough other people who testify that their mind does the same thing.

Once in a while, something I think about or see or hear or read triggers a memory of something I did or said some time in the past—even as long ago as grade school. And whether it is that long ago or much more recent, likely as not, I remember doing or saying something stupid, and I feel great shame at the memory.… Read the rest