24th November 2020- Canvey Methodist Church Bible Studies

Canvey Island Methodist Church Bible Study 24th November 2020.

 

ADVENT HOPE


 

Psalm 19[a]

 

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

 

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;

    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;

    night after night they reveal knowledge.

3 They have no speech, they use no words;

    no sound is heard from them.

4 Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,

    their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

5     It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens

    and makes its circuit to the other;

    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,

    refreshing the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,

    making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the Lord are right,

    giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,

    giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is pure,

    enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm,

    and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,

    than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

    than honey from the honeycomb.

11 By them your servant is warned;

    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 But who can discern their own errors?

    Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;

    may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless,

    innocent of great transgression.

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart

    be pleasing in your sight,

    Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Footnotes

 

Psalm 19:1 In Hebrew texts 19:1-14 is numbered 19:2-15.

Psalm 19:4 Septuagint, Jerome and Syriac; Hebrew measuring line


 

Comment

 

I know it's hard to believe, but the “Season of Advent” actually begins this coming Sunday. Where has the year gone!  With Christmas fast approaching, it therefore seems appropriate to conclude our studies of the Book of Psalms with Psalm 19, a psalm of David. Unlike the other psalms we have studied, Psalm 19 has eluded categorization by the theologians. They just didn’t know where to fit it! The reason? It is, along with a few others like Psalm 66, one which contains a mixture of all the different Psalm grouping themes. 

At its heart, Psalm 19 praises the Lord for His two great gifts to humanity: creation and the law. It does this as it speaks of God being revealed in both nature and in Scripture.

C. S. Lewis, the well-known Christian writer loved Psalm 19. He said,

 

 “I take this Psalm 19 to be the greatest poem in the Psalms and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”

 

 And who could disagree with this sentiment as the pages of Psalm 19 turn and its vaulting tones and its picturesque language lift the spirit and inspire the soul. We read, “The heavens declare the glory of God...They pour forth speech……..yet they use no words…..but their voice is heard in all the Earth. 

Anyone who has ever found themselves on a still, dark night, in a place free city lights, and, who has then glanced up into the dark, velvety expanse of sky above their heads, will have experienced something akin to the wonder and awe felt and described so succinctly by the psalmist David ; The Milky Way, stretching like an ethereal ribbon across the skies, its gentle light meeting, and, being pierced by myriads of other, more local stars, that stretch their brilliance into shapes and constellations, clusters, groupings, and distant galaxies. Planets, patrolling the midnight skies, (and so marking the year), change their position each night, all bearing witness to, all singing a unified song of sheer radiance, all proclaiming the joyful and impelling song of the creator's loving hand. 

The crescendo of Advent is the birth of Jesus, God's only Son, and incredibly, a star played a big part in this glorious nativity of grace. Astronomers looking back over records from antiquity have identified various celestial candidates that might have served to catch the eye of the “Magi” (Wise Men) as they travelled from Babylon to Jerusalem following the star. Chinese Astronomers recorded a “Nova” or an exploding star in 4BC, and they also saw a comet in 5BC. More recently, David Hugges, Professor Emeritus at the University of Sheffield has calculated that back in 7BC, a very rare triple conjunction of Earth , Jupiter and Saturn occurred, where all these planets lined up in their orbits so that on earth, Jupiter and Saturn would look to have merged. Who really knows? In the end, I suppose that it doesn’t really matter. Whatever happened, the Magi found their way to the house in which Jesus lay and in the words of Psalm 19v1, 

“The heavens did indeed, declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim the work of his hands”. 

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that this particular Psalm 19, is assigned by the church to be read on Christmas Day, when the “Sun of righteousness” came into the world (Mal. 4:2.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves), and the living Word was laid in the manger (John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth).

 

The emphasis, then in the psalm is on God’s revelations of Himself in creation, Scripture, and the human heart.

When Jesus came, he was described as “The Word Made Flesh”. (John 1:14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth).

 

Psalm 19 also speaks about the blessings of God’s law, otherwise known as the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments are part of this written law and they have formed the basis of law in many nations and societies across the world, including our own in the United Kingdom. 

Whilst, the law, spoken of so warmly in Psalm19, as “giving stability like a rock beneath a persons feet”, has many strengths, it does, being an inanimate tool, have its limitations. The Law can point out someone’s faults; identify when they have broken one of its rules, but it could not and cannot now, “keep a person either sinless or blameless” or from “being ruled by sin” (v13) . However, Jesus can!!! How, though, can Jesus do this? The answer seems simple and plain but it cost Jesus everything. 

 

Jesus, the original lawgiver, in coming into the world, became subject to the demands of the law. Only Jesus, unlike us, was completely pure, sinless and kept all the rules, and so when he was punished for something he didn’t do, he was “made sin in our stead”. The result: When God looks at you and I, he sees the righteousness of Jesus, wrapped around our lives, and so you and I are now free of guilt and it’s burdens both now and into eternity. 

(2 Corinthians 5:2. For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him).

 

In my book, (and I suspect in yours also), such grace and love outshines every star in the sky. The world can be dark and gloomy, the seas rough and stormy, and the path ahead steep and rocky, but with Jesus our Saviour and friend lighting the way we all have hope for the future. In Jesus we have truly found the “Rock and Redeemer of Psalm19.

At this time, when the current Covid 19 lockdown 2 restrictions are still in place, and the likelihood of future government distancing tier restrictions are threatening to change or limit Christmas Celebrations and our lives beyond into 2021, it is easy to feel grumpy and gloomy or even scared or alarmed. But even such limitations can be used of God for blessing,

Last year as Christmas approached, Anna and her team in Lebanon were suddenly faced with cancelled bookings as schools were closed by street protests.

Here is the poem that Anna wrote in response.

 

Advent Hope 

 

The box is wooden

Green and white stripped

A prop from last years Christmas play

Which we're going to revive

I lift the lid 

And it's full of Christmas tat

You know tinsel and baubles

And tiny elf hats 

But to me suddenly

it's like all of Christmas is inside

Stars and sparkles 

Wrapped in nostalgia

And I'm back in my parent's

Front room

And we're opening the boxes

Of decorations from the attic

Which somehow have always managed to stay the same

However much else has changed

I mean genuinely my mum and dad

Have decorations they bought

From shops that closed years ago

Threadbare Robins 

And slightly crinkled tinsel

But still

I'm standing in work 

In front of that box

Reliving the feeling of Christmas

A warm, magical, full kind of feeling

That could be a memory

(But no real feeling is as perfect as that) 

And I'm excited for the show

For spreading Christmas cheer

But . . .  two days later 

Were putting everything back

Tinsel And baubles and

Tiny elf hats

The boss tells us as we sit

In the same room as the box

That the situation is too uncertain

For us to keep rehearsing the play

Maybe we won't be able to get into work

Maybe the schools will be shut anyway

So we pack everything up

And put it back in the box

And practically this is the

Right decision

There's other things we can do

And part of me feels

That right now 

Amidst corruption

And economic collapse

Celebration feels a bit incongruous

Like a multi coloured scarf at a funeral

But still another part of me thinks

Isn't advent 

Isn't Christmas kind of like that

It's light shining out in the darkness

Hope bursting in

When everything is hardest

A Saviour born in the 

Midst of a people's oppression 

Not shouting orders from above

Or clinging onto position 

But exchanging heaven 

To become one of them

and surely we need that kind of story

Right now? 

A story that tells me

That however I feel

Whatever crazy things are going on

Around me

Hope is a reality that can be found in

The most unlikely of places 

Caves and hillsides

And occupied roman territories

So I have decorated my house

With a tree and lights

And tinsel and elves

Not to distract me from

The  injustice in the world

But to remind me that I have faith in injustice's defeat

I have faith that there can and will be peace

And that hope can come

In unexpected places 

And this hope is something

I want to stay out

When it's time to pack

My Christmas things

Back into the box on the shelf

Even when the tinsel's

Not there to remind me 

I will cling onto the hope that I find in

The story of the divine bursting into

The ordinary

And I will trust the words of the story

That tell me  that light will 

Shine forth in the darkness 

And that colourful scarves will

Replace black clothes of mourning

 

 Anna Turner


 

May each of us have and live in that same Advent Hope. 

 

God Bless you all

 

Colin