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A thunderstorm in the manger

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Psalm 29

Our home has an ongoing seasonal conflict: when do you play the first Christmas CD? I’m a bit more traditional, and try to hold out until the first Sunday of Advent. My wife, however, is more connected to the world around us and will crank that music when the first snowflakes hit the ground. This year, that meant the week before Thanksgiving!

No matter; Christmas is a time for music.

Now, the Psalms are the songbook of the Bible. As the worship texts of the ancient Israelites, they’re hugely influential in the New Testament as well.  In fact, the Psalms are quoted more than any other Old Testament book.

But the Psalms do not come to mind when we read the nativity story from Matthew or Luke. If Christmas is a time for music, and if the Psalms are the hymnbook of the Bible, I think it’s time for there to be a psalm for Christmas.

I’m nominating Psalm 29. This is not, grant you, an obvious choice. But if we listen to its distinctive voice, and follow where it leads us, we’ll be surprised to see that it brings us indeed to the wondrous night of Jesus’ birth.

We might say this psalm is a call to worship, but that would be gross understatement. We might as well say Saskatoon winters get a tad nippy. This is a call to worship, yes, but what wild worship it is! Exuberant, energetic, earth-shaking – a rip-roaring blast of God-fearing mayhem!

Psalm 29 is a song of praise to the God of the thunderstorm. The psalmist is reliving a terrifying storm in the forests of northern Israel, painting a vivid portrait of God’s awesome strength. The psalm begins with an invitation to worship (1-2). The body of the psalm celebrates the “voice of the LORD,” repeated seven times in a poetic fanfare (3-9). Its conclusion (10-11) offers a vision and promise of God. From start to finish, it’s full of ancient images of divine power.

Who are the worshippers? “You heavenly beings”: the angelic host that surround the eternal King. This is highest praise, in every sense of the word, ringing in the rafters of the heavenly Temple (9).

And what do they proclaim? “Glory!” Four times the psalm announces the “glory” of God. Our imaginations can take us to the throne room of Revelation, and the four living creatures around the throne, proclaiming to the four corners of the earth: Gloria in excelsis Deo!

What are they celebrating? “The voice of the LORD.” When God speaks, things happen! Landscapes shatter, nations totter. To those who have ears to hear, God’s speech is intelligible, full of meaning.

But the greatest, most profound moment in the life of God came when his world-making, world-shaking Word wrapped itself into a lowly strand of DNA. The Voice become flesh. The Voice, enthroned over the waters, over the sea.

This is victory language, since the “sea,” to the Hebrews, is the symbol of all that is chaotic, frightening, overwhelming, and unknown. Where the New Testament would speak of the powers of darkness, the Old Testament (and Revelation 21:1) speaks of the “sea.”

The Voice has triumphed. We have nothing to fear. And out of that triumph, God speaks a word, a word of comfort and blessing, echoing down from the halls of heaven, rumbling through the centuries, a word to his people on earth. His final word to us is shalom (11), peace!

And so Psalm 29 shows us the heavenly angels, praising the glory of God in the highest, proclaiming peace to God’s people on earth, and all because of God’s Word entering into, and reclaiming, a world threatened by the dark forces of chaos.

Who would have thought it? This is no mere “tempest in a teapot.” This is God’s thunderstorm in the manger, ready to shake the world.

Randy Klassen (West Portal Church, Saskatoon) teaches Bible and directs the choir at Bethany College. His favourite song in this year’s Christmas program is Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

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Psalm 29.1,3,9-11 (link to BibleGateway.com)

Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace.

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