1 Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
3 Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with victory.
5 Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their couches.
6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
7 to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
8 to bind their kings with fetters
and their nobles with chains of iron,
9 to execute on them the judgment decreed.
This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the Lord!
Psalm 149 (NRSV)
(For use with the MORNING Daily Prayer)
This psalm begins like many others. We are called to sing, dance, shake our tambourines and rejoice with abandon before the Lord in the assembly of the faithful. Yet there is a twist – this psalm doesn’t let us off the hook so easily. It’s verse after verse of praise and then, suddenly, in the midst of this great exuberance, the Lord says, here is your double edged sword to bring vengeance and execute judgment upon those who would oppress you.
I’m not sure I would know what to do with a double-edged sword. Most likely I’d hurt myself. Perhaps that’s the point, to remind us that we also stand under God’s judgment and that it is only God who may wield true justice. Yet God hands us such a sword, and says we are free to use it – but be careful of the follow through because we might pierce our own hearts in the process, just as we have pierced God’s, if we wield it without compassion, if we serve our own sense of justice and not God’s. So perhaps the glory is not found as much in the sword itself, but in the choice to use it for violence and division, to crush one’s enemy, or to set it aside in favor of picking up the cause of justice instead.
For we are all under the sovereignty of God, and when we pray, proclaim, and offer ourselves without restraint to the Lord, placing ourselves in His hands, we realize what fetters have been loosed from our wrists, what chains of iron have been removed from us. We come to recognize that we do not deserve this celebration; we have not earned any part of it, but because the Lord desires to lavish the faithful with grace and robe them with gladness we may claim a share in God’s righteousness.
As we come into this Advent season, we are beginning a new year. A re-setting of the calendar as we recall the promise and hope of our Lord’s birth coming into fullness only a few weeks away. And there is no room for a reckoning sword in the midst of a manger – it has no purpose to fulfill in a place that shelters and warms and offers rest for the weary. But there is room for song and praise and joyful laughter. There is room to dance with the shepherds, and embrace the animals, and turn our gaze in awe and wonder toward the newborn babe. And it is in this way that our enemies are overcome, because there is no defense against divinely gifted joy. It cannot be crushed or stolen or imprisoned. No earthly power may threaten the heart of joy that dwells faithfully on the Lord. Herein lies our true victory in the season of Advent, for the rulers of this world cannot assail hope and love, nor prevent our praise from escaping our throats. In this we are invincible for our strength is, was, and will be forever in the Christ, our Lord.
A Prayer for the Twenty-First Day of Advent
God who sings in us, we pray for daily reminders of the joy you have poured into us as your beloved children. We ask to be reminded also of our own short-comings so that we might never stand in judgment of others, but recall the double-edged sword of your truth and our own need for forgiveness. May the season of Advent enter our hearts fully and find a place to dwell throughout the year so that we will be in an attitude of constant thanksgiving and songs will fill our throats with the sweet rejoicing of those who have hope in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Nadine Ellsworth-Moran
Assistant to the Dean in Charlotte and Associate for Advancement