Praise as a Grounding Discipline
by Rev. David R. Sincerbox
November 29, Sunday – Psalms 146, 147 v 111, 112, 113; Amos 1:1–5, 13–2:8; 1 Thess. 5:1–11; Luke 21:5–19 (ESV Daily Office Readings Online)
While our secular society prepares itself for its materialistic, maudlin and mindless celebration of what is now termed the “Holiday Season,” we Anglicans (as well as others) are entering the Advent Season, a solemn but joyous season of repentance and praise, a season of expectation, a season in which we look forward to celebrating the greatest gift given to humankind.
The word “advent” comes to us via the Latin “adventus,” which means “the arrival of a notable person or event.” Jerome used “adventus” to translate the Greek word “parousia,” a word that meant in the days of the New Testament the anticipated arrival of the Roman Emperor into a province or a city. Parousia as used in the New Testament became Christianized: it is now used of the Second Coming. Jesus, not Rome’s Emperor, is the true Caesar of the Cosmos. In Advent, we look backward to Christ’s Incarnation, his first advent, as well as look forward to his Second Coming, his final advent.
Our New Testament lessons for today, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Luke 21:5-19, remind us that the times before Christ’s Second Coming will be fraught with tumultuous events that could bring about fears, uncertainties and anxieties among Jesus’ children. The end of times began centuries before at Pentecost. Whether Christ will return shortly or will tarry, the end of times is in process and is proceeding to its ordained conclusion, which means many believers throughout the world are experiencing persecution now, and some are even being beheaded.
But the psalm for today, Psalm 146, teaches us how we are to respond to dangerous and threatening times: we are to “praise the Lord.” Psalm 146 begins with this phrase and ends with this phrase. This is a literary device called an “inclusio.” This literary device reminds us that we are to begin our day by praising God and end our day by praising God. We are to do this because the act of praise reminds us of the faithfulness of God in that he always “keeps faith forever” (v. 6); the act of praise reminds us that we are grounded in his ability to keep us from stumbling (Jude 24) because God is totally dependable and always keeps his word. The act of praise enables us to overcome fears and anxieties; the act of praise enables us to put our trust in him; the act of praise enables us to persevere.
By praising God, we place our focus upon the true Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7), not upon the princes of this world who are sons of men “in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3). The princes of this world will die and pass away (v. 4), whereas the Prince in whom we place our praise lives forever.
Praise reminds us of how we are “blessed” and that our Triune God “is the God of Jacob” and is our “hope” (v. 5). We use the word “hope” in an ambiguous sense, such as, “I hope you’ll be able to come next weekend.” Biblical hope is a future certainty with no ambiguity in it. It is like the expectation of a child looking forward to Christmas a couple of nights before it appears; it is something that will come, but it is not here yet. This is our hope concerning the Second Coming of the Prince of Peace.
We can offer our Triune God praise because it is he who executes justice and ministers to those in need (v. 7).
Praise also reminds us that it is the Prince of Peace who lifts us up when we are knocked down (v. 8) and it is the Prince of Peace who watches over us who are the strangers and “sojourners” of this world (v. 8).
Praise finally reminds us that the Prince of Peace is also the Prince of Justice and there is a time coming in which those who are beheading our brothers and sisters in Christ will be “brought to ruin” (v.9).
Psalm 146 thus teaches us that we can place our faith, hope and praise in the reigning Christ who came and walked among us and died for our sins during his first advent but who will come again in glory in his second advent. Despite how fraught with terror the times might be or become, we are children of the living God and we have a future and a hope in the fact that he who died for us is now reigning in glory at the Father’s right hand and will come again on the clouds (1 Thessalonians 4:7).
During this Advent Season, let us therefore be resolved to “praise the Lord!” (v. 10).
Image by Rob Anaya (used by permission via Creative Commons).