First Sunday after Christmas Day
John Calvin begins his Institutes of the Christian Religion with God’s revelation being found in all of creation. For the spiritual but not religious, a growing number in the United States, general revelation is a relatable beginning point.
Looking back to my youth and early young adulthood, I can see that I was more of a Calvinist than I realized. I loved finding the Divine while hiking in the Weminuche Wilderness of southwest Colorado or playing the trombone to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” surrounded by a symphonic orchestra.
It wasn’t until I found myself working at Mo-Ranch Conference Center in Hunt, Texas, that I began to find words that aligned with the feelings I would experience in those places. In my rhythm of waking up early to open the dining hall for breakfast, I committed to read a Psalm a day for the summer. Although I would have laughed at you if you told me then that I would be a Presbyterian minister someday, I can see that reading those psalms is what brought authenticity to my faith and made me interested in Scripture.
I find nothing performative about these lyrical expressions of the heart in the psalms. When Psalm 148 pulls forth images of nature, it is almost like a director of the orchestra nodding her baton; first, toward the planetary strings; then, toward the star struck trumpets; next, the brass sea monsters; followed by the snowy, fiery percussion; and then at last but not least the windy flutes and clarinets. Reading the psalmist’s progression, I find myself starting to reach for my trombone to join in the bolder and bolder praise of God!
Psalm 148 reminds me that this crescendo of praise happens not just in nature and within the walls of an orchestra hall but out in the rest of the world as well. On November 8, I continued my 15-year tradition of working as a poll worker. Perhaps this year more than any other, I was able to see how diverse the voters were. Young professionals were followed by retirees. People of various accents and racial backgrounds entered next. People in their 50s came to vote for the first time. Those of varying abilities, family configurations and, yes, political persuasions, entered to participate in something bigger. Even in the events of election day I can hear the crescendo of the psalmist singing the praise of God!
In her book An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown-Taylor echoes John Calvin’s Institutes when she reminds us: “Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish — separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two.”
Psalm 148 is appointed for the Sunday that falls this year on New Year’s Day. Some will attend their church as usual, and others will find themselves traveling or just sleeping a little later after too tall a glass of egg nog the night before. The psalmist reminds us that the world all around us, as God’s very revelation, is praiseworthy and speaks forth praise to its very own author. And the same is true for you and me as God’s handiwork.
In many ways, that baby born in Bethlehem, Emmanuel, has always pointed us to the very truth that God is always with us. We are merely invited anew to see God for whom God already is, all around and in us and the world created by her. Praise the Lord!
Questions for reflection:
- Where in your life do you find God most clearly revealed to you?
- Where have you encountered God’s orchestral crescendo out in the world?
- What spiritual discipline might you commit to in this new year?
A note from the author: This New Year’s Sunday, attendance may be lower than normal at church. This could be a great opportunity to adapt your worship space for a smaller group that may be able to see each other’s faces engaging in a form of lectio divina (divine reading). A guide can be found here if this is how you wish to have the word read today.
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