1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
4Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
6He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
8fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
12Young men and women alike, old and young together!
13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
14He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!
Well, To the rest of the world Christmas is over. Empty champagne bottles fill the recycling cans. Dry needles of long dead trees fall to the floor of our living rooms. We’ve stretched both our pants and our patience to the limits as Auden writes in his Christmas oratorio which we will hear later, “There are enough leftovers to do, warmed up for the rest of the week. Not that we have much of an appetite, having drunk such a lot – stayed up so late – attempted, quite unsuccessfully, to love all our relatives, and in general grossly overestimated our powers.”
The straining push to make the parties, buy the stuff, bake the goods, entertain the people, love the relatives, avoid the conflicts and enjoy the holidays is now a clamoring memory fading into our exhausted minds. And as everyone around is returning gifts and packing leftovers into Tupperware and driving relatives to the airport, praying the flights for Duluth are actually departing….as everyone else is taking down their decorations we are finally, finally singing Joy to The World. Having waited and longed and anticipated for 4 weeks of Advent we finally are in the season of Christmas even as everyone else has decidedly moved on. But I think the church is at its best when the church is odd. And to be lustily singing Christmas carols on December 27th is indeed odd and pleasingly inappropriate.
But this whole Jesus thing started with inappropriate singing if we listen for it closely. Over the din of sales clerks and Salvation army bell ringers and screaming children on sugar highs and roasting chestnuts and endless rounds of We wish you a merry Christmas it’s easy to miss the sudden sound of
a great company of the heavenly host appearing with the angel, praising God and singing,
"Glory to God in the highest,
peace to God’s people on Earth."
Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel at the birth of the Christ and praised God. I like to think that this was one of those times when they burst forth in songs of praise even though they were supposed to keep hidden. These heavenly beings were supposed to just witness things from the removed, quiet distance of their heavenly home and yet before they even realized what sort of protocol they were violating, they stumbled through the curtain from backstage and without realizing they were even doing it…started singing praises to God.
Which makes me wonder…why? I mean I can see why humanity would praise God for moving into the neighborhood in such a radical way as to be made human, We quite naturally sing praises about the one who brings God to humanity and humanity to God … but the angels and host of heaven? What are they getting out of the deal? Why are they praising God? Isn’t God going to be, I don’t know, out of the office more now? Wouldn’t the angels resent the whole thing? All through this garish Holiday season we sing about how the angels sing…. but why? I mean what had God done for them? On what basis did these hosts of heaven and angels praise God. Because there has to be a reason, right? The reasons for praising God seem to fall into two categories: 1. We’re in church. or 2. God has hooked me up somehow.
Psalm 148, which we just sang, bids all of creation to praise God and the list is a little weird. There are the angels and host of heaven which one might expect but then the Psalmist adds that the sun moon and stars praise the Lord. Yet it gets better. For those among us who think praising God is an occasional event relegated to church on Sunday or gratitude for getting a raise at work, this Psalm is not helpful. Because the list of God praisers goes on to include fire, hail, snow, fog….sea monsters. The praise of God comes forth also from flying things, creeping things, mountains, hills, wild beasts….cattle. THEN and only then do we get to human beings who, if you are keeping track, come after the cattle.
One commentator I read this week asked “What keeps us from praising like the Psalmist?” And I thought, What keeps us from praising like the sea monsters and cattle? What keeps us from praising like hail and creeping things? If these can praise God then maybe the reasons for praise are something other than a) we’re in church or b) God has hooked me up.
We imagine praise is relegated to a certain time and place and form. But not so with the cattle. The sea creatures and creeping things and hail and wind do not relegate their praise of God to an hour on Sunday. Or when they have a really great day. They can’t. They simply are who God created them to be and do what God created them to do. The way in which creeping things of the Earth praise God is to simply creep on the Earth. The creatures simple praise the creator by being creatures. Their being is in itself praise of the source of their being.
If we think that the goal of the Christian life is to transcend our animal nature and become spiritual beings then this Psalm and frankly the incarnation itself is problematic. Richard Rhor said that "most of the world is so tired of 'spiritual people.' We would be happy just to meet some real human beings. They always thrill the heart, just as Jesus did." Our spirituality is the gift given us in the imago dei…bring created in the image of God. Our spirituality is given to us by merit of our being the beloved of God. To praise God then is to live fully into the dignity of being God’s children…of being simply human.
Perhaps to praise God is to simply look to nothing and no one else to know who we are. We are the creatures and God the creator. In the end, praising God is not, as I suggested a few weeks ago, to sycophantically stroke God’s ego because God has low self-esteem and created a cosmic entourage to remind God how great he is. I’m pretty sure the cattle aren’t doing this. I think the difference is that the cattle don’t get their identity or sense of worth outside of God. Sea creatures aren’t looking to the Dow Jones or their Body Mass Index to know their value. Their value, as ours, rests in their createdness by God.What do the angels and hail and cattle know that we don’t? What is doxological living? Perhaps it is to tune out the cacophony of other messages and for our hearts to sing of only God. Amidst the empty praise of dangerously misguided celebrity culture doling out warm admiration for what is but greed and vanity we do the odd thing of praising God; not for hooking us up with a Grammy or a cute boyfriend or a sweet parking space, but for being God. And we praise God for being God by simply being God’s children with all of the inherit dignity that implies. All other identities melt away. I think this is what is allowed by the birth of Christ, the one who brings God to us and us to God. as the beloved carol states
He appeared and the soul felt its worth.