Why We Need the Psalms

October 14, 2018 in Bible - NT - James, Dispensationalism, Liturgy, Meditations, Old Testament, Singing Psalms, Thankfulness, Worship

James 5:13 (NKJV)
13
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

What are we to do when facing the ups and downs of life? When we are suffering and weighed down, heavy of spirit – what are we to do? On the other hand, when cheerful, full of joy and wonder at God’s work in our own lives or in the world – what are we to do? Today James tells us. “Is anyone among you suffering – feeling poorly, enduring trouble? Let him (an imperative, a command – this isn’t simply good advice) Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him (again, an imperative, a command), Let him sing psalms.”

James tells us that when we are suffering we are to pray; we are to take our troubles straight to the Lord. Cry out to God; He wants to hear; He wants to be the one to whom we direct our cries. Likewise, when we are cheerful, we are to sing psalms. Why? Because singing enables us to funnel the joy that we are experiencing in the right direction – in praise and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer.

But as we think about the psalms, remember that many of them express grief and longing for God, not cheer – so how do they fit with James’ theme of cheerfulness? It is here that we must return to James’ command to pray when sorrowful. For what are many of the psalms but model prayers of sorrow, embodying what desperate cries to God look like? Singing them enables us to funnel our sorrow in the right direction – in prayer and petition to our Creator and Redeemer.

In other words, James’ exhortation in this verse directs us to the psalter in times of both sorrow and cheerfulness. Notice then the priority that James places upon the psalter. What are we to do when suffering? We are to pray. And where do we find examples, patterns of prayers offered up in the midst of suffering? In the psalter. What are we to do when joyful? We are to sing psalms. And where do we find these psalms of praise? In the psalter.

So here’s the question for you – do you know your psalter well enough to obey James’ exhortations? How well do you know your psalms? Do the psalms, when you are burdened and weighed down, come to your mind and fill your soul with cries to God? Do the psalms, when you are cheerful and lifted up, come to your mind and fill your home with praise and thanksgiving?

I dare say that if you are like me there is some lack in this regard. Not many of us grew up singing the psalms; hence, the psalms are often strange and foreign to us. Some of the tunes that we have in our English psalters are hard to learn. Some of the words of the psalms are difficult to understand or even believe. But the problem is not with the psalter but with us. We need to grow in our ability to sing and to understand the psalms.

Consequently, one of the things we are committed to do as a congregation is to become more skilled in our ability to sing the psalms and more knowledgeable of their content. To facilitate that, we prioritize the psalms in our worship and hold regular psalm sings in which we can learn to sing more skillfully. We do these things so that the entire congregation, not just a few individuals, can fulfill James’ exhortations – is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

Reminded that in our suffering and in our joy God has given us the psalms to channel our prayers and praises, let us confess that the American church has largely ignored the psalms of late, believing that we no longer need them; and let us confess that even in our attempt to recover them, we too have neglected to hold them close to our hearts. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess.

Don’t Waste Your Joy

December 19, 2016 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Psalms, John Calvin, Meditations, Singing Psalms
Psalm 28:7 (NKJV)
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him.
In our continuing study of Jesus in the Psalms we examine Psalm 28 today. Verse 7 of Psalm 28 reminds us how central worship ought to be to our experience as the people of God. As we will see, God has answered David’s cry for help. So what does David do? He composes a song to celebrate the Lord’s goodness.
Since we have been doing a series of meditations on worship, I want to use this time to consider David’s song of praise in Psalm 28. David tells us that his heart trusted in the Lord – he believed that God would be true to His word and deliver him from trouble. And what happened? God answered him. My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped. You can imagine, therefore, how thankful David was. Any time our desires are fulfilled, it is natural to be filled with joy. Our team wins the game – we are joyful. We receive the present we had desired – we are joyful. We recover from illness – we are joyful. And David’s response was no different. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices. His heart was filled with joy because God had mercifully answered his plea.
But note that David’s internal joy manifest itself externally; his heart of joy bore fruit in song. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him. God saved David; consequently, David’s heart was filled with joy; and David’s joy bore fruit in praise and song. His joyful heart opened his mouth. As John Calvin wrote, “undoubtedly, when God spreads cheerfulness through our hearts, it is to open our mouths to sing his praises” (Psalms, 472). God gives us joy so that we might worship.
So what do you do when your heart is joyful? Do you direct the joy that is in Your heart in praise to God? James, the brother of our Lord, asks us, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13b). James exhorts us: Don’t waste your joy! There are plenty of times when our heart will be weighed down and sorrowful; times for prayer and petition. But if your heart is joyful, then let it bear fruit in song – and not just in song, in songs of praise to God.
So what of you? Have you sung the praises of God? Have you spoken the wonders of God? Have you shared the rich treasures of God with others? Or have you wasted your joy?

Reminded that we often waste our joy, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess.

The Character of Worship

December 11, 2016 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Singing Psalms, Worship
Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV)
15 Therefore by [Jesus] let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.
In our continuing study of Jesus in the Psalms we examine Psalm 27 today. In the midst of our psalm, David once again expresses his passion to worship God with the people of God.
One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.
After recounting the blessings that would come to him from entering the house of the Lord, David concludes:
Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joyous shouts in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.
In our text today, Paul commands us to emulate David’s passion to worship the Lord. First, our worship is to be Christological. By Jesus let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God. Even as David looked in faith to the Christ to come, we are to look in faith to the Christ who has come. The only way that our sacrifice of praise can be accepted by God is through the substitionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. No one comes to the Father except through His Son, for there is one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. Our worship is to be Christological.
Second, our worship is to be communal. By Jesus, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God. Even as David longed to be in the temple of God, the place where God’s people gathered to worship Him together, so we are to join together to worship the Lord. Where the people of God gather to worship, there is the temple of God. The sacrifice of praise is something that we bring to the Lord together. Our worship is to be communal.
  
Third, our worship is to be continual. By Jesus, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God. Even as David desired to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life, Paul wants worship to saturate our lives. This would obviously include gathering week by week on the Lord’s Day with God’s people. But the worship that we enjoy here with the people of God is to seep into our homes, our personal lives, and our friendships. Our worship is to be continual.
Fourth, our worship is to be sacrificial. By Jesus, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God. Worship is offered up to God as a pleasing aroma. As David declares, I will offer sacrifices of joyous shouts in His tabernacle. Properly, worship is not a not a cathartic experience directed toward ourselves; nor is it a performance directed toward others; it is a sacrificial offering to the Lord. This is one reason why we typically refrain from clapping for our meditations and say, “Amen!”instead. It is an offering to the Lord not a performance for us. Our worship is to be sacrificial.
Fifth, our worship is to be vocal. By Jesus, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of our lips. As the fruit of our lips, the sacrifice of praise requires our lips to move. Like David, Paul wants us to enter into the presence of the Lord with joyful shouts, celebrating the goodness of the Lord. Our worship is to be vocal.
Finally, our worship is to be thankful. By Jesus, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name. Thankfulness is the heartbeat of worship. A man or woman who is not thankful is a man or woman who cannot worship. He might flap his lips but his praise just bounces off the ceiling. The resentful, bitter, angry man may grudgingly bow the head and speak the words, but his heart will not utter joyous shouts and so he does not worship. Our worship is to be thankful.

Therefore, by Jesus let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. Our worship is to be Christological, communal, continual, sacrificial, vocal, and thankful. Often, however, our worship lacks these traits. So as we enter into the presence of the Lord, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Let the Word of Christ Dwell in You Richly

December 4, 2016 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Christmas, Meditations, Singing Psalms, Worship
Colossians 3:16 (NKJV)
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
For Advent and Christmastide we are continuing a tradition that we started several years ago of preaching through the psalms. So I want to take some time to meditate on why this is a fitting tradition and why we as the people of God need to devote considerable time and attention to the psalms. One would think that this would be obvious – singing of God’s word back to Him sounds like a good idea. However, various theologies have divorced Christians from the OT and Psalm singing has fallen on hard times – especially among Protestants. In our text today Paul lays one of the foundation stones for the Christian use of the psalms. So let’s make a few observations from Paul’s text.
First, Paul identifies the content of our worship. We are to let the word of Christ, Christ’s own words, dwell in us richly. Jesus speaks to us today; He is calling today. But where? Not in a still small voice. So where do we hear His voice? We hear Him in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. In the Greek translation of the OT, these labels correspond to the various names of the different songs in the psalter. In other words, Paul’s categories of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are not equivalent to our modern day psalms, hymns, and choruses but are different ways of directing us to the same book – the Psalter. The book of Psalms contains psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs which we are to sing. Why? Because they are the Word of Christ – Christ’s own words to us. When we sing the Psalms to one another, we are hearing the voice of Christ.
Second, Paul identifies the function of our worship. We are to teach one another and admonish one another. When we sing the psalms we find that they expand and stretch our knowledge of God and our awareness of His work in the world. We teach one another of His righteousness, His mercy, His wrath, His love, His patience, His judgments, etc. The psalms force us to reckon with ways in which our own thinking differs from God’s thinking. When we sing a psalm and find ourselves disagreeing with its words, the problem is not with the psalm but with us. Consequently, we not only teach one another as we sing, we admonish one another. We correct erroneous thoughts, summon one another to trust the Lord more fully, as well as rebuking our complacency, immorality, greed, idolatry, and deceitfulness.
Third, Paul identifies the motive of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts. True worship emerges from a grateful heart; it is an expression of thankfulness for God’s work in our lives. The hypocrite says one thing with his lips and another with his heart; the loyal worshiper joins heart and lips together in song. We are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts.
Finally, Paul identifies the object of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. The Lord is the object of our worship. He alone is worthy of praise, thanksgiving, and honor. He has created us and not we ourselves; He has redeemed us through the precious blood of His Son Jesus. So we are to give Him thanks and praise, to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to Him.

So as we enter into the presence of the Lord this day, as we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, let us remember that in so doing we offer the fruit of our lips as a sacrifice to the Lord of all and that we do this together so that we might teach and admonish one another. Unfortunately, much of the church has abandoned the psalms in favor of songs that do not challenge or rebuke us. So we speak to one another not the words of Christ but our own words. But even we who speak the words of Christ to one another often fail to learn from the songs our brethren are singing to us, we often fail to correct ourselves. So reminded of our failures in this regard, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Living Stone

November 28, 2016 in Bible - NT - 1 Peter, Church Calendar, Meditations, Singing Psalms, Worship
1 Peter 2:4–5 (NKJV)
4 Coming to [Jesus] as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the time of year when we recall both God’s promise to our fathers that one day He would send a Son of Adam to rescue us from sin and death and God’s promise to us that one day that Son shall return in glory to vindicate all who trust Him. It is this Son who is the subject of Peter’s epistle – for it is to Him that we come in faith. He is the One who was born of Mary; He who was conceived by the Spirit; He who is the object of our faith.
Peter describes Him as a living stone, the foundation stone of God’s Holy City Jerusalem, the cornerstone of the Temple of God. This stone, Peter tells us, was rejected indeed by men – rather than bowing before Him in worship and praise, we crucified Him. So deep is our ailment as human beings that we rejected the One who would deliver us, killed the physician who would heal us, stoned the king who would rule over us.
Yet it is this stone, Peter tells us, that was chosen by God and precious. The One we crucified rose again from the dead. He is the Living Stone chosen by God to build up a Temple, a spiritual house, to the glory of God’s Name and to establish a universal priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices to the Lord. So how does He build this Temple? Establish this priesthood? As the Living Stone, Jesus builds God’s Temple out of living stones; He sends forth His Spirit and imparts His resurrection life to men and women and children who are, by nature, spiritually dead. He causes their hearts of stone to live, to beat again, that they might become living stones, members of a spiritual house, and priests of God Most High.
So why has God enlivened our stony hearts? Why is He constructing a spiritual Temple from us naturally lifeless stones? Why is He establishing a holy priesthood from us sinful men and women? Peter gives us the answer – to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In other words, God has delivered us that we might worship Him. Listen to the 9th verse of this same chapter:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
God has chosen us that we might sing His praises, declare the wonder of His grace, and extol the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “God is seeking people to worship Him.”
This Advent our sermons focus once again on Jesus in the Psalms. As we consider the psalms, I would remind you why God has given them to us in the first place – they are meant to be sung. God saved you that you might proclaim His praises, that you might offer up spiritual sacrifices, that you might offer up the fruit of your lips to God. Singing praise to God is not optional – it is the reason God delivered you from your sin. So sing – don’t be self-conscious. Sing; don’t make excuses. Sing; don’t deprive the assembly of your voice. Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth!

As we gather in the Lord’s presence to praise Him, therefore, let us lift up our voices with joy remembering that God has saved us so that we might praise Him. Let us not mumble; let us not be silent in coldness of heart; let us not complain or grumble at God’s ordering our affiars. He saved us that we might offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. So reminded that we were saved to sing His praises, let us confess that we have failed to praise the Lord as we ought – and let us kneel as we confess our sin together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

What’s With the Kneeling, Standing, and Lifting Hands?

June 5, 2016 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Resurrection, Singing Psalms, Worship
Psalm 95:6 (NKJV)
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
Psalm 134:1–2 (NKJV)
1 Behold, bless the LORD, All you servants of the LORD, Who by night stand in the house of the LORD! 2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the LORD.
One of the most frequent questions visitors have about our service of worship, one of the questions that you may also have, is this: What’s with all the different postures? We sit, we stand, we kneel, we bow heads, we lift hands – why all the variety?
The answer to these questions is threefold: first, God did not create us as mere spirits but as creatures with body and soul. As those who have bodies, God expects us to use them for His honor. Paul writes, “…you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Our bodies belong to God and so what we do with them is important. Our actions should should reflect our reverence for Him and our knowledge that one day Christ will return in glory and raise these very bodies from the grave. Our bodies matter.
So this leads us to the second answer to our question: why all the variety? The answer is that in worship there are a variety of things we do. We praise and thank the Lord; we confess our sins; we hear the assurance of forgiveness; we listen to the reading of God’s Word; we confess the creeds; we present our tithes and offerings; we pray; we learn from the Scriptures; we feast with God at His Table. This wonderful variety demands a variety of responses – both verbally and bodily. There is no “one size fits all” bodily posture.
And this is why, third, the Scriptures invite us to worship God with a variety of postures – standing, kneeling, sitting, lifting hands, etc. So consider our texts today from the psalms – Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. Behold, bless the LORD, All you servants of the LORD, Who by night stand in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the LORD. These are just a few examples of bodily invitations given in the context of worship.
As we consider this threefold rationale, let us also beware les we merely go through the motions. For the ultimate reason that our posture changes is that we worship in God’s very presence. He is here with us and we dare not treat Him lightly. He calls us to worship; we respond by standing to praise Him. He thunders at our sin; we respond by kneeling to confess it. He assures us of pardon; we stand to listen and enter boldly into His presence through the blood of Christ. He instructs us from His Word; we stand to give our attention to its reading. This is the drama of the Divine Service – but it’s a drama that is meaningful only when accompanied by hearts that love and cherish Him.
So what of you? Why do you stand? Why do you kneel? Why do you sit? Do you do it just because that’s what you’re being told to do? Do you kneel so you won’t appear out of place? Do you sit so you can take a nap? Or do you do all these things because you recognize with awe and wonder that the God we worship this Day has invited you into His very presence to worship?

So today as we have entered into God’s presence He has thundered at our sin – let us confess that we have often just gone through the motions of worship; and let us kneel as we confess together.

The Nations Will Worship God

October 11, 2015 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Eschatology, Meditations, Postmillennialism, Singing Psalms, Worship
 1Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!
 2 Sing out the honor of His name;
         Make His praise glorious.
 3 Say to God,
         “How awesome are Your works!
         Through the greatness of Your power
         Your enemies shall submit themselves to You.
 4 All the earth shall worship You
         And sing praises to You;
         They shall sing praises to Your name.”  Selah  
Psalm 66:1-4
When we look toward the future, what do we expect? For the last 100 years, the predominant Christian view of the future has been unduly pessimistic. It is believed that we are living in the last generation before Christ’s bodily return, that the world is destined to get worse and worse prior to His return, and that there is nothing Christians can, or even should, do to reverse this trend. After all, to reverse the trend would be to postpone the imminent return of our Lord.
So how does this pessimistic view of the future mesh with David’s view in the psalm before us today? It is the exact opposite. Notice that David describes his anticipation for the future like this:
Through the greatness of Your power, [O Lord,]Your enemies shall submit themselves to You.
All the earth shall worship You
And sing praises to You;
They shall sing praises to Your name.”
In light of the power of God, David sees the future full of the worship of God, full of the knowledge of God, full of the praise of God. All the earth shall worship, all shall sing praises, even God’s enemies shall submit themselves to Him. Why? Because God is Almighty, because He is the Exalted Lord.
So if God is the Exalted Lord and He is going to exalt His Name in all the earth in the course of human history, what is our calling here and now? Well listen again to David’s exhortations.
 Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!
 Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are Your works!

Because God is going to exalt His Name in all the earth, David summons the nations in the here and now to do just that – exalt God now! Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! David calls upon all nations to worship and serve the Lord; to join him as he praises God’s might and power.
It is this same summons that we issue every Lord’s Day. As we come into God’s presence and sing His praises, we are invoking the nations to come and to join us: smell the fragrant aroma, behold the goodness of God, come see the glory of our King and join us in praising Him. And this praise, which starts here each Lord’s Day, is to makes its way out of here into our homes and communities during the week so that folks can’t help but declare – how good and how pleasant it must be to know the Lord!
This morning, then, as we enter the presence of the Lord let us consider the exhortations that David gives us:
·      We are to sing – not mumble
·      We are to sing joyfully – not morosely
·      We are to sing loudly – not silently
·      We are to sing beautifully – not obnoxiously

And so let us fill this building with the praise of God – but let us begin by seeking His forgiveness for failing to live now in light of the glorious future that He has promised – let us kneel and confess our pessimism and doubt to Him.

Is Worship a Fancy or a Feeling?

August 30, 2015 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Sanctification, Singing Psalms, Worship
Psalm 33:1–3 (NKJV)
Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
One of the great lessons of life is Solomon’s adage, “All hard work brings a profit but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Prov. 14:23). It is easy to talk about achieving something; but actually to achieve that thing requires determination and hard work. As the editors of the Geneva Bible wrote: “All things are difficult that are excellent and fair.”
Consider the skilled musician. I don’t play an instrument – although I love music. Often I close my eyes while listening to Archangelo Corelli’s Concerti Grossi and imagine myself playing the violin. I imagine how proficient I would be. But my imaginings are just that. I’m not a skilled musician because I have not invested the time and energy into learning that would be necessary to be one.
The same principle applies to the skilled athlete. While native talent is an important starting point, the one who truly succeeds in a sport is the one who practices, who pushes himself so that he may acquire increasing skill and proficiency. I might imagine myself hitting 100 free throws in a row; but each time I’m on the court I’m lucky to hit seven out of ten. Why? Because I don’t practice.
This principle applies in most every area of life, including relationships. Consider a solid marriage. Marriages start with the swearing of an oath; they continue as a couple learns to love and sacrifice and forgive. Successful marriages – marriages in which spouses learn to communicate well, forgive well, make love well, and parent well – require hard work, practice, and persistence. They don’t just happen. The love that makes marriages work is elbow-grease love.
This same principle applies in worship. Much has been written and said regarding the “worship wars” in the modern church. What should be the nature of our worship? Many, in an attempt to be seeker sensitive, have striven to make worship easier; to use music that makes visitors comfortable; to limit the amount of theological depth in lyrics to make songs more digestible. If you haven’t figured it out yet, we have not jumped on that bandwagon. We haven’t accommodated ourselves to this musical trend. We sing psalms and hymns; we try to sing in harmony; we use printed books. This proves very challenging for many who visit our congregation; and I can certainly symphathize with the challenge. Perhaps it has been challenging for you.
But here’s the question: should we expect the worship of God to come easily? Skill in music comes only with practice; skill in sports comes only with practice; skill in marriage comes only with practice; should we expect anything different of worship? The idea that worship should just come naturally when we’ve lived lives alienated from God is absurd. When God rescues us He does not immediately make us skilled worshipers; rather, He so touches our hearts so that we, for the first time, desire to become skilled worshipers.
Is worship difficult for you? Is it challenging for you to learn to sing the psalms and hymns? Challenging to learn to sing in harmony? Challenging to understand what those lyrics mean at times? Then keep working at it. Remember, all things are difficult which are excellent and fair.

So reminded that we are often lazy in our pursuit of the Almighty and that we treat His worship less seriously than the acquisition of musical, physical, or relational skill, let us confess our slothfulness to the Lord. And as you are able, let us kneel as we do so.

God Chose Mary

December 26, 2014 in Bible - NT - Luke, Christmas, Church History, Confession, Election, Reformation, Singing Psalms, Ten Commandments, Thankfulness
Luke 1:46–50 (NKJV)
46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. 49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”
Christmas is a time to reflect on the particular blessings that God has bestowed on each of us and to lift up praise and thanks to God. We see this modeled in Mary’s Magnificat – her song of praise written while staying with Zacharias and Elizabeth.
Has it ever struck you that God gave a gift to Mary that He did not give to any other human being on earth? Consider this for a moment: don’t just let the Christmas story pass you by; consider what’s happening. God chose Mary to be the mother of our Lord. God chose Mary – a girl in the city of Nazareth who was betrothed to a man named Joseph; who had a sister named Salome; who had a mother and father whose names are not recorded. God chose Mary – a girl who had a certain color hair and eyes; who was of a quite definite height and weight; who had skin of a particular shade. God chose Mary.
Now doesn’t that seem a trifle unfair? Why Mary? Why should she get the honor? Shouldn’t Mary perhaps feel a little guilty for being chosen? Don’t you and I have the right to be a little jealous, perhaps?
After all, let’s consider this: here God bestows on Mary a privilege that He had bestowed and would bestow on no other woman ever in all of human history. God chose Mary. Shouldn’t Mary feel guilty? Shouldn’t she realize that this was a trifle unfair and bemoan the gift that God had bestowed on her? Shouldn’t she perhaps have flogged herself? Felt guilty every time that babe leapt in her womb or sucked at her breast? Been apologetic to the various other women she met in the course of her life? “Sorry, sorry, sorry – so much wish it could have been you… Sorry.”
And shouldn’t you be a little jealous? After all, because God chose Mary, He didn’t choose any other to have this honor. Have you considered that? God did not choose Mary’s sister Salome. He did not choose Herodias – for which we’re grateful! He didn’t choose Mary the wife of Clopas or Mary Magdalene or Elizabeth or Anna the prophetess or Susanna or Joanna the wife of Chuza. God chose Mary. And consider that what this means: it means that God didn’t choose you. If you’re a woman, God passed you over; He simply did not choose you to be the mother of Jesus. God chose Mary. And, if you’re a man, God eliminated you from the running before you were even out of the gate. God chose Mary. Shouldn’t you be a little jealous?
I ask these questions because they have great relevance for us on Christmas day. You who stand here today have been given many remarkable gifts from God. If you are in Christ, you have been given the gift of salvation, a gift some men will never receive. If you are an American citizen, you have been given gifts of liberty, constitutional government, and incredible prosperity, gifts that others, who remain subject to tyrants and who are starving even as we speak, can only long for. If you are a husband, then you have been given the gift of a wife, a gift men some will never have. If you are a mother, then you have been given the gift of children, a gift some women will never enjoy. If you have Christmas gifts at home, then you have been given a measure of prosperity that millions have never known. Should you feel guilty?
And some of you aren’t getting the same gifts as others. Perhaps your brother got the Lego set you wanted? Perhaps the neighbors drove up in their brand-new Cadillac Escalade? Perhaps you find yourself unmarried still? Perhaps that other lady just announced that she’s having a baby and you’ve never had one? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… Perhaps you should feel jealous?
But guilt and jealousy are both unbecoming and sinful responses to the Lord’s gifts. God is the Creator; God is the Giver of all good gifts; God is the Sovereign Lord; and God is not fair. He simply does not give gifts equally. But that inequality is not to move us to guilt and jealousy but to praise and thanksgiving. Listen to Mary’s Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”
Notice, first, that guilt is not the way to respond to God’s gifts. After all, none of us deserve the gifts which God gives us. We all of us have forfeited God’s favor – including Mary. God chose Mary in His mercy, Mary tells us. And in this mercy, God gives sinful, undeserving men and women gifts; He lavishes kindnesses; He bestows graces – to one this and to another that. And the one who fears God learns to receive these graces not with guilt but with gratitude. Solomon reminds us, “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it” (Pr 10:22). So today receive the gifts that God has given with praise and thanksgiving. Lift up your heads! Don’t feel guilty – give praise to God! Don’t feel guilty – give thanks to God! And in that praise and thanks imitate Him by loving those with less.
Jealousy is just as unbecoming as guilt. Our Lord forbids covetousness – for covetousness, greediness, makes us small of heart and small of soul. The angels rejoice with Mary – they who long to know the things we know and cannot; Elizabeth rejoices with Mary – she who was chosen to give birth merely to the forerunner, not the Messiah; Anna rejoices with Mary – she who had never had a child and whose husband had been taken from her when a young woman. They were large of soul, rejoicing in the good gifts that God had given to Mary. God chose Mary – and they rejoiced!

So Christmas is here – rejoice, give thanks, and sing. Put away guilt; put away petty jealousy; rejoice in the good gifts of God, sing of His mercy, and share His kindnesses with others.