Lectionary Reflections

A New Year, A New Song

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas | Psalm 147:12-20

If you’re like me, this New Year’s Eve you can’t decide if you feel like singing for joy as we put 2020 in the rearview, or whether you feel like crying alone in a corner, sucking your thumb, and loading up on comfort food to numb the pain and trauma of 2020. This New Year reflection is based on a song from Israel’s hymnbook—Psalm 147:12-20.

The wisdom of the Scriptures would suggest we probably need to sing most when we mostly feel like crying. So, following the sage advice of Bono of U2, let us “Sing a New Song” as we ring in a New Year — and for those who didn’t know it, Bono is quoting from Psalm 40 in his song entitled “40” on their 1983 “War” album. But now onto Psalm 147:12-20.

This song was probably sung in the middle of a time of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple and city, and the devastation of exile. Imagine the people of God pausing from their heavy toil, tired and weary from picking up the shattered pieces of their city and their lives, and invited to sing this song of dedication. It’s a prayer of protection and provision. A song of renewed hopes and commitment to building their lives upon God’s promises. A prayer for God’s power to uphold them in times of trial and for God’s Word to lead them on paths of peace. Let me read it and then offer some application to our day.

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!

For he strengthens the bars of your gates; 

he blesses your children within you.

He grants peace within your borders; 

he fills you with the finest of wheat.

He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.

He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.

He hurls down hail like crumbs—who can stand before his cold?

He sends out his word, and melts them; 

he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.

He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.

He has not dealt thus with any other nation; 

they do not know his ordinances. Praise the LORD!

We need to sing our own song of rebuilding after a year of so much destruction and tearing down. We need a song of rededication after a year of being unmoored from so many of our regular rhythms. We need a prayer for peace after a year of division. We need a prayer for God’s provision in an uncertain economy. I find 5 resounding notes in this song that can be our anthem as we move into a New Year (and to prove I’m a real pastor, they all start with the letter “P”). 

First, there’s a prayer for God’s PROTECTION and strength. “For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you” (v. 13). Just as the Israelites prayed for God to reinforce the gates and infrastructure of the holy city, so we pray for God to strengthen our souls and protect our families from the worries and stresses, the challenges and trials, of the coming new year. Proverbs 4:23 urges us to “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” So, protect and strengthen the gateway to our soul. But also protect and strengthen our marriages. Protect and strengthen our resolve. Protect and strengthen our children. Protect and strengthen our churches. Protect and strengthen our government. Protect and strengthen our faith. 

Second, we pray for God’s PEACE to inhabit our living spaces and to fill every square inch of our emotional, relational, spiritual, and physical territory. The psalmist sings, “He grants peace within your borders” (v. 14). This was the theme of my Christmas Eve sermon. Just remember that God’s peace is entirely different from the kind of peace the world invites us to chase after. The world’s peace comes and goes depending on our external circumstances, while Christ’s peace enables us to be calm and content even in the middle of a raging storm. Christ gives us an inner peace that can give us rest even while the ship is sinking. May you come to know personally and experience this peace that is a Person in the coming year.

Third, Psalm 147 celebrates God’s PROVISION in times of want—“He fills you with the finest of wheat” (v. 14). This echoes the Christian’s prayer for God to “give us this day our daily bread” (Matt 6:11) and the Christmas miracle that the Bread from Heaven came down in the person of Jesus so we would always be filled with the finest of wheat. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). The pandemic has deprived us of many things we thought we needed to be satisfied and “full” in life. I pray 2020 has helped reveal that some of things we were filling our lives with were actually crowding out some of the things we need most. In this new year, may God provide us not with what we want, but what we really need. May we purge our lives of “junk food” preoccupations and stir up an appetite for His Kingdom and calling.

Fourth, we sing a New Year’s song that invites God’s PROMISES to pave a pathway for us to walk on (how’s that for packing in “p” words?), that his word would run ahead of us and push away obstacles ahead. The psalmist declares, “He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly” (v. 15). So much avoidable heartache is brought upon ourselves by running ahead of God, trying to blaze our own trails, forgetting to let Him lead us by his Word. We run swiftly ahead, leaving God’s map behind. 

Verses 16-18 describe poetically God’s power over creation and nature—dumping snow, scattering frost, hurling down hail, sending an icy wind, and so on. But then marvel at the power of God’s word to melt life’s coldest obstacles and make water flow where things were previously frozen or stuck like water behind a damn. God’s Word is not just “good advice” we can take or leave. God’s Word became flesh in Jesus and now carries on His redeeming work through the Holy Spirit who indwells believers—if believers will let this Word-become-flesh-now-indwelling-Spirit blaze a path for them in their everyday living! Of this Spirit, Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Will we let God’s word run swiftly ahead in the New Year, leading us onto paths of righteousness? 

A long-standing tradition for our church is to seek God each New Year for one special “word” to help guide our steps and focus our hearts for the next 12 months. Will you join us in asking God to reveal the special word He has for you this new year? Words people have been given in the past include forgiveness, courage, peace, joy, and trust. As you let this word run swiftly ahead of you, don’t be surprised if you see obstacles melting and damned up emotions beginning to flow like water down rivers of redemption into an ocean of grace.

Fifth, Psalm 147 ends with a celebration of God’s PERSONAL PRESENCE in the lives of His people. God is set apart from the gods of the other nations in He is not far off and distant. He’s not silent and capricious. He’s a covenant-making and a covenant-keeping God. He has entered into history, desires a personal relationship with his creation, and has gone to extraordinary lengths to make Himself and his purposes known. “He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances/promises/word” (v. 20). In Christ, we we see just how far He went—coming among us as a vulnerable infant and literally dying to show us how much He loves us and how far He will go to rescue us. And so we conclude with the psalmist, “Praise the LORD!”

So, friends, as the ball drops on a year that brought so much devastation globally, nationally and personally, let us sing this song of rebuilding and rededication remembering these five refrains:

Sing a song of God’s protection..

Sing a song of God’s peace.

Sing a song of God’s provision.

Sing a song of God’s promises to pave our paths.

Sing a song of God’s personal presence always with us.

Sing a new song this New Year!

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