Psalm 74:1-9; Numbers 28:1-29:6; Luke 1:46-56

Psalm 74:1-9  When things are at their darkest it seems not only has God abandoned them, but there is no hope–ever: “Why, O God, have You abandoned us forever?” (1a)  God is so absent, that the psalmist even tries to chide Him by suggesting God’s anger has supplanted God’s true duty to Israel: tending His flock: “Your wrath smolders against the flock You should tend.” (1b)  And if that appeal doesn’t work, then try to jog God’s memory: “Remember Your cohort You took up of old, You redeemed the tribe of Your estate,” (2).

This is a pretty thorough description of our own feelings when we think God has deserted us: “It’s been so long since You were with me, it feels like it’s going to go on this way forever.”  Or, “Why are you angry with me God?  You’re supposed to be taking care of my needs.”  Or, “You’ve forgotten me, God.  You once were with me, but now You’ve deserted me.”  Notice who’s at the center of these pleas: me, and how God is supposed to be here for me.

When the real question is, Am I here for God?

Finally, the psalmist appeals to God’s sense of history: that His own dwelling place in Jerusalem–the Temple–has been destroyed by a relentless enemy: “They hacked away…/ with hatchet and pike they pounded.  They set fire to Your sanctuary,/ they profaned on the ground Your name’s dwelling place.” (5,6,7) Now it’s no longer about me or God’s people: this is a direct assault on God Himself.  Why won’t God answer, or even send a prophet?  Alas, all is lost.

Numbers 28:1-29:6  Thus far, Numbers has pretty much told the Israel story in chronological order, and it’s how we expect to read history.  But here, at the very dramatic moment of Moses on the mountain top, the rabbinic editors have suddenly decided to insert a fairly detailed summary of Leviticus’ innumerable sacrificial instructions for Passover, and a bunch of feast days. Especially the celebration of the harvest festival, the week of First Fruits (28:25) and its focus on a “sacred assembly” and not working: “on the seventh day a sacred assembly shall you have, no task of work shall you do.”

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that we are now dealing with the new generation of Israel–the one counted in the just-completed census. This passage may be here to remind them–and us–that even though Moses received all these detailed instructions some 40 years ago, they are just as relevant and important today as in the past.  Which of course is exactly one of the reasons we go worship every week: the repetition ingrains its critical importance into our heads and hearts.  Today’s psalm notwithstanding, it’s not God who forgets us; and in worship it’s impossible to forget God and what He has done for us.

Luke 1:46-56 It’s really remarkable how sometimes in the three daily readings we find remarkable parallels and similarities.  Today, though, we find the starkest possible contrast. Our  psalmist decries God’s seeming abandonment.  But Mary’s Magnificat is one of the greatest poems ever written about God’s goodness and mercy.

It’s critical that Luke has it follow Mary’s visit with Elisabeth, where the angel’s message has been brought down to earth in human terms by Elisabeth and the baby that jumped in her womb.  Only following her visit with the older woman does Mary really grasp the full import of what God has done and why she has been chosen to carry out the most extraordinary duty in human history.

There are no more questions, only rejoicing in what God has chosen to do: “My soul magnifies the Lord, / and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” (47) She focuses on herself only in the first three verses, and her understanding of the import of what she has been chosen explodes across all people and all time as this psalm becomes a praise to God’s wondrous works: “His mercy is for those who fear him / from generation to generation.” (50). 

As happens so often in the psalms, we hear how God will suppress the greed of the wicked and raise up the poor:

“He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.”  (51-53)

Finally, she expresses the joy that this will bring to Israel.  This is the long-promised Messiah that is in her womb:

“He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
  according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (54-55)

The thing to notice here, especially since we know how the story turns out, is that she is expecting the Jewish Messiah described by the prophets, not John’s radical Word that encompasses–and changes– the entire world.  At this point Mary cannot even imagine how astounding the reality will turn out be.

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