Psalm 147:1–6; Zechariah 6,7; Revelation 19:1–8

Originally published 12/25/2017. Revised and updated 12/24/2019.

Psalm 147:1–6: This magnificent psalm covers all the psalmic bases with gorgeous language in these opening six verses.

  1. Praising God is good:
    For it is good to hymn to our God,
    for it is sweet to adorn with praise. (1)
  2. God resides in Jerusalem and rescues Israel:
    Builder of Jerusalem, the Lord,
    Israel’s scattered ones He gathers in. (2)
  3. God is the source of comfort and succor to all his creatures who suffer, whether physically or emotionally. It’s worth stopping at this verse and just soaking in the incredible gift of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate today, who indeed has come to bind up our wounds:
    Healer of the broken-hearted,
    He binds their painful wounds. (3)
  4. God knows the vastness of the universe because he is its Creator and he knows us by name just as he knows the stars by name:
    He counts the number of the stars,
    to all of them gives names. (4)
  5. God is the powerful source of all wisdom:
    Great is our Master, abounding in power,
    His wisdom is beyond number. (5)
  6. And in keeping with the great underlying theme of both the Old and New Testaments, God places his caring priority on the poor and downtrodden and ensures justice—no matter how long delayed— will surely prevail:
    The Lord sustains the lowly,
    casts the wicked to the ground. (6)

A beautiful psalm describing God’s manifold qualities on which to reflect this Christmas Eve…

Zechariah 6,7: OK, I was wrong. I though Zechariah would end with the symbolic number seven, but here we have an eighth vision. This one as bizarre as any that preceded it: four chariots emerge from between two bronze mountains drawn by horses of different colors: red, black, white and oddly enough, dappled gray. Zechariah’s angel informs him that they are the four winds: black to north; white to west; dappled to the south and, we presume, the red to the east. Their mission is to patrol the earth and the angel “cried out to me, “Lo, those who go toward the north country have set my spirit at rest in the north country.” (6:8) So, I guess the angel’s home was somewhere in the north. But beyond that, there’s not much more to say other than that God’s patrol is on the lookout in all directions.

Zechariah is then commanded by God to collect silver and gold from some exiles newly arrived from Babylon to fashion a crown to place on the head of “the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak” (6:11) [We don’t learn if the exiles were rather unhappy to have their gold and silver confiscated.]

We then have a messianic prediction that Joshua will become a Branch “that shall build the temple of the Lord; he shall bear royal honor, and shall sit upon his throne and rule. There shall be a priest by his throne, with peaceful understanding between the two of them.” (6:13) I don’t think it would be unrealistic to interpret the Branch as the Christian church that emerges out of Judaism and that hopefully Jews and Christians will one day find peace with each other.

More prosaically, it is a prediction of the reconstruction of the destroyed temple, which task was led by Nehemiah: “Those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the Lord; and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.” (6:15)

Chapter 7 leaves the land of visions and we see a more typical prophetic message written as usual in God’s voice. This one condemning hypocritical fasting in Jerusalem while other Jews were in exile at Babylon: “When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink only for yourselves?” (7:5)

Which is an excellent question to ask ourselves during this Christmas season: are we celebrating for ourselves and the good feelings that ensue from giving gifts and being dutiful consumers? Or are we celebrating the birth of our savior? It’s so easy and comfortable to be a hypocrite!

Zechariah is commanded by God to make a crown “and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak; say to him: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Here is a man whose name is Branch: for he shall branch out in his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord.” (7:11b, 12). As the author of Hebrews makes clear, we now have a new high priest, Jesus Christ, whom, as the song has it, we crown with many crowns.

No prophecy would be complete without a reminder of God’s priorities: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” (7:9, 10) This is certainly the question that we have to ask—and answer—ourselves.

But will our answer be what God said about his people? “But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear. They made their hearts adamant in order not to hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets.” (7:11, 12) These qualities of refusing to listen and stubbornness certainly characterize our age as well. As Zechariah reminds his listeners, God was displeased and “scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known.” (7:14) We can certainly be grateful once again for the gift of grace through our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Revelation 19:1–8: These verses are an echo of the worship scene we witnessed in chapter 4 but with more music and lyrics:
Salvation and glory and power to our God,
   for his judgments are true and just;
he has judged the great whore
    who corrupted the earth with her fornication,
and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants. (1, 2)

But then a voice comes from the throne—and I’m pretty sure it’s the voice of Jesus Christ, who intones,
Praise our God,
    all you his servants,
and all who fear him,
    small and great. (5)

We know from our Creeds that Jesus sits at the right and of God and this verse is a potent reminder of that reality.

And sure enough, as the camera draws back and we hear the collective voice of what I take to be the entire church—that vast cloud of witnesses—building in strength and volume, singing and praising God:
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready;
to her it has been granted to be clothed
    with fine linen, bright and pure— (6, 7, 8)

Those first three lines should be familiar to anyone who has heard or sung Handel’s Messiah. I believe it is this verse that Handel set to music on one of the greatest pieces of music ever written—one that I think is worthy to be sung in heaven itself.

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