Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's not about me

It's always good to get in touch with reality, but it is not always fun.  This was my experience with the morning Psalm on Wednesday during this last week of Advent.  As I read Psalm 72, I had nothing to "connect with" as I do when I read other psalms.  There was no crying out to God in anguish, no thanking Him for good things He's done for me.  There was no asking God for help with enemies or for deliverance from times of darkness.  In fact, I came to a startling (and yet refreshing) realization as I read this Psalm: "This isn't about me at all!" This was exactly the message I needed to hear as Christmas is drawing near.

Psalm 72 is in a category of song called a kingship psalm, and as you may have guessed, this is a kind of song that is about the king.  It was a rather common type of song in the Ancient Near East outside of Israel, and there are many kingship psalms in the Bible as well.  The point of a kingship psalm seems to be nothing but praising the virtues of the king.  And indeed, this is exactly what Psalm 72 does, and it is what we are doing whenever we read or sing this psalm today: we are not thinking or talking about ourselves, but we are thinking and talking about our King, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David.

In the Ancient Near East, if you had a good king, life was usually pretty good for all the people as well. And in songs about the king, the people are expressing in song their appreciation for the goodness of the King, but in addition to this, these kingship psalms also expressed the hopes and expectations of what the King should be.  Sometimes a king fulfilled these hopes and other times... not so much.

In Psalm 72, we see what was expected of and hoped for King Solomon.   The king should "defend the cause of the poor... give deliverance to the children of the needy." (v. 4, also vv. 12-14).  He should defeat all the enemies of God's people, so that these enemies would end up serving God and his King. (v. 9-11).  The king of God's people should rule with integrity and according to God's law (vv. 1-2), and provide abundance of good things for his people (v. 16).  He would not be corrupt or self-serving with his power.  It was hoped that his kingdom, according to God's promises (see 2 Samuel 7) would extend over all the earth and for all time (vv. 8, 17).  For who wouldn't want such a good government to rule the world forever?  So then, these expectations were placed on Solomon by the Law of Moses (see also Deuteronomy 17) and likely by King David himself.

Well, anyone who knows the story (read 1 Kings sometime) knows that Solomon did not live up to these expectations.  The Kingdom of God was indeed expanded during his time and did have a time of prosperity unlike any before, but Solomon's reign and kingdom ended in shambles.

And that is why Jesus, another son of David, came.  He came to have the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32).  He came to bring the kingdom that Solomon (and David and Moses and Adam) could not.  He came to bring peace and goodness, to take away pain and all evil (in you and in me).  Indeed, this is what Jesus did the first time He came to us through his death on the cross and resurrection.  It is what He is still doing through his Church and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And it is what He will ultimately do when He returns, not in humility as He did on that Christmas morning so long ago, but in glory and power greater than any king or government that has ever been, unlike anything we've ever seen.

Christians are citizens of this Kingdom right now, and this King and this Kingdom are our hope and delight.  Because we are in Jesus' Kingdom we can pray, say, or sing a song like Psalm 72.  Not only can we ask God through this psalm to make our heart love the King and the Kingdom more, but we can also, with the words themselves, offer up a song that our King deserves (even when we aren't 'feeling' it).  We can use Psalm 72 to praise another son of David who came and established (and is establishing) a Kingdom like the one we sing about in this psalm.  In doing these things, we remind ourselves that the Kingdom isn't about our problems, our sins, our needs and that through looking at God's Kingdom rather than our selves, the eyes of our heart can lifted up to what is most real, a thing beyond ourselves that defines us and gives our lives and salvation meaning beyond ourselves.  It is this transforming vision that God seeks to give us in Psalm 72, and it is exactly what I need during this cluttered season right before Christmas.  It's not about me, and thank God.

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