Saturday, December 14, 2013



During the Advent season the Church often sings Psalm 96 (95), one of the so-called “enthronement psalms” that celebrate God’s kingship and sovereignty over not just Israel or even the nations, but over the whole universe.

      PSALM 96

O sing to the Lord a new song;
   sing to the Lord, all the earth. 
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
   tell of his salvation from day to day. 
Declare his glory among the nations,
   his marvelous works among all the peoples. 
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
   he is to be revered above all gods. 
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
   but the Lord made the heavens. 
Honor and majesty are before him;
   strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. 
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
   ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
   bring an offering, and come into his courts. 
Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
   tremble before him, all the earth. 

Say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king!
   The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
   He will judge the peoples with equity.’ 
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
   let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 
   let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy 
   before the Lord; for he is coming,
   for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
   and the peoples with his truth.

The Israelites were very much influenced by the cultures of surrounding nations, and it seems that they borrowed this idea of a liturgical “enthronement” of God from the Babylonians and used some of the important pieces of the Babylonian liturgical celebration, such as the phrase “Yahweh is King” or “Yahweh reigns,” instead of “Marduk is king!” The latter acclamation came during the annual celebration of the cyclical re-birth of nature as Marduk began to reign once again.

Clearly the Israelites were not into celebrating the pagan death-and-rebirth, but their celebration seems to be saying that “Yahweh has just now become king.” Walter Brueggemann says “That is, liturgical enactment is not just a recollection, but is a making so, just as at Easter we understand the resurrection to be “today,” and we understand ourselves to have been present. Now such a formula as “were you there?” is not chronological affirmation but liturgical experience. And this is how this psalm formula might best be taken. This psalm marks the beginning of a new reign. Liturgy is not play acting, but it is the evocation of an alternative reality that comes into play in the very moment of the liturgy. So this moment is when God’s rule is visible and effective. (The Message of the Psalms, 144)

Psalm 96 is a celebration that the future now belongs to Israel’s God, not to the feeble idols, who are in fact agents of chaos. The psalm articulates the good news of this enthronement with the idea of a “new song.”    

In the ancient world a new reign was introduced by inauguration or coronation. “Likely a genuinely new song was commissioned for a grand, public event. This is a new God who has not been known in this way for these people until now, so there must be new music to match.” (Brueggemann 144)  


When I was a little kid I used to ride the swing in our back yard while singing. Loudly. For as long as I felt like it. 

Years later I found out that some of the neighbors enjoyed listening to my vocal concerts. Maybe it’s because I’m a singer by nature that I’ve always loved the first verse of Psalm 96, “Sing a new song to the Lord;” recently have been wondering, as I do periodically, just what this “new” song might be for me here and now. If my life is indeed a song, then how do I make of it a “new” one? There are lots of approaches to answering this question, but one that Advent season proposes is the advice of John the Baptist “Repent! Turn your life around!” and “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” “Level the mountains of pride in your heart and fill in the valleys of sinfulness and sloth.”

That sounds like the formula for a wonderful new song. As I continue to sing my way through this busy Advent, I hope that my song will indeed be a new one, fitting for the enthronement of the King who is coming.

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