Christmas Eve, Year A, December 24, 2022

Luke 2:1-20 John 1:1-14 Isaiah 9:2-7 Titus 2:11-14 Psalm 96

The Annunciation to the Shepherds by Cuyp Benjamin Gerritsz (1612-1652)

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


Mary is the focus of Luke’s account rather than Joseph.

In this narrative Luke sets forth the wonder of Christmas. The story unfolds in three parts. The first (vv. 1-7) locates the birth of Jesus. It happened when Augustus was Caesar, emperor of the Roman world (27B.C.-14 A.D) (1) It happened in Bethlehem, the city of David, where Joseph and Mary had gone to be enrolled for a census. It happened in a place where there was a manger. Then and there Jesus was born and wrapped in swaddling clothes. ", Luke reminds his readers of the belief that Bethlehem was the place where a ruler like David, would be born

The second part (vv. 8-14) interprets this birth. Using the form of an announcement story Luke tells of the appearance of an angel, of the fear of the shepherds, of the message they were given, and of the sign which confirmed it (2) Added to the announcement is a canticle. A heavenly host joins the angels in offering praise to God for this event and proclaims peace to people with whom God is pleased.(3)

The third part (vv. 15-20) describes responses made to the news of this event. The shepherds checked out the message, found the sign, the babe lying in a manger, and shared the interpretation which they had given. The people marvelled at their words. Mary kept them in her heart and wondered. The shepherds then returned to their work, glorifying and praising God for the event and its interpretation.


Perhaps the shepherds could receive the news of God's reign with pure hearts. Jesus will later thank God (Luke 10:21) for having "hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants." The simplicity of the first public witnesses is a wonder. Jesus' apostles have surprising credentials: "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it" (Luke 10:23-24).

While shepherds could be romanticized (as was King David), they were usually ranked with ass drivers, tanners, sailors, butchers, camel drivers, and other despised occupations. Being away from home at night they were unable to protect their women, hence considered dishonorable. In addition, they often were considered thieves because they grazed their flocks on other people's property.

Nonetheless, it is to these unlikely and unworthy characters that the first news of the birth of Jesus is given, and not to the Kings, Caesars, and Governors mentioned at the beginning of this passage. But then again, perhaps it is precisely the despised and the disreputable who are most in need of - and receptive to - the Good News of peace on earth and God's good will. To Luke they probably represented the common people, the lowly, the persons loved and befriended by Luke’s Jesus (cf. Luke 19:10).

The image of the shepherd also is a reminder that King David, soon to be mentioned yet again, was also a shepherd. Shepherds–lowly, unpretentious shepherds–have found the chief shepherd–the shepherd who seeks lost sheep until he finds them.

The shepherds share what they have learned. Already, we get signs of the mutuality and reciprocity of the kingdom of God. The shepherds share with each other, and with Joseph and Mary--no privileged information here. The words of the shepherds stir "all" who hear them. They return praising God

They were familiar from their Scriptures with the biblical stories of David, the shepherd from Bethlehem (I Sam. 16:11); and they knew the prophetic expectation that out of Bethlehem would come forth a ruler of Israel (Micah 5:2,4). Also as denizens of the Hellenistic world, they would have known that shepherds commonly were present at the births of heroes and gods.

Why as the Angel’s message be a shock to them? Three reasons:

An infant?

Who expected the Messiah would have to “grow up?

In Bethlehem?

Yes, the prophets had foretold that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, but even the greatest religious minds of Jerusalem didn’t figure that out until after the magi had arrived from the east.

We don’t expect “big things” to come by unassuming means and from humble circumstances; yet that is another antecedent to understanding the Messiah’s intrinsic character.

In a manger?

Defenseless and vulnerable, unassuming and humble, do we see why we often miss the “Real Jesus” not just at Christmas but throughout our entire lives

There it is, the angels turn their commission over to “mere shepherds.” These are the first evangelicals of the Good News. These shepherds – with no religious training – innately take the intentional action that many of us “in the religious trade” neglect (or prefer to forget).


To them "an angel of the Lord appeared." To speak of the appearance of an angel was a way of referring to the presence of God. For the terms angel and God often were interchangeable.( 6) Thus here, what v. 9 attributes to the angel, v. 15 attributes to the Lord. In the latter the shepherds say: "Let us go ... and see this thing which the Lord has made known to us." To be confronted by an angel of the Lord was to experience God’s glory (v.9). It was to experience the splendor, the brilliance, associated with God’s presence. (7) Luke’s shepherds, relatively free from the artifices of the sophisticated and the pride of intellectuals, were able to open up to a glory that was not their own (cf. I Cor. 1:26ff.).

Angels sing–out of the darkness–angels sing. From out of the light of glory, angels sing. Angels sing and light shines in the darkness. Yes the angels sing once more–even as they did at first. When they sang in the beginning–out of the darkness–sang the Creator's glory, the glory of the Creator who said, "Let there be light!" As it was in the beginning when the sons of God sang and all the morning stars sang together. First creation–new creation! Out of darkness, light–the dawning of the sun of righteousness–the outburst of the bright

Angels are by definition messengers, "ev-angels"; and the good news they bear in this story is in every case a promise. If the theology of hope does not already have such it had better get an angelology quick; angels--promise-bearers--should be its stock in trade.


Luke is writing about the true "savior of the world," one from the line of the great King David. He looks to Bethlehem, the city of David, and not to Rome, the city of Caesar

The birth is announced to shepherds in the field, and not to the powerful in rich palaces. The scandal of the virgin birth is not so much that Mary was a virgin. The scandal was that Jesus--a poor kid from a backwater town--was born of a virgin.

The word savior (sotare) appears only three times in the synoptics--Luke 1, Luke 2, and John 4. It was a politically-charged term since, after all, Caesar Augustus was known as "the savior of the world." He had brought peace to the world, the pax Augusta and in gratitude people celebrated his birthday and remembered the gift of peace received in and through him. Jesus’ peace is not the same as the peace brought about by Caesar Augustus. It has more in common with the quality of life envisioned in the Hebrew word, shalom, (be whole, be complete). In Luke’s scriptures this word meant not merely the end of hostilities, but rather the well-being that comes from God

Luke's announcement of Jesus as "savior" is a way of saying, "Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not." Moreover, this "savior" comes from the house of David. He is not only "lord," but "messiah."

Throughout his gospel Luke tells the story of the work that helped earn for Jesus the title "Savior." In a world where Samaritans were despised he showed Jesus telling stories in gratitude to God. In a society which treated women as second class citizens he showed Jesus welcoming them into his fellowship, along with the Twelve, and taking them with him on his travels through the cities and villages of Galilee. In a religious community that excluded sinners, he showed Jesus eating and drinking with them, telling stories accenting God’s care for them, and extending his hospitality and best wishes to them. The Jesus of Luke’s gospel was one who broke through the barriers of nationalism, sexism, and religious chauvinism, who awakened repentance, set people free, who opened communities and brought in peace. Indeed, as Luke stated, he was One who had come "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke19:10).

And the event at Bethlehem was the birth of this Christ; the birth of God’s agent for bringing a new form of salvation, a non-political, non-national salvation, to humankind. This was the good news of great joy, not only for Luke’s shepherds, but for his readers, past and present.

Another key concept is "joy," or "rejoicing." Commonly throughout the New Testament (and without exception in Luke's Christmas story) joy is not so much a response to a happening that is significant in and of itself as it is an anticipatory reaction to a promise that shows signs of moving toward fulfillment. Joy is an eschatological reaching out occasioned by anything that brings the ultimate promise into ken. Similarly, Luke consistently uses "evangel" (gospel, good news) not as the proclamation of something that has taken place but as promise of something about to take place; the tense of the good news is future.

Through all this Luke tells us something very important about Christmas. The Yuletide activity appropriate for us is not primarily that we "to the sessions of sweet silent thought ... summon up remembrance of things past." That remembrance is to be summoned not for itself but only that we may join the characters of Luke's story in anticipatory joy of the ultimate promise, the fulfillment of which is yet to come and at the moment is still in process of coming.

Luke and the people of his story celebrated the coming of Jesus Christ because it was a promise of the future of Jesus Christ. And for us too the proper stance toward Christmas is not to look back toward Bethlehem but, with them, to look through the stable into the Kingdom of God.

To hear the angel’s message we must place ourselves in the shepherd’s situation. Will we be close enough, humble enough, and attuned enough to hear the infant cry of Jesus in the alleys of our town this Christmas? Where would be the “most unpretentious place” for the real Jesus to enter my city?

Here is the Great News of Christmas. In this birth account of Christ, the Messengers of God declared that through the birth of Christ, God and humanity would be united again. The other facet of this announcement is whom it was intended to reach. The angels declared; “Peace among men with whom He is pleased.” The term pleased [GSN2107, eudokia] means “in whom God takes delight.”

We are now the ones sent to tell the world the good news:

So what is the Christmas message?

“Invite as many as you can to the wedding feast. The King has given us this great invitation in order to restore peace with all his people.”


Icon of the Sign

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

John's "Christmas" would be difficult to do in a children's program. There is no baby lying in a manger. There are no parents traveling to Bethlehem. There are no angels or shepherds. There is no star or magi. John doesn't give us much of a historical account of Christmas, instead he gives us a confession of faith about the incarnation of God. John isn't so concerned about exactly what happened in Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus (or King Herod). He is much more concerned about the proper beliefs about Jesus now

Matthew and Luke begin their gospels with the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, but for John, Jesus' beginnings are elsewhere. They are beginnings that cannot be confined to a nativity scene, or depicted on a Christmas card. They are beginnings that can neither be contained nor ignored. John doesn't introduce us to the babe in Bethlehem, but rather to the cosmic Christ.

A theme from these early hymns is that the almighty, all-powerful God, who created everything that exists, is far beyond our understanding and comprehension. This same God came to earth. God came to us, as a human being in human flesh. This is God's love in action. As the Gospel of John says it in chapter 3: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." More than all the pageantry of the nativity scene, Christmas is a concrete demonstration of God's love for all of humanity -- a concrete expression of his love for you and me.

Christmas does mean a baby in a manger, but in the face of that infant, there is the outpouring of God's love for all humanity.

Christ the "first-born of all creation," he is not born at all in the fourth gospel. The Word was always with God even before creation began. Just as the Word was God's original means of self-revelation through the creation of all things; so, in John, the Son is the revelation of God's heart - of God's sight, insight, choosing, loving, valuing, etc. Bonding with Jesus means loving whom God loves, the way God loves

Jesus is the creative word of God, as God (ie. he is divine) and with God from before time. Jesus, as the word, created all that we know and experience. There is nothing in our time and space that is not from his hands.

John now uses two powerful Old Testament images that describe the divine eternal word; they are life and light. Just as God's revealed word in the law and the prophets was life and light to his people Israel, so Jesus is life and light. Jesus is the source of life, not just breath, but divine life, eternal life. He is light in that he radiates divine truth, knowledge, wisdom ..., and this truth, this revelation, is itself life-giving. This cosmic Christ, says John, radiates in the darkness of the cosmos and his light cannot be quenched.The light shines upon all humanity; truth shines over a broken world Yet, although Jesus created the world of human affairs, the human race neither recognizes him nor accepts him

Yet, those who do welcome him, who receive him, accept him for the person he is, "believe" in him, they will receive God's long awaited promise of sonship, immortality, divinity. John now describes this sonship. It is a new life, a rebirthing. It is nothing like the creation of life through human conception and birth, but rather a spiritual new life, a divine rebirthing.

The Gospel provides references John the Baptist after the paragraph on the Word. This gospel gives John the Baptist a new role. Here he becomes John the Witness, though his importance is in no way lessened. Whereas John in this gospel did baptize believers, he did not baptize Jesus. Instead, John's main purpose in this text was to serve as a witness to revelation. His greatness lay in pointing others to the true source of life, light and purpose (logos). He identified Jesus as divine and illustrated his presence as the "Lamb of God," referenc¬ing Exodus and Isaiah.

John was: “A voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” John the Baptist was not the light but pointed to the light. We are the same: we point to the greatest light in the whole world, Jesus Christ.


The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Isaiah 9:2-7


The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

This passage relates to the Israel-Assyrian War under King Ahaz of the southern part of Israel, Judah in 734BC. However, this is a vision of reconciliation and a vision of the ideal ruler. The first two verses set the stage. In the two campaigns of the Assyrian ruler Tiglath-pileser in 734 and 732 there took place the separation of the western, eastern and northern provinces of Israel, assumed by v. 1, and their transformation into Assyrian provinces. The faith of the Israelites was thereby faced with the question whether God had abandoned his people and his land for ever to the enemies of Israel, or whether he intended to reunite them and awaken them to new life under a glorious ruler. This ruler will be in contrast to the faithless King Ahaz.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light . . . upon them a light has shined: The northern tribes were the first to suffer from the Assyrian invasions, so in God’s mercy, they will be the first to see the light of the Messiah. God came to his people first where they had suffered the most, and from that place he launched salvation for the world. Naphtali was in the north. Zebulun was located in south Galilee astride the valley east of Carmel that is drained by the river Kishon. (Matthew in Chapter 4 will cite these areas). Isaiah is showing future of his people, which is based upon God's purpose of salvation. He will fulfil the promises he has given, and bring to reality an empire in which all Israel is united and at peace, under a second David.

Three characteristics of that great future salvation are presented here:

A The first emphasizes freedom from foreign domination [2-3] The rejoicing of the redeemed. The land of deep darkness for these conquered people is a land of brutality, a land of poverty and hunger, a land without hope. Isaiah uses the metaphors of darkness and light for oppression and liberation. God is Deliverer – salvation. 1 The light that will appear to them is the presence of God which annihilates his enemies 2 It is not the hand of man but the direct intervention of God which will drive out the enemy.

B. The second portrays the end of Holy War against the enemy when all the booty, including the war-boots and military uniforms, had to be burned [V4-5] Total disarmament will be required to achieve this goal. But the burdensome yoke of foreign rule will be taken from them, and will be broken by Yahweh as previously on the day of Midian. Gideon broke the power of the Midianite hordes in Judges 7. He was an unlikely hero as Jesus will be. And God deliberately reduced the size of his army from 32,000 men to 300. Then God’s strategy was an audacious bluff, with Gideon’s men blowing trumpets and breaking jars and holding up torches in the night. But God threw the enemy into a panic, and they slaughtered their own men. Isaiah is looking ahead to a Liberator even better than Gideon.

C. The third is voiced by monarchists in the crowd who see in the prophecy of future light the restoration of power and glory to the House of David [V5-7]

The prophecy of the birth of Messiah reminds Israel that the victory-bringing Messiah would be a man. If Jesus were not fully man, He could not stand in the place of sinful man and be a substitute for the punishment man deserves. If He were not fully God, His sacrifice would be insufficient. If Jesus is not fully God and fully man, we are lost in sin.

And the government will be upon His shoulder: Ultimately, this will be fulfilled in the Millennium, when Jesus Christ will rule the earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords

His name will be called: The idea isn’t that these will be the literal names of the Messiah. Instead, these are aspects of His character, they describe who He is and what He has come to do.

The Messiah is our Counselor: Jesus is the One fit to guide our lives, and should be the Christian’s immediate resource as a counselor. Jesus can help you with your problems. He may use the presence and the words of another Christian to do it, but Jesus is our Counselor Jesus is our Counselor in the sense that He sits in the High Counsel of the Godhead, and takes council with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our good. Jesus’ counsel is necessary counsel. Jesus’ counsel is faithful counsel, without any self-interest. Jesus’ counsel is hearty counsel. It isn’t detached and unemotional.

The Messiah is Mighty God: The God of all creation and glory, the LORD who reigns in heaven, the One worthy of our worship and praise

The Messiah is the Everlasting Father: The idea in these Hebrew words is that Jesus is the source or author of all eternity, that He is the Creator Himself. It does not mean that Jesus Himself is the Person of the Father in the Trinity

The Messiah is the Prince of Peace: He is the One who makes peace, especially between God and man. The last extant name, 'Prince of Peace', is reminiscent of the divine name from Judg. 6.24, 'Yahweh is peace', and also of Isaiah 11.6-9 (cf. also Ps.72.3, 7).e For the Israelites, peace was more than the absence of war or the continuation of war by other means; peace is a term for the condition in which all things, human beings, animals and plants, follow their destiny un¬disturbed. Thus it only exists when all creatures recognize God in his deity and live and act accordingly.

“Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” Handel had it right in the Hallelujah chorus of Messiah: “And He shall reign forever and ever.” Peace will never end in his king¬dom, as the kingdom itself will not end, because his throne is sus¬tained by justice and righteousness.


Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus presents God's unfolding plan of salvation in terms of two appearances of Jesus, two epiphanies or manifestations of God's presence. "For the grace of God has appeared (epephan), bringing salvation to all" (2:11). Jesus' first appearance manifested God's grace, and his second coming will manifest God's glory, for "we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation (epiphaneian) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (2:13)

Jesus' first epiphany -- his life, death, and resurrection -- inaugurated a new age, bringing the hope of salvation to all. This salvation will be fully realized when he comes again in glory as "our great God and Savior" (2:13). Until then, we live between two epiphanies, in hope and expectation.

The salvation he brings is not only about forgiveness, but also about transformation. As recipients of God's grace, we are empowered to live in a new way. The grace of God is "training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly" (2:12).

Examples of the "impiety and worldly passions" we are to renounce are described in 3:3: "For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another."

Titus 2:11-15 summarizes the “truthful living” that should result from our encounter with the manifestation of Christ. We are to become students following a new curriculum of grace, reflecting the difference Christ’s presence makes in the world.”

In stark contrast to being driven by worldly passions, we are to live lives that are "self-controlled, upright, and godly" (2:12). What this kind of life might look like is described in 3:1-2. It is to "be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone."

In speaking of Jesus' first appearance, Titus likely refers to the whole of Jesus' life, ministry, death, and resurrection, rather than his actual birth in Bethlehem. Jesus manifests God's grace to us in a most astounding way, precisely by the humility in which he first makes himself known to us -- as a vulnerable infant born to peasant parents, lying in a manger far from the comforts of home.

Jesus' birth is an appropriate preface to the life he lives -- a life on the margins as a wandering preacher and healer, a friend of sinners, suspect in the eyes of the religious and political establishments. His birth is also appropriate to the kind of death he dies -- outside the holy city, a humiliating, shameful death reserved for rebels and slaves. Jesus manifests God's grace in the most unexpected ways, even in bearing shame and suffering on our behalf. For "he it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own" (2:14).

Titus gives us a glimpse of how the early Christians gathered week after week “to be shaped around a common identity in Christ and to be taught how to live the Christ life,” Shiell concludes. “They listened to texts read aloud by discussing, arguing, interrupting, responding, debating, and questioning them. Through this process, Christ became a real and continuing presence who constantly confronted them and transformed their gathered communities into the living Body of Christ.”


Psalm 96 Page 725, BCP

Cantate Domino

Sing to the LORD a new song; *
sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.

Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.

For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; *
he is more to be feared than all gods.

As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
but it is the LORD who made the heavens.

Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples; *
ascribe to the LORD honor and power.

Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name; *
bring offerings and come into his courts.

Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; *
let the whole earth tremble before him.

Tell it out among the nations: "The LORD is King! *
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity."

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
let the field be joyful and all that is therein.

Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy
before the LORD when he comes, *
when he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness *
and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 96 is one of five psalms in Book Four of the Psalter that are classified as Enthronement Psalms, psalms that celebrate the reign of God as king over all creation.

Commentary, maintains that in each instance the phrase "new song" does not indicate a song sung to a tune that has never been heard before, but rather refers to the beginning of a new era, a new epoch in history

In the case of Psalm 96, the "new song" refers to the reign of God, rather than a king of the line of David, as sovereign over Israel and the whole earth.

The Israelits are in exile in Babylonia after 587BC. Would they simply be absorbed into the vast Babylonian empire? Or could they find a way to maintain their identity as the people of Yahweh, their God?

How does God -- the God of the heavens and the earth -- reign in the midst of this messiness called the present reality?

The birth of Jesus sees the coming of God to redeem creation in the guise of one who is weak and vulnerable. This is a different type of ‘kingship’ to that we normally envisage. It signals a different type of ‘rule’ than we might expect.

The psalm is divided into four parts; parts one and three were imperatives, parts two and four explained the reasons for the imperatives. In part one (96:1-3), the liturgical herald commanded the congregation to “Sing!” as a means to praise God and witness to his activity.

In part two (96:4-6), the herald proclaimed the reason for the song, the overwhelming glory of God. The sense of holiness that the Temple and its cult evoked exalted YHWH beyond that of any other god. His power created the heavens, while the other gods did nothing.

Part three (96:7-10) commanded the nations to worship God along with the congregation, but their worship comprised of tribute. “Give!” was the refrain; the Gentiles were to recognize YHWH as the Lord, give gifts, then bow in worship. (It was customary for foreigners and Jews outside of the Jerusalem to pay for Temple upkeep; locals were exempt from the “Temple tax” but did contribute to local charities.) At the end of part three, YHWH was exalted as the King, the just Judge who would make the entire world secure.

Nature as well as human inhabitants of earth join in praise of their creator. There is a strong ecological theme running through this psalm. But there is also a strong theme of judgment (vv. 10, 13). Often we might think of judgment in solely negative terms. Adverse judgment equals rejection. But that is not how this psalm, and Scripture as a whole, speaks of judgment. Here judgment is salvation (v. 2). The Lord comes and in the one coming both delivers his people and judges all that does not accord with his righteousness and truth (v. 13).

While part four (96:11-13) appeared to be another imperative, it actually explained part three. Why should the Gentiles worship the Jewish Deity? The answer could be found in the praise of nature itself. Let the heavens ...the earth...the seas and all that fills it...the plains rejoice. The nations were to join in the praise of creation for its God. YHWH approached his people; creation itself responded with worship and praise.