Christmas Psalms: Psalms 113 and 146

Last week, we examined Christmas as a time when we realize that all is not as it should be – neither in the world nor in our own hearts.  Using Psalm 9, we meditated on the need for Christ to give us hope in the midst of the oppression and injustice we see around us.  He truly is the source of “peace on earth and goodwill to men.”

This longing is nothing new.  God’s people in all ages have longed for the restoration that Messiah brings.  In the Old Testament, the children of God looked forward to the coming of Christ with eager expectation.  Isaiah over and over paints vivid word pictures of the healing, restoration, and joy He brings (Isaiah 7:14, 9:1-7, 11, 25, 26, 27, 40, 41, etc.).  In the New Testament, we look both forward and back – forward to Christ’s return as the ultimate healing and restoration, and back to Christ’s birth as the inauguration of the Last Days, the dawn of “the Sun of Righteousness, risen with healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2).

When the birth of Jesus was announced, both Mary and Zechariah responded by singing.  Mary’s song is found in Luke 1:46-55, Zechariah’s in 1:67-79.  Both of them picked up on these themes of hope for healing.  They recognized that Christ’s birth meant restoration for the lost, healing for the heartbroken, and justice for the oppressed.

Mary recognizes her humble estate and praises God for looking upon her with favor and blessing her (Luke 1:48).  With strong echoes of Hannah’s song (I Samuel 2:1-10 – note the parallels between the two miraculous-birthday-songs), Mary goes on to praise God for bringing “down the mighty from their thrones and exalting those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.  He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy” (Luke 1:52-54).

Zechariah, too, praises God for giving “knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins” and giving “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” and guiding “our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:77, 79).

Let us pick up on these ancient themes and rejoice in our Immanuel and the healing He brings.  Two psalms that do exactly that are Psalms 113 and 146.  Both are short hymns of praise that “celebrate the way in which the great and majestic God who rules over all takes note of the lowly” (ESV Study Bible).

  • Psalm 113 praises God as Creator and rejoices in His vindication and healing of the poor, the needy, and the barren (note how Psalm 113 picks up on the common biblical theme of miraculous birth).
  • Psalm 146 encourages God’s people to continue to look to God – and Him only – for salvation.  He sets prisoners free, He opens the eyes of the blind, He lifts up the weary, He loves the righteous, He watches over pilgrims, He upholds widows and orphans.

This is the paradigm that Christ brings to the world.  This is the hope He gives us.  Eugene Peterson writes that “the story of every soul in Christ has an upward thrust and a joyous goal.”

Eastern Orthodox theologian Patrick Henry Reardon writes extensively of the parallels between Psalm 113, the Magnificat (the Song of Mary in Luke 1), and the entire gospel of Luke.  “Psalm 113 may be read as a prayerful compendium of that Gospel.  Conversely, Luke’s Gospel itself may be used to illustrate the psalm.”  Throughout the gospel (and the other three), Jesus illustrates His divine mission through miracles of healing and care, showing in a physical way the redemption He came to accomplish.  Psalm 113 reads like a checklist of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Psalm 146, in turn, corresponds almost exactly to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11, describing His own ministry as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (found in Isaiah 35:4-6, 49:8-9, and 61:1): “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:5).

#224, “Praise God, Ye Servants of the Lord” (Psalm 113)

For a full examination of the music of #224, see Michael’s previous examination, HERE.

This selection is well-suited for singing at Christmas, especially with its celebration of miraculous birth in stanza 5, and its Philippians 2:6-8 and John 1:14-tinged stanza 3 (“The Lord our God who reigns on high, who condescends to see and know the things of heaven and earth below”).

#301, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” (Psalm 146)

Let’s be honest, this selection is delightful for singing at any time of year.  Lowell Mason’s confident, exuberant tune (RIPLEY) combined with a straightforward rendering of the text make it a really excellent choice for singing during Advent.

These two Psalms, 113 and 146, speak beautifully, simply, and triumphantly, about the work of Christ and the transformation He brings, “risen with healing in His wings.”

-JDO

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