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01.01.17 Jesus’ Advent Candles Psalm 98:1-9 Sermon Summary

by on January 9, 2017

January 1, 2017, was the 8th day of Christmas, the 8th day of Hanukkah, the Christian “Lord’s Day” of resurrection, and the 1st day of 2017. It seems an apt time to remember God’s faithfulness with Jesus the Jew.

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus celebrated Hanukkah (called in John the “Festival of Dedication”). This is the feast remembering God’s faithfulness to the Jews during the two centuries before Christ’s birth. It remembers the victory and short span of Jewish sovereignty after they expelled Antiochus Epiphany IV from their homeland. The Greeks had contaminated the Temple oil supply, but miraculously the one night of good oil lasted eight nights until a fresh supply could be obtained.

The Hanukkah menorah reminds us of God’s faithfulness and providence. Like Advent and Christmas, it proclaims the light of God shining in dark times. The menorah includes a ninth candle, called the Shamash, which is used to light the other candles and for anything else needed in the house, since the other candles may only be used for the purpose of commemorating Hanukkah. The Shamash is the “helper.” So the menorah also invites us to consider how we may be, as Jesus called us to be, the light of the world also—to be a Shamash.

Psalm 98 is a text used in the Hanukkah liturgy. As a psalm of dedication, it offers us guidance during this season of rededication in the New Year.

Psalm 98 moves through three sections, each three verses long. Verses 1-3 are a remembrance of God’s faithfulness to ancient Israel. Next follows an invitation to all nations to join the praises of Israel. Finally in verses 7-9, all of creation is invited.

The Psalm moves from the particular to the universal. It is a movement that we find throughout scripture. It is the movement from Abraham and Sarah, blessed by a particular offspring who will end up blessing all nations. It is the movement from Israel’s Hanukkah lights to Jesus as the light of the world. It is the movement from the sin of Adam—which came to all, to salvation in Christ—which comes to all. Sin and salvation both move from the particular human to all creation.

In this way, the movement from particular to universal is a reversal of the Genesis account of creation and curse. In the Creation story, God moves from the universal to the particular, finally fashioning the human from the ground of the earth. The curse is brought upon the whole world by the human. So salvation also moves from the human to the whole world. This is why Revelation, quoting Isaiah, speaks of a “new heaven and a new earth.”

All this is reflected in Psalm 98. As we rededicate ourselves to God this year, it is helpful to remember that God’s redemption moves from the particular to the general, from us to all, from what is ours to what we can share with others.

There is another movement in Psalm 98 that can guide us in rededication. It is a reading of the psalm that is verified in Jesus Christ. It is the movement from military might to social justice.

Psalm 98 likely became popular at Hanukkah to celebrate the Hasmonean uprising against Antiochus. So it begins with language like “victory” and “vindication,” and it evokes songs of triumph.

But in these early verses Psalm 98 also asserts that it is God’s “right” hand and “holy” arm that secure God’s victory in the world. It is not overwhelming military strength, but right relationships that produce peace.

This is why Psalm 98 ends with the “judgment of the world in righteousness” and God’s restoring “equity among the people.” This is what “justice” means in the Bible. It doesn’t refer to punishment for crimes, but to restoration of righteousness. This is the “rightness” of God’s victorious hand. And God does this, according to Psalm 98, as “the King, the Lord.” This is the ultimate purpose of Psalm 98, to exalt the God of peace who achieves victory through social justice.

So I offer two takeaways as we begin the New Year. First, let us adopt the perspective of redemption. May we embrace the world with God, not just what is good for me or mine, but what is good for all.

Second, for those of us who confess Christ as King and Lord, let us do so by working for a just society and a just world in the biblical sense.

As we begin 2017 with Hanukkah and Christmas and the resurrection of Christ, let us rededicate ourselves to the light of the world, remembering that God so loved the world that he sent his son. Let us rededicate ourselves to this love of God and love of neighbor.

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