Posted on: 2015-12-24

The psalms of Christmas

"For God so loved the world that he gave us his only son so that all those who believe in him might be saved". These golden words from the gospel might as well form the signal tune for the entire Christmas season. They are probably second in importance only to the phrase that exposes the eruption of Jesus Christ in the world. "And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us". That indeed is the fact of the incarnation. But long before the New Testament expressions came the Old Testament passages that announced his coming.  A shoot shall spring from the root of  Jesse... (Is. 11:1). Anyway , God intervened in the world because it belongs to him along with all it contains. The psalms that communicated that message ought to allay our anxieties when we are confronted by the evidence of evil and the power of the devil in our world. "The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord, the world and all that dwell in it. He has founded it upon the ocean and set it firmly upon the waters" (Ps. 24: 1-2). The son of God born for us called himself the Good Shepherd. That personalized title turned psalm 23 into probably the most quoted psalm in Christendom. "The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want, fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose, near restful waters he leads me to revive my drooping spirits... " (Ps. 23: 1-2)  

The song of Mary  

The "Magnificat" of Mary, the mother of Jesus, should really be acclaimed the first Christmas carol ever. It was composed by Mary under the stress of the sudden realization that God would actually mix with man to secure man's salvation. All the human assurance Mary could count on were the words of her cousin, Elizabeth who herself was dependent only on the promise of God to remove her shame from among men. No doubt these days we are often in such situations whereby we lose our equilibrium and doubt God. When Mary hastened to see Elizabeth her cousin, she chose to go God's way to see her, whom the angel proposed to her as evidence of God's power and goodness.  It was her encounter with Elizabeth that " brought out the best in Mary" and made her compose those beautiful verses.  They ought to still speak to us today when we are tried and tested as a beautiful Christmas carol should. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exults in God my savior. He has looked upon his servant in her lowliness, and people forever will call me blessed...He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up those who are downtrodden..." (Lk. 1: 46-55). These are the kind of sentiments that will always be necessary for survival in our fickle human condition. Can we find a better expression of it than what Mary, visited by the angel and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit expressed? The "Magnificat" is therefore both a song and a prayer which expresses the efficacy of the incarnation in this holy  season.

The Song of Zechariah

Prophet Zechariah could simply not comprehend what the angel said to him about bearing a child. The prognosis were that bad and so he expressed his strong doubts. "How can I believe this? I am an old man and my wife is elderly too" (Lk 1:18).  Zechariah got into a lot of trouble for his retort, perhaps more chastised than Mary for the same offence. Thus, Mary's character of being "blessed by God among women" thereby makes more meaning. Zechariah was struck dumb. However when he eventually recovered from his troubles he composed one of the most beautiful canticles which should also be top of the charts among all Christmas carols. "Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel for he has come and redeemed his people.... This is the work of the mercy of our God who comes from on high as a rising sun, shining in those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death..." (Lk. 1:" 68-79).

The Canticle of Simeon

The canticle of Simeon is the song of victory and fulfillment of the hopes of those who  patiently waited for Jesus' coming. Simeon simply confirmed the words of the prophet Isaiah about those who wait on the Lord. "...those who hope in Yahweh will renew their strength. They will soar as with eagle's wing; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and never tire" (Is. 40:31) By the mere emergence of Jesus in the temple the pains of Israel were assuaged. His presence gave Simeon the old prophet the inspiration to speak the words that now form the classical night prayers for Catholics all over the world: "Now O Lord, you can dismiss your servant in peace, for you have fulfilled your word and my eyes have seen your salvation which you display for all the people to see. Here is the light you will reveal to the nations and the glory of your people Israel" (Lk. 2:29-32). Such canticles and songs are excellent Christmas carols because the reality of the savior's birth began that very moment when Mary said to the angel Gabriel: "I am the hand-maid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said". All events and activities that followed that "yes" from Mary certainly form part of the story of his birth. In that same way must these canticles open up our hearts and lives in a big "yes" to God, such that makes the saviour come down and his love join heaven and our earth together.  Merry Christmas to everyone!