Excerpted from A Season of Hope. An Advent Guide for Lectionary Year B from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever—he issued a decree that will never pass away. Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the LORD.
The liturgical season of Christmas comes with expectations; expectations of experiencing hope, joy, peace, and moments of eternity. Sermons tend to be about hope. The Hallmark channel is the go to source for a good cry, some laughter, or, as they tag themselves, for a moment of inspiration. Even the devotionals this time of the year are about the hope and joy of the season. Today, we are one week past the gifts, the meals, the parties, the Christmas plays, food drives, and all the things. Or maybe you’re one week past the loneliness of remembering, being on the outside looking in, or missing loved ones who have died. For all the expectations of the season, we may or may not have stood in moments of eternity.
Psalm 148 seems very poignant this week. It doesn’t talk about gifts and plays. It doesn’t even use the word hope. It is certainly not filled with expectations, but rather with surety. Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the earth. Every verse, every line is about creation praising the Creator. It sings hope. Not a temporary kind of hope, not a hope dependent on circumstances, but hope that is oriented toward the faithfulness of the LORD, the Creator of all things. In the order of the universe, from the tiniest fungi to the vast expanse of space, God’s care and faithfulness for creation speaks to us. If our hearts and souls are open, we might see the love that brought creation into existence. When we’re listening, we stand in a moment of wonder and awe, a moment of eternity.
“I saw a baby bird fly.” The words tumbled from the lips of a five-year-old whose eyes were wide with wonder. One bird, one boy just out of toddlerhood, and I stood in a moment of eternity. An ordinary day and an event that happens every year at different times, in different places; yet this one was pregnant with hope, joy, and wonder. Why was this time different from any other time, this day, this baby bird flying for the first time? I dare say, the observant eyes of a boy whose heart and soul were open to hope and wonder.
Things go wrong. Stories of despair and grief are splashed across the headlines day after day. It’s neighbor against neighbor, governments rising and falling, ecological disasters one after another. You would think that hope had gone out of fashion.
And then a baby bird flies.
“Awe enables us to see in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in the small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple, to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.” – Abraham Joshua Heschel