CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 2 by Martin Shannon

Praying With the Psalms Through Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany

January 2 by Martin Shannon

From My Soul Waits

Psalm 46

Be still, and know that I am God. (v. 10)

Sometime around 1529 the church reformer and former Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, paraphrased Psalm 46 into one of the most beloved hymns of Protestantism: Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott.  Later translated into English, the opening words are:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper he, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.

Psalm 46 is one of liturgical psalms in praise of Mount Zion, God’s “dwelling place,” (see also Psalms 48, 76, 84, 87, and 122).  The common theme running through these psalms is the incomparable beauty and unshakable security of the City of God.  The place where God makes his abode is the most glorious and the most stable place in all the universe.  To live within its borders is to live without fear, for nothing in all creation – not the volatile power of nature or that of man, or (in Luther’s words) the destructive power of “our ancient foe” – can do harm to those who dwell in “the holy habitation of the Most High,” (Psalm 46:4).

Human security, affirms the poet, can be grounded in the sovereign omnipotence of God.  Where God is, there is no reason to fear.  And, since God is “with us,” (v. 7), we need fear no place.  In just a few short verses, the psalmist effectively pulls the sharp teeth from all human anxiety.  What threat can subdue the faith of those whose “hope and strength” is God?

And who is this God in whom the psalmist tells us to put our trust?  The refrains of verses 7 and 11 tell us it is the “Lord of hosts – the creator and ruler of all principalities and powers in the Heavenly places, (Colossians 1:16).  This is the “God of Jacob,” (Psalm 46:7, 11) – the God of the patriarchs and prophets, the maker of the covenant, the deliverer of Israel, and the Lord of history.  All authority in Heaven and on Earth belongs to God alone.  So, to all the unruly forces at work in the world, he commands, “Be still,” (the Hebrew literally means to desist, to surrender), and know this for certain: “I am God,” (v. 10).

We who sing either the psalm or the hymn do well to remember that these are songs in praise of not a strong faith but a strong God.  Human trust and confidence, like mountains and seas can be shaken, and often are.  But the God in whom we place even our weakest hope, our most trembling reliance, is immovable and always, “very present,” (v. 1).

From The Fathers

There are many kinds of tribulation, and in all of them we must seek refuge in God, whether the trouble concerns our income, our bodily health, some danger threatening those we love or something we need to support our life.  Whatever it is, there should be no refuge for a Christian other than our Savior.  He is God, and when we flee to him, we are strong.  No Christian will be strong in himself or herself; but God, who has become our refuge, will supply the strength. (Augustine)

All my hope is in you alone, O Lord.
And, where I have put it in anything or anyone less than you, help me take it back, and put it where it belongs.

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