CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 4 by Martin Shannon

Praying With the Psalms Through Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany

January 4 by Martin Shannon

From My Soul Waits

Psalm 87

Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. (v. 3)

Every year, when we celebrate the feast of the dedication of our monastery church, the Church of the Transfiguration, we read these words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “So when you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,” (2:19-20).  The imagery of a physical building as the house of God is part of what has made this passage fitting for the dedication of a church for almost two millennia.  But if we limit ourselves to envisioning only the beauty of stone walls and the strength of wooden beams we miss the larger point.  Paul is writing about the miraculous inclusion of the Gentiles, of all peoples, into the family that God birthed through Abraham and Sarah.  Those whose ancestry hadn’t a single drop of Jewish blood found themselves inheriting the family fortune.  Put another way, building materials that belonged on the scrap pile were salvaged, retrofitted, and securely fastened to the structure of God’s temple on Earth.  Things that had no business in the house of God were turned into showpieces.

The apostle Paul was not the first to describe the largess of God’s heart in this way.  Consider Psalm 87, a song in praise of Jerusalem, the divinely chosen city of God.  Upon this mountain, God’s favor rests.  It is like no other place on Earth.  God founded a city for his own people, a dwelling place for the family who called him Father.  Here, the lineage of Abraham made their home.

But, according to the psalmist’s vision, as we enter the city’s sacred gates, what do we find?  These inhabitants don’t look alike at all.  They seem to come from everywhere: north, south, east, west.  Even more surprising, we see walking side-by-side with Jacob’s children some of their mortal enemies – Egyptians, (Rahab, see Isaiah 30:7), Babylonians, and even Philistines.  We might be able to stretch our imaginations enough to see these “strangers and sojourners” as refugees, for a time finding asylum in the city of peace.  But as they all move to the city center, we see a figure siting with a large book in his lap, checking off every name – even the foreign names – as he emphatically declares, Yes, he was born here, and, Yes, this is the city of her birth.  God himself is registering each of these people not only as citizens but as sons and daughters.  And as he does so, their walking turns to dancing and they begin to sing: The Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother! (see Galatians 4:26).  All of our springs are in her.

From The Fathers

Since the psalmist said, “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God,” and we understand this city to be the church, gathered together from all the nations, the psalm now speaks of the calling of the Gentiles.  “I will be mindful of Rahab and Babylon among those that know me.”  Let the sinner be at peace, for the Lord was mindful of Rahab. (Jerome)

Father, my name is in your book.
It got there because you wrote it there, even before I was born.
And there, next to it, you have written the place of my birth—
“The heart of God,” it says.
All who are born here, have a home forever.

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