Christmas Thoughts: Psalm 22


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I don’t typically think of the Psalms when I think of Christmas. My Christmas thoughts this season have revolved around prophecies in the Old Testament, and that is where the Psalms enter the picture. The Old Testament is full of prophecies that came true in the person of Jesus from Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem a little over two millennia ago.

Psalm 22 was written by David during his time of exile, either when he was on the run from King Saul, who had turned against him in jealousy, or from his son, Absalom, who sought to wrest the kingdom from David. Psalm 22 is David’s cry to God in the midst of his own circumstance.

But Psalm 22 is more than that. Psalm 22 is a foreshadowing of God’s own cry when His creation turns against Him. It becomes the cry of God, who shed his divine glory to enter His own creation in the form of a man, which we celebrate at Christmastime. 

David’s cry echoes in the words of John, who said, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11) That light came into the world when the Christ child was born, but “people loved the darkness rather than the light”. (John 3:19) 

Yet, not everyone loved the darkness. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God….” (John 1:12) We celebrate that light coming into the world, God himself, at this time of the year, and we can take comfort in knowing that God felt what David felt; God experienced what David experienced. God knows what we go through because He went through it as one of us.

We take comfort in the fact that God planned to redeem His creation from its own corruption from the beginning of time. As David, moved by God, spoke words that echo the very plans of God, played out in a future time, we see God’s redemptive work in an historical context. God, who exists eternally outside of time, knowing the beginning, middle and end, stepped into time to become the central character in His redemptive work.

And God did that without violating a sacred trust that God set in motion from the moment of creation. That sacred trust is embodied in the creation of mankind in God’s own image, a creature capable of reflecting back to the Creator the Creator’s love for His creation: the fearful gift of free will.

We take comfort in the fact this Christmas, as we consider God’s entry into this world in the form of a newborn baby, that God anticipated our sorrows because He anticipated His own sorrow. God asks nothing of us that He isn’t willing to experience Himself. He experienced not only what we experience, but He did it willingly, having the power to avoid it altogether. Yet, He entered into it freely  for our sake.

Consider, in this light, Psalm 22 and the echoes of David’s cry from Jesus when He faced and experienced the cross many centuries later, and many centuries now past.

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

“And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards received him with blows.” (Mark 14:65) “Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him.” (Luke 22:63) “The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him.” (Luke 23-10-11)  “And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.” (Matthew 27:28-31) “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also reviled him’” (Mark 15:29-312)

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;[1]
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

“And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.” (Matthew 27:35) “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic.” (John 19:23)

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.

“Jesus … said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)

We can celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ today knowing the full sweep of God’s intervention in human history, which, after all, is God’s history of redeeming us, His creation, to Himself. We can celebrate that humble birth, knowing that the redemptive work is finished, even as it is playing out in our own lives and the times we live in.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] Jesus experienced hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain where tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins — a terrible crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.  One remembers again the 22nd Psalm, the 14th verse: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” (From A Physician’s View of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ by Dr. C. Truman Davis)

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