Psalm 30:4–5 (NRSV)
4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
It’s been a long year, and one we will not soon forget. I do not think I need to give the reasons why this is the case. As someone who can now count himself among the many who have been through, and recovered from, the illness that continues to grip the world in fear, panic, and suffering, I can honestly say it was a long couple of weeks. In time, the memory of what those days of illness were like will fade. As grateful as we are that 2020 is almost behind us, and as joyful as we are that a Christmas vaccine is coming, the fact that few people are commenting on how fast this year has flown by, as we often do in December, is an interesting observation worth noting.
One blessing many people have counted this long, difficult year is how, thanks to quarantines and sheltering and cancelations of most things on our calendars, the pace of life in 2020 ground to a very welcome crawl. Families celebrated the rediscovery of eating dinner together several nights a week, playing board games and card games, and having family movie nights. The world gasped as photos showed dolphins playing in Venice’s canals, which had turned clear as pollution dissipated. Scientists cheered as carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere showed a significant decrease and literally gave the environment a breather. Reminders of ways to count blessing appeared from many unexpected directions.
Innovation became the new norm in 2020, and not just in terms of technology. Churches, communities, individuals, and extended families found new ways to circumvent isolation, loneliness, boredom, and distance. “Zoomsgiving” dinners linked families electronically who usually gather in person. Baby Boomers reached out, calling each other like they were teenagers again. Millennials stayed in touch with friends via group texts while acting as tech support for their parents and grandparents. As society has now adjusted to living with this pandemic, January’s way of life, just 11 months ago, seems like a distant memory.
The New Revised Standard Version labels Psalm 30 a “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Grave Illness”. I encourage you to read the whole psalm on your own, taking some time this month to prayerfully dwell upon it. The whole concept of the Lord being angry is an interesting one; many people have wondered if today’s challenges are a result of God’s displeasure with humanity. We cannot focus too much on the concept of the Lord’s anger out of context of the sentence it is in; it is a double-couplet with two sets of opposites. It would be dangerous to separate the short-lived nature of the Lord’s anger from the life-long nature of his favor; doing so would lead to hopelessness and despair. The next sentence, still part of verse 5, is another double-couplet that focuses on our human experience and response to the Lord’s favor. The two sentences are another couplet entirely, juxtaposing Creator and the created.
Anger and favor.
Moment and lifetime.
Weeping and joy.
Night and morning.
God above and us below.
As we approach Christmas, when we remember the ultimate expression of hope and companionship God ever gave us, Emmanuel, “God with us”, we celebrate the duel nature of Christ, where God above came down to be with us below, while never abandoning his heavenly nature. In other words, the Lord we praise broke the opposite of the couplet! In those scary times of first century Judea, in an occupied country to an oppressed people, when there was much weeping, joy came on Christmas morning. Friends, do not lose hope, for morning is coming and joy will come with it! As verse 4 says, “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.”
I give thanks to the Lord and am thankful for each of you, dear friends, and pray you find peace this holiday season. God is with us!