Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Psalm 148

Christmas 1 - Year A

From Walter Brueggemann’s, Israel’s Praise, we hear about a process moving from transformation to order:

     The Psalm is basically a set of imperatives mobilizing all of creation to affirm, praise, and legitimate. The reasons are compelling, but they are nearly smothered beneath the succession of imperatives.
     The loss of reason and the preoccupation with summons reflect a shift in theological sensitivity that begins to cut off the worshiping community from its own experience.

It is this cutting ourselves off from our experience by our doctrinal affirmations that begins to set us up for another round of repentance.

What is your experience of Christmas? This, as differentiated from what you think your experience of Christmas should be.

Brueggemann concludes his analysis of hymns of praise with this schema:

      I have identified three rather different ways in which the shift is made in the hymns of praise, from authenticating experience to legitimated world:
  • A shift in the balance between the rhetoric or reason and summons. Israel loses its concrete memory and experience, and ends with no reasons for the praise that is compelled with an imperative. The summons to praise becomes absolute and unjustified. 
  • A shift from specificity to generalization. Israel loses it specificity and recites generalizations which have a bite of neither affront nor energy. 
  • A shift from the motif of liberation to the motif of creation. This shift softens the memory of displacing transformation which is both threat and gift, and evokes a happy, organic world of harmony and well-being.
     These three shifts, I submit, reflect Israel’s move away from a radical world of disciplined obedience and imaginative commitment to a new community of humane possibility, to a world of complacency, triumph, prosperity, and self-sufficiency. In this world obedience is not as urgent, human possibility is not as cherished, hope is not as defiant or dangerous.
     In addition to these three changes in rhetoric, I should mention a fourth dimension of such an adjustment which I shall not pursue. There is, I believe, a reduction of language so that the great narrative accounts of God’s activity are reduced to barren adjectives and finally to comforting nouns.

The account and experience of Ramah doesn’t just jump to the praise of this Psalm. Too much is lost if a call to transformation of violence to mercy simply becomes expected praise with no connection to our experience.

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Bonus Christmas Story: Gifts of Life.

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