Second Sunday in Advent (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does it successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
Till moon shall wax and wane no more.
Published in 1719, Isaac Watts wrote that hymn as a metrical paraphrase of Psalm 72, a way of putting a Hebrew psalm into an English hymn. This, in itself, wasn’t that surprising in those days in England. For the English people had been singing English psalms for awhile. What was different about Watts was that he was breaking out, he was doing something with the psalms that wasn’t being done before. Whereas before the hymns stuck very close to the words of the psalm and the church had stressed that they only use the psalms in their worship, now Watts came along and made a significant change.
Oh, Watts still was using psalms, but notice what’s so significant about his version of Psalm 72. The difference is right there in the first line. “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun.” Do you see the significant change that Watts made to his translation of Psalm 72?
That’s right. He uses the Name of Jesus where the psalm, of course, doesn’t.
Watts must have been very aware of this big step, because when he published the hymn, his introduction to it explains his reasoning, explains that he uses the Name of Jesus in his version of Psalm 72 because we live in the New Testament era, we live after Christ, we live now knowing that the Old Testament pointed to Jesus Christ. So where Psalm 72 talks about the coronation of a great king, where Psalm 72 talks about what this king will do, we can see that it means the king is Jesus. Jesus is the King of Psalm 72.
Well, this was kind of dangerous territory. This was going beyond using psalms in worship. This was like writing a hymn for worship, and the Church at the time in England was only using psalms if they even used music. There was such a fear of using something that wasn’t directly from Scripture, such a fear that they kept themselves from using hymns unless they were translations of the psalms.
Watts was in dangerous territory, because he was expanding his version of Psalm 72 to include the Name of Jesus, expanding his version to be more like a Christian hymn rather than just repeating what Scripture says exactly. Watts was in dangerous territory for the situation in the Church at his time, but Watts wasn’t doing anything truly dangerous. Rather, he was recognizing the truth in Scripture, the truth that all of the Old Testament points to Jesus, that Jesus fulfills all of the Old Testament promises.
You see, theologically, this really isn’t dangerous territory. Jesus is the King of Psalm 72. Even if the psalm was originally written about Solomon or some other king of Israel, even if the psalm was originally used at the coronation at the king of Israel, still the psalm is saying more than can be said about an earthly king. The psalm is pointing to truths beyond an earthly king. The king of Psalm 72 is endowed, gifted with righteousness and justice that flows to all of the people. The king will reign forever, as long as the sun, till moons shall wax and wane no more. This is more than we can hope for from an earthly king. Instead, there’s something cosmic going on here.
Something cosmic, something divine. There’s a promise here in Psalm 72 of something grand, a grand design that goes beyond this world. There’s a promise here in Psalm 72 of a way in which God will bring about His righteousness and justice, will bring about His rule over all the Earth.
And that’s the thing, that’s why Watts could pen a hymn based on Psam 72 and include the name of Jesus, that’s why we can be confident that ultimately Jesus is the King of Psalm 72, the reason is that the psalm points to cosmic consequences of the king’s reign. The king will reign will righteousness and justice, and that righteousness and justice will flow to all people.
That’s the cosmic consequence for us: righteousness and justice in our lives. A righteousness that the King has and gives to us. This psalm points to a cosmic consequence, points to a king that can give righteousness to His people, points to a time when the righteousness of God will flow to the people like fruit growing on the hills. Righteousness will flourish and last forever. Righteousness will abound in the land.
That cosmic consequence begins with the fact that the king is endowed, is gifted with righteousness and justice. Those things are given to the king, God gives those things to the king, so that the king is righteous and just. That’s what we see truly happen in Jesus. Jesus is the King of Psalm 72, He is the One who is righteous and just, He is the true and honorable king.
But this king, it’s not just about the king; it’s not just about what the king has. God endows the king with righteousness and justice, God gives these things to the king, so that He will in turn give them to the people. God’s righteousness and justice flow through the King, flow through Him to the people.
Again, that’s the cosmic consequence for us. We are righteous in God’s sight because of Jesus. We have been given His righteousness. God’s righteousness, His holiness, His rightness comes to us through Jesus. We are made right in God’s sight through the King, the King of Psalm 72, through Jesus Christ.
That kind of cosmic consequence couldn’t happen through any other king but Jesus. That’s why Watts can write the hymn about Jesus and still have it be a version of Psalm 72. Watts puts into words what our theology already teaches, puts into words what we already know to be true, puts into words this great truth that the Great King has come in the person of Jesus, the Great King has come to bring us righteousness and justice, prosperity and hope.
You see, we believe that when Jesus was born, there were great cosmic consequences for the people of the world. Jesus wasn’t just some feel good teacher who taught us how to live. Jesus didn’t just leave us with instructions on how to live our lives. That’s what many people may believe about Jesus, but we believe that Jesus brought about cosmic consequences for the world. Everything spiritually changed for us when Jesus entered the world. Our entire spiritual, cosmic, eternal situation changed when Jesus was born.
That’s why it’s no problem for us to see that Jesus is the King of Psalm 72. Psalm 72 talks about cosmic consequences of what happens when the king rules, when the king reigns over the kingdom. This isn’t just some other king; this isn’t just superfluous, exaggerated language about the reign of a king. This psalm points to great things happening through the reign of a king; this psalm points to things completely changing for the people and the Earth, the people are given righteousness and justice, the Earth becomes prosperous, the king defends the poor and oppressed, all of these cosmic consequences take place during the reign of the king, and so Jesus has to be the King of Psalm 72.
So that’s what I want you to take away today from reading Psalm 72: Jesus is the King of Psalm 72 and He brings with Him cosmic consequences. The Cosmic Consequence of Christmas. That’s what I want you to remember this Advent Sunday.
For instance, how many of you are familiar with “A Christmas Carol” by Ebenezer Scrooge. Right. It’s the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a greedy man who doesn’t believe in Christmas. He sees a vision of three ghosts that show him the error of his ways, scare him about future, and Scrooge wakes up a changed man, wakes up on Christmas Day ready to give to the poor and celebrate the season with friends.
What do we usually think is the moral of the story, the point of the story?
Share. Be generous. Live for others.
Now we could debate whether Charles Dickens meant for there to be something more to the story than this, whether he meant to story to point to Christ in a richer way, but suffice to say, we’re usually just concerned about not being a Scrooge, about sharing with others.
And if Christmas only is about that, if Christmas is just about learning how to share with others, we’ve missed the cosmic consequence of the event. Christmas is not just about getting us to share with others. Christmas is first and foremost about what God shared with us, about what happens because Jesus was born, about the cosmic consequences, the spiritual reality change that took place through Christ. Christmas doesn’t just change our day-to-day actions; Christmas changes our eternal destination, our relationship with God, our cosmic reality.
Through the righteousness of the King, through the righteousness of Jesus, now we are righteous in God’s sight. Through the work of the King, the Earth will be renewed and made whole again. Through the work of the King, the poor and oppressed will be lifted up and rescued. Through the King of Psalm 72, through Jesus, there will be great cosmic consequences, cosmic prosperity, cosmic safety, cosmic life, eternal life.
Now “Jesus Shall Reign” isn’t really an Advent or Christmas hymn normally, but since Psalm 72 is appointed for today in the church calendar, it becomes an Advent hymn. It’s a celebration of the coronation of Jesus. Jesus who was crowned as King of Kings, Lord of Lords. Jesus who was born to become the King. Psalm 72 celebrates the great eternal event that took place 2000 years ago on a night in Bethlehem.