An unusual Thanksgiving
let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth quake!
O Yahweh our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Exalt Yahweh our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for Yahweh our God is holy!
This is going to be the weirdest thanksgiving ever for many of us, and as we look ahead, the beginning of a new year always is a time of increased deaths, perhaps as people have experienced extra stress because of finances, difficult family relationships or loneliness, extra busyness and food. We seem to heading into this season of death early with reported and estimated deaths to exceed the average by quite a bit (for the week of November 7th for instance, 28% more people died in Minnesota than last year on the same week). Not only that, but the state has made a rule that we shouldn’t gather for thanksgiving. Usually our thanksgiving gatherings number in the 20 – 30 people. Of course, in my immediate family we’re also hoping to have a baby soon so we’re not bothered so much by avoiding the hustle and bustle. Some may fudge the state’s order, but as we consider our plans in light of it, we should also consider our hearts and their tendency to turn to complaining and bemoaning the state of the world. So what are we to do with our situation?
At the least we must get over all of this complaining. This is the heart of the wilderness generation. Certainly the burdens of living in a desert without a toilet, running water and electricity in your home are worse than most of what you have to deal with today. Instead, we must turn to Yahweh, the Lord God, and remember his rule over all things. Israel might have been forgiven for not knowing before Sinai that Yahweh rules everything, but the time in Sinai taught Israel that Yahweh was their God and that he ruled over Israel and all the earth. There is no end to his rule. While Aman-Re, Isis, Horus or the like might have seemed to rule in Egypt, their rule was limited. In fact, their rule was only a feigned opposition by spiritual and human forces to Yahweh’s true rule over all the world. This is why the Psalmist continually invites all the people to worship and tremble. Yahweh rules or reigns over all things. How is this? He reigns because he created. Creation is an overflow of his over-abundant life. It is a display of his givingness. He has given life to all and sustains it by the word of his power. And this should move us to lift up high his name. It should give us pause as we approach him so that it isn’t simply willy-nilly but with reverence, because he is holy. This is repeated three times in this psalm.
Further, it seems to me that times of suffering and consternation are actually wonderful times to give thanks to God. It is because in such times we see and know more clearly the weight of sin and death that will one day be crushed, while understanding more deeply the grace he has given us and that is at work in us in the middle of our difficulties. Verse 1 could have begun with, ‘Yahweh reigns, Hallelujah!!’ but instead, he begins, ‘Yahweh reigns, let the peoples tremble (including you who are singing this!).’ And yet God is not just a majestic and distant God. He is a near God who both forgives and avenges. He answered his people when they called. But this is a truth that was true for future Israelites as well, and for us too. God is a forgiving and avenging God. He does not leave injustice hanging, but he also offers forgiveness to those who approach him by faith. He answers his people when they call out to him. He is a present and near God, and we know this most intimately because of the incarnation of the Son of God who took on flesh and dwelt among us, who broke bread with his disciples, and who sent his Holy Spirit to give us life. So even though we are invited to tremble, we even more can exult, worship, and adore our God, and we can give thanks for the good work he is doing through our difficult times.