"Let All Creation Praise"

Scripture: Psalm 148

Second Sunday of Christmas

The Psalm that Crystal read is one of my personal favorites.  I love the thought of all of creation joining together to praise God.  When I hear the psalm and its repetition of the imperative phrase, “Praise the Lord,” I can almost image the psalm writer running around energetically, calling everybody he sees to join him in praise.  “Come on!  Praise the Lord with me!  Get up!  What are you waiting for?!”

It is especially fitting this morning, on the second Sunday of Christmas.  It’s a fitting response to the birth of our Savior because…  Well…  What else is there for us to do but praise God for the gift of Jesus?!

One of my favorite images of celebrating Christmas this year come from the Christmas program at the Early Learning Center where Crystal and I work.  It’s always fun to see the kids get dressed up and go to the front of the sanctuary and sing carols together.  There is a lot of joy and excitement and chaos, and it’s all great. 

There was one particular kid this year who had an incredible amount of energy and excitement.  He knew how to celebrate the birth of a savior.  While most of the kids were singing fairly quietly and some had obviously forgotten some of the words to “Silent Night,” this kid was singing loud and proud, belting out all of the words as he danced and jumped twirled.  It was obvious to anybody who was watching that there was nothing more important in that moment for that boy than to be singing about the birth of Christ.

Manger – Who Is Praising?

Let’s look again at the crèche at the front of the sanctuary.  We see the people gathered together around the manger.  What are they doing?  They’re praising God for the gift of the Savior.  We’ve got Mary, and Joseph, and the Shepherds.  We know that the Magi are on their way.  We have the angel in the back, the very first to proclaim praise to God for the coming Messiah.

But other than these people and the angel…  Who else is there at the manger?  We have sheep baa-ing.  Cows mooing.  Donkeys…  What is the word for what donkeys do?  We always imagine that these animals weren’t just sitting there oblivious to the birth of Jesus, but that they, too, were joining in the celebration.

This psalm goes even further than inviting all of the animals who we imagine at the manger to praise the Lord.  Praise God, you fish!  Praise God, fire, and hail, and snow, and smoke!  Sun, moon, mountains, and trees! 

Francis of Assisi

It’s not possible for me to read this hymn without my mind turning to St. Francis of Assisi.  Francis was known for his love of nature and of all of the animals of the earth.  Francis didn’t just speak adoringly about flowers.  Instead, “he spoke to the flowers, and encouraged them, as though they could understand him, to praise the Lord.”[1]  There is a story that, while he was preaching a sermon he noticed that there were birds listening to his sermon.  Later, in reflecting on that moment, he chided himself for not having thought of preaching to the birds before.[2]  He took this psalm very seriously, and never missed an opportunity to invite all of creation to join him in serving and praising God.

In the winter of the year 1224, Francis found himself in declining health.  He was nearly blind, breathing was increasingly difficult, and he was suffering from painful wounds.  But despite his pain, he began to write a song as he laid in bed recovering from his illnesses.  The song wasn’t a lament for his illness or for the unknown future of his movement – instead, it was a song of praise to God for all of the beauty and joy of God’s creation.  He wrote, ““Be praised, my Lord, for the blessed Brother Sun who gives us the day and enlightens us through You… for Sister Moon and the stars, formed by You so bright, precious, and beautiful.”

That song he wrote became known as “The Canticle of the Sun.”  The song has been translated and paraphrased many times – the most well-known English paraphrase can actually be found in our hymnal under the title, “All Creatures of Our God and King.” 

I’ll end my meditation by inviting you all to stand and sing that hymn together, number 62 in the hymnal.  As you sing and offer your own praises, I invite you to listen for and imagine the ways that all of creation are joining you in praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

[1] James Howell, “Commentary on Psalm 148” at WorkingPreacher.  December 30, 2012. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1519

[2] “St. Francis of Assisi,” accessed at “New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06221a.htm