Playing Psalms — An Advent Series, Act 1

Today, the world kicks-off Advent, the season of preparation leading up to Christmas, and we’re taking part by having some fun Playing Psalms together.

The particular Psalms that we’ll be playing in this series are the Royal ones that not only make use of mental images of monarchs but move us toward Messiah.

I read recently that the Psalms “play upon the keyboard of the human soul with all the stops pulled out” (J. Vernon McGee in Psalms, Volume 1). I love that. So, let’s close our eyes and take a few deep breaths, asking the Holy Spirit to come and play upon the keyboards of our souls. 

Now, let’s play — as in music. Play, as in explore. Play, as in allowing our imaginations to carry us off to distant lands where emperors ruled and a long-expected King finally came to earth. As a baby. In a manger.

Remaining in our imaginations a moment longer, we allow ourselves to see a stage. A curtain rising. A hush falling over the audience. Our own anticipation soaring.  

Photo by Rob Laughter on Unsplash

We release all our assumptions, yet fully expect that Jesus — the star of the show — will move in us, preparing us for His presence.

It is time.

Act One, Scene One

Act One of our great Christmas production, Playing Psalms: An Advent Series, takes us to Psalm 2. This Royal Psalm is a collection of kingly imagery that points us to earthly kings, as well as, the King of Kings. If you were able to read Psalm 2 ahead, what treasures of regal renown did you find?  Perhaps, gems such as,

“The One enthroned in heaven” in verse 4?

“I have installed my King on Zion” in verse 6?

“You will rule them with an iron scepter” in verse 9?

And, you would be spot on. Kings sit on thrones. They aren’t voted-in or nominated — they’re set, or installed, often born into the role. Kings rule with great might and power, so we’ll see all sorts of imagery in our Royal Psalms, like scepters, that help us remember that Jesus is King.

Our first scene opens. Our narrator (or author) is unnamed, but he quickly makes us witnesses to much of Israel’s history:

Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his Anointed One, saying,
“Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”

Psalm 2:1-3

Earthly kings oppressed the nation of Israel multiple times throughout the generations — sometimes the people of God were slaves, other times vassals to cruel kings who asserted their rule over them in the darkest, vilest ways. 

Even while Jesus walked the earth, the Jews were subject to the Roman Empire. And after Jesus’ ascension, Christians were persecuted for following Him. Peter and John, two apostles imprisoned for preaching their faith, prayed with the church after their release, directly quoting the first two verses of Psalm 2 (see Acts 4:23-31) as part of their prayer.

These leaders of the early church dabbled in the diatribe of the psalmist, drawing their listeners into the rich history of God’s people. By citing a Psalm, Peter and John connected their current circumstances to those of their ancestors, offering hope and building faith.

Just as they did then, the Psalms give us language now for our own prayers, anchoring us to ancestors who have offered prayers of praise and deliverance for millennia.

Scene Two

As the cries of the oppressed grow louder, our second scene opens abruptly with the sound of…laughter? 

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
    on Zion, my holy mountain.”

Psalm 2:4-6

The One enthroned laughs — the kind of laugh that a person with all the power uses when they’re about to demonstrate their might. Gulp.

We’ve heard maniacal laughs in the movies. We know what comes next…

Lightning. Thunder. Power unleashed upon the people.

While God doesn’t scoff with any evil intent, He does know that He holds all the power, so enemies beware!

In the days when the Psalms were written, the world was full of kings — the kind of leaders who imposed might to ensure their right to rule over their people. And, believe it or not, our Christmas songs sometimes reflect this reality.

Enter stage right — the choir:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

O come, thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And Death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel

O come, desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease
Fill the whole world with Heaven’s peace
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

A song originally written in Latin, translations of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” vary in subtle ways, but the theme is always — Help us, God! A cry heard over and over in the Psalms.

Scene Three

The choir exits, and our third scene opens with a proclamation from God. (Try really hard not to hear Darth Vader’s voice as you read verse 7…):

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have become your father.
Ask me,
    and I will make the nations your inheritance,
    the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with an iron scepter;
    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Psalm 2:7-9

The Anointed One from verse 2 sits on the throne as God’s Son, ruling all the earth, a vision that brought much hope to the oppressed people of God. And to us. 

The early church knew this Anointed One as their Savior, specifically seen in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5, where church leaders like Paul intentionally drew from the prophets and wisdom writings (like Psalms) to show Jesus as Messiah — the One sent to help.

Scene Four

The big THEREFORE opens our final scene with a flourish of trumpets and a booming word to the earthly kings:

Therefore, you kings, be wise;
    be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear
    and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his Son, or he will be angry
    and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2:10-12

The warning is issued. The call to “kiss the Son” is made: kings of the earth, humble yourselves and submit to the King.

In case kissing images flood your imagination with the likes of polite air kisses of Europeans or mommy kissing Santa Claus — this is not that.

This is a knees-to-floor, head bowed kind of hand-kissing. The kind of kiss that says, You are my Lord. I am humbly Yours. 

Photo by Arturo Rey on Unsplash

All nations. All people. Of all time. Will bow to Jesus, our King. Even in the end of days. Revelation beautifully incorporates Psalm 2 to make that point: 

To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—He ‘will rule them with an iron scepter…’

(Revelation 2:26-27a)

The first act comes to a close with a final reminder that all who take refuge in this Messiah will be blessed.

The curtain drops. We hear rustling sounds as the set changes in preparation for the second act. We look at our playbill, wondering what the second act will hold…

Before we leave here today, allow me to ask the question Anglican Minister Simon Finders once asked of his church: Who are you kissing this Christmas?

Sure, your loved one under the mistletoe.

Yes, your friends and family as you greet them throughout the holidays.

But, how about Jesus?

This Advent, as we seek to prepare our hearts and spirits for the coming of Christ, let’s try bowing to our King. There is something powerful in getting low before Jesus — the One who was raised up so we could live forever.

And, let’s keep the words (and haunting tune) of ”O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in the mix of our Christmas playlists so we don’t lose sight of Jesus as our Savior King.

The King is coming! Let’s be ready!

Speaking of being ready — if you want to read ahead for next Sunday, read all of Psalm 22, looking for signs of royalty or Messiah. And, don’t forget to follow this blog so you won’t miss a post!

Sending you Christmas kisses, Shelley Johnson

Header photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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