73 Your hands have made me and fashioned me;
Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.
74 Those who fear You will be glad when they see me,
Because I have hoped in Your word.
75 I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
76 Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort,
According to Your word to Your servant.
77 Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live;
For Your law is my delight.
78 Let the proud be ashamed,
For they treated me wrongfully with falsehood;
But I will meditate on Your precepts.
79 Let those who fear You turn to me,
Those who know Your testimonies.
80 Let my heart be blameless regarding Your statutes,
That I may not be ashamed.
This being Christmas Day, I cannot help but reflect upon the gifts of this season. Of course, there are the obvious things – family, fellowship, presents under a tree – and the less-obvious things – clothing and feeding the poor, compassion for strangers and those in prison. There are the gifts of the Magi who visited Jesus after His birth: gold for the King of kings, frankincense for the High Priest, myrrh for the Lamb of God sent to die for our sins. The greatest gift is, of course, the gift of God’s only begotten Son, Christ Jesus, born to die so that we may live.
The coming of Christ is foretold throughout the Old Testament. The Hebrew Bible is full of references, overt and covert, to the coming Messiah. Even in today’s verses from Psalms 119:73-80, we see the psalmist referring to God’s great mercy and the gift of life only He can give. God has His hand upon our lives from the very beginning.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
God’s hands knit us in our mothers’ wombs, forming and shaping our hearts and our bodies, creating us for good works that He has prepared in advance for us to do. He counts the very hairs on our heads, and although we are born in sin – inheriting as we do our parents’ predisposition to sinfulness – He yet finds us worthy to bless. God extends His grace and mercy to all, and the only question is then, “What do we do with His grace?”
What do we do when our Creator has so blessed us with life? Looking at the lives of so many around us, it would seem there is no end to how people answer that question. Or is there? Perhaps the answer is, as they say, staring us right in the face. I think we have been given the answer to that great question – “What do we do with the life God has given us?” – and yet we do not pay attention to the answer that is right in front of us. It is as if we have been given the answers to the greatest final exam of all time, we are right in the middle of an open-book test, and yet we never open the Book!
Now I am not so foolish as to say or believe that the Bible is the ultimate manual for all answers to all questions. Were that the case, the Bible would include the sum total of all knowledge, a vast library of a book. No, that is not what the Bible is, nor even what it is meant to be. The Word of God is, as the psalmist reminds us, several different things:
• God’s law – This is the Torah, better known as the Ten Commandments, the basis of nearly every legal system on earth.
• God’s judgments – The other end of any system of justice is the consequences, good and bad, for our actions.
• God’s commandments – These are God’s prescription for holy living, a guide to right and wrong, and also a clear indicator of what is acceptable and what is abominable to the Lord.
• God’s precepts – This term is used collectively for the whole of God’s law (“torah”) and commandments (“mitzvah”), encompassing all of what God sees as righteous living.
• God’s testimonies – The recorded history of His chosen people and His beloved Son shows us the way to live our own lives.
• God’s statutes – These are the things God has appointed us to do – covenants, sacraments, remembrances – that are mere hints of His greater desire for us in love and holiness.
Do you see what the Bible is? The Bible – our beloved God-breathed Scripture – is not a science textbook, it is a guidebook to how to live our lives. Wouldn’t we all like to know how to live better, find more joy, have better families, be treated better by our friends? Wouldn’t we all like to know Love more completely? That is what the Word of God is for.
The writer of the 119th Psalm is seeking God’s “tender mercies”, he wants to have a pure and blameless heart. The psalmist HOPES in God’s Word, he KNOWS that God’s judgments are right, he DELIGHTS in God’s law, and he MEDITATES on the whole of God’s Word. Furthermore, the psalmist knows that there is no shame in these things, that knowing and seeking and understanding God’s Word is a great thing, that it will bring like-minded people together. Infusing our lives with the Word of the living God is good for us, but those who are too proud to humble themselves to God’s Word find shame and face His judgment. In short, the Bible is a guidebook for what to do with this life we have been given.
This great gift of eternal life should not be squandered in petty pursuits. We all know that as children we developed a sense of desire for bigger gifts, and each year many of us seek to “show our love” by giving better gifts to our family and friends than we have ever given before. Is that what God wishes for us? Is this competitive gift-giving something found in God’s Word? Are we called to plan and spend and worry so much over Christmas gifts?
Isaiah 1:21-23 (NIV)
21 See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her – but now murderers!
22 Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water.
23 Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.
Gifts are not what we should seek! Nor are gifts what we should give!
16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
17 Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.”
This Christmas, let us reflect on the words of the Son of God.
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;
36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?
38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?
39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'”
Come, brothers and sisters, and let us enter into that eternal life that we have been given. Let us heed the very Word of God and choose not only to accept that great gift but to bestow tender mercies upon others. Let us shift our focus away from friends and family and onto the kingdom of God. Look to the Bible, and see there the holy law, commandments, judgments, precepts, testimonies and statutes that will transform your lives. Seek God’s Word and find there the very breath of God giving us new life and new direction. A life of faithfulness in Christ Jesus is an “open-book life,” so let us OPEN THE BOOK so that we may live!
Father God, today we celebrate the birth of Your only begotten Son, the One sent to be the Lamb of God, Messiah, Redeemer, Emmanuel. Lord God, teach us to reflect upon Jesus’ birth every day, to live our lives as if each day were Christmas – full of joy and mercy and a spirit of giving. But mostly, Father, guide our hearts through Your Holy Spirit and Your Holy Bible so that we may learn to be so perfectly loving and compassionate and merciful as You. Amen.