YEAR C: BAPTISM OF JESUS
(Sunday between January 7 and January 13)
The praise at the end of the lament in Psalm 28 is extended in Psalm 29. The imagery of strength is also carried over into Psalm 29 which bombards the reader with images of power and strength. At the same time the brief pastoral note in Ps 28:9b is picked up with images of a wild storm over the landscape (vv. 5-8) and of the hills etc. skipping like calves. The language could indeed imply more than this with overtones of writhing with birth pains. The images of strength are accompanied by ones of fertility and new life springing forth. The psalm is, therefore, fitting to read on the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus.
This psalm might well be an old Canaanite hymn to the god Baal which has been modified for worship of Yahweh. It begins with the heavenly host called on to give glory to Yahweh. The language of creation writhing/skipping, and of the storm all fits the description of Baal. In Hebrew the word ‘voice’ can also mean thunder. That language, however, has also been adopted to describe Israel’s god, Yahweh. It is evident in the description of Yahweh’s appearance at Mt. Sinai (cf. Exod 19:16-25).
This statement of the power of Yahweh in creation, or nature, was evidence in the ancient world of Yahweh’s supreme power over all forces. Thus, at the end of the psalm the image of Yahweh sitting enthroned over the flood is recalled expressing again in mythic and poetic language that not even cosmic forces of evil will threaten this one enthroned over all.
The praise of Yahweh evident in the natural world is echoed in this psalm by the praise of all who celebrate in the temple. Earth’s praise of Yahweh is echoed by that of the worshipping community. And so the psalm concludes with a prayer that this one who is supreme over all may give strength to his people and bless them with peace.
Such images of power might not seem consistent with those of the babe in the manger in Bethlehem. But they are a reminder that in the story of the babe, something far greater is unfolding than the simple, homely story of a poor family and their first child. Something cosmic, something universal is entering into human space and time, and it is coming to those least expected to bear it. So too in the story of Jesus’ baptism by the itinerant preacher John (or even in our own baptismal services), we are drawn in our readings into a happening that far surpasses the simple sequence of visible events. Nothing less than the kingdom of God is unfolding in them.
Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:
The beginning of this psalm (Ps 29:1-2), which is repeated with some changes in Ps 96:7-9 (see the comment on the psalms for Christmas Day), would serve well as a call to worship for the congregation.
The main body of the psalm (29:3-10) is essentially a hymn of praise and could serve as a prayer of adoration, although the strength of the language and the imagery which depends so much on ancient mythic material, would need some comment either in the sermon or briefly before the prayer.
Finally, the end of the psalm, v. 11, makes an ideal introduction to the blessing at the end of the service leading into the blessing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
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