Give praise, you servants of the LORD;
Praise the Name of the LORD. (1)
Let the Name of the LORD be blessed,
From this time forth for evermore. (2)
From the rising of the sun to its going down
Let the Name of the LORD be praised. (3)
The LORD is high above all nations,
And his glory above the heavens. (4)
Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high,
But stoops to behold the heavens and the earth? (5)
He takes up the weak out of the dust
And lifts up the poor from the ashes. (6)
He sets them with the princes,
With the princes of his people. (7)
He makes the woman of a childless house
To be a joyful mother of children.” (8) (Psalm 113)
What may be an unfamiliar psalm during the Advent season sums up so well the reason we celebrate and worship God during this time -- God visited us. Or, as this psalm puts it, He stooped to behold us.
The first two verses of this Psalm give us its purpose. The psalmist cannot contain his joy over God's grace, mercy and love for His people. So he begins his song with praise to God and exhorts us to praise God along with him all day long and forevermore. But why should we praise God, you might ask? The psalmist answers this for us.
Just like I wrote in my first Advent post about how I was overwhelmed by the stark contrast between God's status and our status and yet how He came to us, the same is true of the psalmist. God is greater than all nations and His glory transcends higher than the heavens. He is seated on the highest post possible, higher than our imaginations can take us. He is so high that he looks down on both the heavens and the earth; neither can contain Him. He is that big! Then there is God's people. The imagery the psalmist uses is of one that describes the people being in extreme poverty and misery. They are as low as you can go. And, they are without dignity, as "the barren woman" suggests. Perhaps the psalmist had in mind Sarah, an old and barren woman, married to Abraham. Perhaps the psalmist had in mind his people when they were slaves in Egypt. There are many accounts in the Old Testament of which this psalm could be true.
The point, however, is that this God who is so great "stoops to behold" His people in order to raise the poor, lift the needy, give dignity, and make the barren women "the joyous mother of children." One scholar wrote, "This short hymn of praise celebrates the way in which the great and majestic God who rules over all takes notice of the lowly. … God's majesty never implies his remoteness from those who look to him; it implies instead his exhaustive attention to detail, and his inexhaustible ability to care for his faithful."*
As God intends, Scripture doesn't just point backwards or speak of present things, but it all points to His Son, Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God's stooping only came so far. He sent angels; He spoke through a burning bush; He worked through mighty acts of His people. But there came a day when God himself came to earth. As Philippians 2 tells us, Christ humbled himself. He left the majestic presence of the Trinity to become human. He didn't give up his deity, but became incarnate, both God and man, so that His name could be "Immanuel," which means "God with us."
As was true of Sarah, God made Mary pregnant. It was not because of her age that her pregnancy was a miracle. It was because she was a virgin. She had not had sexual relations with a man. There was also another who became pregnant, more like Sarah because of her age, and her name was Elizabeth. Unlike Mary, Elizabeth was not impregnated by the Holy Spirit but by her husband. Still her pregnancy was a miracle given her age. Elizabeth’s child, John, would prepare the way for the Christ child. In fact these two miracle pregnancies were indicators that God was up to something, was in the business of stooping to behold us.
Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, gets at this great reversal. God’s stooping results in the raising of the humble and poor in spirit and the demotion of the prideful and wicked.
The season of Advent, therefore, reminds us that God has not left us alone in our misery, in our poverty, or in our states of improbability. No; because of his great love for us He will raise us up to sit in the throne room of heaven with Him! "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
The greatest irony of all is that in His stooping to notice the lowly, He himself became lowly. A baby. Born in a place where animals are kept. Born to a poor family. But He became lowly so that in raising Himself up from the dead He might also raise us up to walk in the newness of life with Him!
So with the psalmist I, too, say, "Hallelujah! Give praise, you servants of the LORD! Praise the Name of the LORD! Let the Name of the LORD be blessed, from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its going down let the Name of the LORD be praised!" Amen.
*See ESV Study Bible notes on Psalm 113.