Psalm 85: 9-13 (NIV)
9 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.
12 The LORD will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.
13 Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.
I consider this to be one of the most gloriously evocative passages among the psalms. The poetic personification of love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace is to me unequalled in the Psalter. Heaven reaches down to earth in love, greeting the faithful among all that the LORD has created and embracing them – and they eagerly respond with an even deeper faith to the one who has redeemed and is sanctifying them.
Tradition links this Psalm with the song of the heavenly host to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2: 14):
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.
As one educated and qualified as a civil engineer, I tended to like to know “how” something worked. If the “how” of a situation could not be explained to me, my scepticism could then cause me to wonder whether the person representing that situation to me had a grasp of all the facts.
The visit of the angel Gabriel (Luke 1: 26-38) to the young girl, Mary, once raised in me a set of “how” questions. I realise now that God does not always invite me to know “how”; he merely asks that I believe. Perhaps that is why, in this part of Luke’s Gospel where rational thought struggles to understand what is actually about to occur, the language of poetry depicts the situation far more appropriately than simple narrative ever could.
“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other,” beautifully represents what the angel described to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35).
“Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven,” depicts in a tender way Mary’s response to the angel’s message: “I am the Lord’s servant, … may it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1: 38).
Applying the words of this second section of Psalm 85 to the birth narratives of both John the Baptiser and Jesus allows us to appreciate what salvation could mean for us while we continue to live on this earth. “Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land” (verse 9).
Oh that his glory might dwell in our land!
In fact it does! His glory dwells in the heart of every person who loves him as Mary loved him and who responds to his call in simple faith and obedience.
Let us pray this Christmas that we may always and readily be able to respond to the Lord as did Mary.
I am the Lord’s servant, … may it be to me as you have said.