Readings for the Christmas Season
The twelfth day of Christmas
1 Give the king your justice, O God,
…..and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
…..and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
…..and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
…..give deliverance to the needy,
…..and crush the oppressor.
5 May he live while the sun endures,
…..and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
…..like showers that water the earth.
7 In his days may righteousness flourish
…..and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
8 May he have dominion from sea to sea,
…..and from the River to the ends of the earth.
9 May his foes bow down before him,
…..and his enemies lick the dust.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
…..render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
11 May all kings fall down before him,
…..all nations give him service.
12 For he delivers the needy when they call,
…..the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
…..and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
…..and precious is their blood in his sight.
15 Long may he live!
…..May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
…..and blessings invoked for him all day long.
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land;
…..may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
…..may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
…..like the grass of the field.
17 May his name endure for ever,
…..his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;
…..may they pronounce him happy. Psalm 72:1-17
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The 1984 translation of the New International Version (NIV) translated all these verbs into the future tense: “He will judge your people in righteousness…He will defend the afflicted…He will endure as long as the sun…He will be like rain falling on a mown field.” They couldn’t resist reading the psalm as a promise rather than a prayer. I’m not sure they weren’t right.
I know that linguistically the translation ‘may’ is probably safer. But this psalm has its origins in political rhetoric. This is an enthronement psalm. Kings have always been greeted with pretentious language. More profoundly, Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Jr in their book Psalms refer to these as divine imperatives describing what the king must do. Some sense of that is captured by the Tanakh Translation of the Jewish Publication Society when it translates the psalm saying “Let him champion the lowly…let him be like rain that falls on a mown field.”
What we saw in Jesus was a reign like this. What we see in Jesus is a reign like this. He defends the lowly. He delivers the needy. He cares for the poor. He redeems their life. The lifeblood of even the weakest among us is precious in his sight. He is like that first rain at the end of the dry season that promises goodness to the coming year. And he, we confess, will reign from sea to sea. Before him all kings will ultimately bow; all creation will come under his gracious and glorious rule. The earth will be brought into his peace.
So, yes, the psalm is a prayer – but it is also promise. And when the magi come to bow down they invite us all to bow down and come under his glorious and gentle rule.