We all like hearing new music. We get excited when our favorite artists release new songs. When it happens, we quickly head to the store to buy the CD, or download the songs from iTunes. Yet, we must admit, it takes time for the new songs to have meaning. The old songs, the classics that made our favorite artists famous, have a strong pull on our hearts. We hear the old songs and we are taken back to favorite memories and shared experiences. Some favorite songs take us back to our wedding days, or to shared time with grandparents. There’s something powerful about the old songs.
Sometimes we forget that the book of Psalms is actually a book of songs. These are the ancient hymns of Israel. They are the songs that were sung at festivals and community gatherings in Jerusalem, as well as by individuals and families in their own homes. These songs have memories and remind us of what God has done in the past. Psalm 96 is one such song with a rich history for the people of God.
The writer of Chronicles tells us that Psalm 96 was one of the songs sung when David brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant is the place where God dwells. It is God’s presence with the community, the people, and the nation. Obviously, God is not confined to the ark, God can and does dwell in other places. But God chooses to specifically dwell on the mercy-seat of the ark of the covenant. This is sacred space. This is a holy place. Since Israel entered the promised land the ark has resided in multiple cities, but from now on the ark will reside in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will become the central religious city, the great city of God. And as the ark is brought into Jerusalem, in some ways signifying God’s presence is in this place, Asaph and the other singers sing songs of praise, one of which is Psalm 96.
“O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day-to-day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.” (Psalm 96:1-3)
God is coming to dwell and be present in a new way. This is a great moment for Israel, a time to sing a new song.
The history of Psalm 96 doesn’t end with the Temple, it continues. For liturgical churches that follow the church calendar, Psalm 96 is one of the Psalms read at Christmas every year. On either Christmas eve or Christmas day, churches read this song to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. God has become flesh, and God’s presence is now manifested to humanity in a new way. For generations, Israel knew that God dwelt in the Temple, but that presence was always mediated through the priesthood. Now, God is dwelling with the people. God’s presence is now real flesh and blood. This is a time to celebrate. This is a time to rejoice and sing a new song. Salvation has come to this place. Today, it is not Caesar who is lord, or Herod, or some other fake deity. No, the Lord reigns over all the earth. So we join our voices with those that have gone before and sing a new song for God’s presence is real and manifested before us in a new way.
But Psalm 96 is not just a song to remind us of our history or to help us share our story. Psalm 96 reminds us that it is time to sing a new song. Yes, God has worked in history, but even now God is working in a new way. At one time God’s presence was located in the Temple, or in the Son, but now we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are God’s image bearers. The presence of God now lives in us and we are able to take the presence and manifest that presence to the world. In places of joy we take God’s presence and declare, sing a new song for the Lord reigns. In places of heartache we take God’s presence and declare, this is not the end, but even now we can sing a new song for the Lord reigns and will do something new. As we sing we bring a message of Good News to the world, the presence of God is among you. It’s time to celebrate and rejoice for the glory of the Lord is here.
It’s good to sing old songs; to remember all that God has done in the past. We sing Psalm 96 to remember all that God has done in the past. But we come together today to sing a new song. We sing Psalm 96 as a new song. The Lord is Coming. The Lord Reigns. God’s presence is manifested in the world through us. So lift your voices and sing a new song; salvation has come in this place.