And for this kind of gift, Psalm 67, a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving, was composed for congregational singing, from ancient of days. It has also been sung, from then until now, at Jewish worship, as a concluding hymn. Christians too recognize it for the blessing called, the Aaronic blessing, used at the end of our worship: “The LORD bless you and keep you, the LORD’s face shine on you and be gracious to you, and the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.”
In our baptism service then, the first question that is asked, is: if you “trust in the grace and love of God, do you desire to have your child baptized into Christ?” Do we? Do we trust in the grace and love of God? Are we ready to sing God’s praises?
Surely grace and blessing are intimately woven together in our understanding of God. As Lutherans we hold dear the confession that, “we are saved by grace through faith.” As biblical professor Rolf Jacobson says, “God's blessing is by grace alone because God blesses whom God chooses, when God chooses, for the reasons God chooses. God's blessings are gracious, surprising, unexpected gifts. This is clear throughout the biblical narrative. One need think only of Sarah. God announces to Abraham in Genesis 17 that, ‘I will bless [Sarah] and will surely give her a son by you.’ Abraham then laughs at God and counter-offers, ‘O that Ishmael [the son I have by Hagar] might live in your sight.’ God does answer Abraham's prayer and blesses Ishmael. But God goes Abraham one better and saves the most surprising blessing for Sarah. A free gift of grace.” Abraham and Sarah become parents to Isaac in their 90’s, and God has the last laugh. And the chosen people – through whom we are also called today in a new covenant – are launched on their way, and God’s promise is resurrected from what had seemed dead! Every blessing is a surprise, and perhaps, a wake up call.
The gift of grace given to the Israel, God’s chosen people, continues to grow in surprising new ways, through Jacob, and Hannah, and David, just to mention a few. The realm of God finds a fertile soil for life, and becomes incarnate in, conniving patriarchs and cave dwelling prophets, in shepherd-kings and unclean foreigners. Until one day, it comes also to a maiden in Galilee. An unmarried and unsuspecting teenager who is called “blessed.” Mary becomes highly favored, the God-bearer, laying the Son of God in a lowly manger, as a wayfarer, a refugee in Bethlehem. “Let your word be with me just as you say,” says Mary to the angel Gabriel.
Despite the shock, is Mary faithful to this sudden unbidden announcement? It would seem so! Is she able to believe in this miracle? She says she is! Will she be remembered for the utter lack of her ability to control how she receives this gift and promise? Ya, exactly! And we are Mary’s children too, as we are children of Abraham and Sarah. The promise and gift is passed down to us, and we have no control over this life we have been given, this gift of faith that has grabbed hold of us, unbidden; this new family called the church, which the Holy Spirit has enlivened, and made us members of.
We only really know that our faith is strengthened when we remember to count our blessings. And so we sing with the Psalmist: “Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.” This is our refrain. This worship is our gift, given back. A response, though God’s grace can never be repaid. There is not even any interest we can repay on the “principle” of this gift we have received. The surprising gift of grace is free, like the Woman of Wisdom in Isaiah who hawks us, and all passers-by, to ‘Come: eat and drink without money,’ it’s all free!
Do we give thanks? For all the blessings we receive, we will never have enough songs to properly give thanks! So, what is the point, then? The question must be restated: Do we realize what we have? And, do we have so much, that we don’t remember where it comes from? Instead of living in mind-games, can we live out our thanks after the song, in lives of thanksgiving, not letting ourselves be overwhelmed, by work or loneliness, or too much fun in the sun!
"The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us," says the Psalmist, reflecting the bounty of our blessings! Everything we have comes from God! We can, and do forget, unless, unless we have a song, or a prayer, or a liturgy to call them to mind for us. Which is the first step to living lives of thanksgiving in faith, and the very threshold to the gates where we enter the joy, and the experience of grace, that God has given us. “The earth has yielded its increase,” reminds us of the bounty of the earth that feeds us, but also, the social institutions that bind us together, the formation and traditions of our family, the healing care of doctors and clinicians, the musicians and artists that color and inspire our world, and the hope that lives in a new generation. The list of blessings is endless. When we take the time and effort to name them, they begin to take on flesh and become incarnate in and for us – blessings that are God-given.
Mary was called “blessed.” But you’d have to say that she was also a blessing to us, for her response in song, and her life lived for Christ. We too live lives for Christ, counting our blessings. Sometimes, when things are good, and we begin to take our lives for granted, or when they are not so good, and we likewise become separated from God, we need a wake up call. Today, this very morning, in this baptism, this splash of cold water, we have been awakened by this gift, this miracle of Madie to her parents, and now also, to all of us. For in her, in her incarnate little 4 month old miraculous self, shines forth a gift so obvious, we are bowled over and driven to tears, for all the blessings of God poured down on us!
“Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you!”