Psalm 72 Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, great David’s greater Son! Hail in the time appointed, his reign on earth begun! He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free; to take away transgression, and rule in equity.
2. He comes with succor speedy to those who suffer wrong; to help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong; to give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light, whose souls, condemned and dying, are precious in his sight.
3. He shall come down like showers upon the fruitful earth; love, joy, and hope, like flowers, spring in his path to birth. Before him on the mountains, shall peace, the herald, go, and righteousness, in fountains, from hill to valley flow.
4. To him shall prayer unceasing and daily vows ascend; his kingdom still increasing, a kingdom without end. The tide of time shall never his covenant remove; his name shall stand forever; that name to us is love.
Montgomery’s great paraphrase of Psalm 72 was written for Christmas 1821 and has been a firm staple of Advent services ever since. It celebrates with exhilaration the righteous rule of a great king. As befits the Lord’s anointed, he reflects God’s attributes. He will rule in equity, treat with justice those who are poor and needy and break those who oppress them. In political, economic, social and spiritual dimensions, he will bring abundant new life to human beings and life and harmony to all creation. His far-reaching power will be recognised by all nations, and the whole world will find blessing.
Of course, no king in Israel’s history ever matched that glorious vision but there are hints in the hymn that Montgomery is identifying this one with the Messiah. Verse 1 resonates with Isaiah 61.1 which at Luke 4.18 Jesus appropriates so memorably to himself at the start of his ministry; and the final couplet of verse 5 clinches the matter with its startling, dramatic emphasis on the mighty king’s name, Love.
And so we are invited to read the hymn with Christ in mind. What is the relationship then between our mighty monarch and ourselves? Montgomery himself was passionately engaged with social justice issues, campaigning against slavery, and boy chimney sweeps, and was imprisoned for an editorial which he wrote for the Sheffield Iris. Do we too reflect the attributes of God? Do we take a stand against oppression and violence, not counting the cost? Do we intervene on behalf of the poor? Do we actively help those who have no one to stand up for them? As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Messiah, are we heralds of God’s transforming peace and righteousness? and do we praise God for his blessings?
God of justice, life and power, you have given Jesus Christ sovereignty over every age and nation. Guide us, in his love so to care for the poor and needy and challenge those who oppress them that your righteous rule may be acknowledged by all people and your name be praised. Amen
The Rev’d Fleur Houston, retired minister, member of Macclesfield and Bollington URC.