“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” (Ps 96:8). There are many reasons to thank God. When a person looks back through the years, perhaps he thinks of peace, perhaps on his long health, happiness in the family, and many other good things. Some find they have much to be thankful for. Others perhaps have the desire to come to terms with God. They do not think that they have received so much as they had expected or as others have received. But everyone has a great reason to give thanks, a reason that surpasses everything else, though many don’t think of it. It is always there and ought to fill a life with songs of praise. It is this: that God is God. That God is and that He is who He is. This is what is meant by: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” Then a person quits looking at God’s gifts. They see God Himself. They quit looking at the world from their own perspectives. They no longer think only about what benefits they have had from God and which of their desires He has fulfilled. They see God’s majesty and glory. Like the psalmist, they can say, “My mouth will praise you with joyful lips, / when I remember you upon my bed, / and meditate on you in the watches of the night” (Ps 63:5–6). Holy song can give us a reminder of this. It has the ability to reveal to man that the deepest and best thing in life is not necessarily good health, modern housing, and good food, no matter how good these things may be. There is something behind all this that is a greater wealth. A singer can experience it when the treasury of music opens before him. A church singer can experience it even more deeply when holy music holds the door to another world ajar.
Today, we will speak about the greatest thankfulness and the greatest joy.
Luke 19 shows us something of this joy. It says that in their joy, all the disciples began to praise God with a loud voice. Here comes Christ, God’s Messiah. God visited His people, and their joy surged as they met Him on the Mount of Olives. Today, we will speak about the greatest thankfulness and the greatest joy.
The joy for the miracles we have seen
This is what the first crowd of people rejoiced over. They praised God with a loud voice for the miracles they had seen. Through that which Christ had done among them, they had seen some of God’s power and glory. They had understood who God was. They had seen how Jesus came as a doctor for the sick, how He was the friend of publicans and sinners, how He had mercy on those who others pushed away. They had seen His power over disease and death. And most could say what John said: We saw His glory, that of an only begotten son, the glory of His Father.
We should all be able to agree with this thanks. We too have seen His miracles. His hand has also touched us. We have been baptized in His name. He Himself has made us His disciples. And he who follows His call and willingly learns from Him, he has encountered His miracles again and again. He has seen it in life, in the events where he has been able to see God’s hand guiding his steps so many times. But above all, he notices it in his heart. How does it go when a man listens to God’s word? Everyone who has done it knows something about the matter. They encounter a power that they did not know much about before. They understand that God’s demand is really intended to be met. God’s law is not something that changes from age to age. It is not something a person can discuss. Here God Himself says, You shall. You shall not. And here we all come up too short. Who loves his neighbor as himself? Who is just as concerned about another’s honor as he is about his own? Who is willing to share and give to others and feels the same great joy as if he himself had received the money that he has given away? Who is so pure in his heart and his intentions that he could write them all on the wall? It belongs to God’s miracles that through His word, He judges our hearts—and judges them in such a manner that a man does not become angry and argue but bows his head in the confession of sin and says, Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.
God’s law is not something that changes from age to age. It is not something a person can discuss. Here God Himself says, You shall. You shall not. And here we all come up too short.
But then God performs an even greater miracle. He atones for our sin. He makes the ungodly righteous. He forgives and forgives again. Here a person may see God’s greatest miracle: that He gave His own Son, that He who was God made our sin into His and took the punishment upon Himself, that He died for it and rose again and now lives and descends upon the earth in order to give grace upon grace to us sinners.
When a person is able to see this miracle of God and be thankful for it, then there is something of this joy: that this is the way God is every day. It may show itself in everyday life. A person begins to forgive and serve in such a manner as was not possible for him before. But it also shows itself in that a man perceives how this glory of God, this His strange essence, shines through everything. It can be seen out in nature, shining in the evening skies, over the fields and forests. It is heard in the wind and perceived in a frosty late autumn evening under the stars. A man also encounters these miracles of God in holy music. They are understood in a new way when they are sung from the heart. He not only holds his voice and sings clean and well but also prays to God in his heart and perceives that he stands before God and sings to God’s glory. Here he learns how precisely a person can experience how great it is to have a God and that it is good to thank the Lord. When one looks back on the years that have passed and when a man wants to thank God for all His miracles, then perhaps he first and foremost is reminded of the moment when he became absorbed with praising God with his heart and tongue, moments when they shared praise with so many singers who lifted the heart away from everyday life. In such moments, it can be as in the great crowd of disciples on the Mount of Olives. All will rejoice and be glad and give thanks to the God who creates such a miracle.
But we can continue and still say one more thing: this is joy.