Psalm 8 - How Wondrous is Your Name!
Fr. Wilbur David Ellsworth · December 23, 2010
Fr. Wilbur speaks about the hymn of entrance for the Incarnation of the Son of God.
O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is Thy Name in all the earth! For Thy magnificence is lifted high above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou perfected praise, because of Thine enemies, to destroy the enemy and the avenger.
For I will behold the heavens, the works of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast founded.
What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that Thou visitest him?
Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels; with glory and honor hast Thou crowned him, and Thou hast set him over the works of Thy hands.
All things hast Thou subjected under his feet, sheep, and all oxen, yea, and all the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, the things that pass through the paths of the sea.
O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is Thy Name in all the earth!
Three thousand years ago a shepherd named David gazed into the night sky and pondered on the glory of God the creator, and the strange dignity of man the created. And he chanted Psalm 8.
Two thousand years ago shepherds in the same town of Bethlehem gazed into the night sky and were dazzled by the presence of an angel of the Lord who announced great joy to all people. A baby, that very day, had been born. This baby boy is a savior, the Messiah, the Lord. His greatness is wrapped in the enigma of the confines of cloths to restrain Him, and He lies in the humility of a lowly animal feeding trough. Into this strange scene came many from the angelic host of heaven giving praise to God, and singing an antiphon to Psalm 8, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace in men toward whom God has shown his great goodwill.
Psalm 8 is the hymn of entrance to the incarnation of the Son of God who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and became flesh by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man. The paradox of man in his weakness is captured in the Lord’s word to Martha at the door of her dead brother Lazarus’s tomb, where only a stone kept the humiliating stench of death from assaulting the living. Standing between the humiliation of death and the glory of life, Jesus said to Martha, Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God? Within moments the stone was taken away, the voice of the Lord commanded the dead Lazarus to come forth from the dead. He came forth, and God was glorified in this living man, and the enemies of God plotted to kill Jesus.
The hymnalic quality of Psalm 8 draws us to stand in the great mystery of God. The splendor of the heavens, the paradox of man’s lowliness, and his glorious dignity is known and visited by God. The prayerful hymn begins as it concludes, with a profound reverence for the wonder of God’s revelation in His name. It orients man to see first God’s magnificence in the expanse of the night sky, enormous in it’s darkness and breathtaking in it’s order, and a riot of stars strewn across the sky with only the light of the reflected moon to anchor the vision. Beholding the reflected light of the moon and the infinite number of bright stars draws David to profound meditation and wisdom. Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants has Thou perfected praise, because of Thine enemies, to destroy the enemy and avenger.
This hymn places man in the middle between heaven and earth, between man the worshiper and man the rebellious enemy. Between submission to the realities of the creator, and the pretensions of God’s arrogant enemy and his slaves. With the introduction of God’s enemies the prayer draws light to the mysterious ways of God’s authority and His victory through submission, dependence and extreme humility. Why? Because the essence of the ungodly enemy is pride, self-assertion and rebellion. The hymn of the enemy is the seven-fold I will, I will, I will. The essence of the child-like servant in the maiden of the Lord is, Let it be to me according to your word. And the ultimate power of obedience ever spoken on earth, Not my will but Thine be done. The only way for the weakness of man to overcome the enemy of God is not to throw his weight against the mighty trunk of a thick and towering tree of rebellion, but to stand against the heart of the rebellion and attack it at the root, by complete submission to God expressed, not only in act, but by the seemingly powerless words of praise perfected by obedience.
Against the canvas of the sparkling night sky the reality of the enemy, the enigmatic awareness that strength comes only in dependent praise, the prayer goes further in it’s great question — what is man? What am I? What are you? What are we together? This is one of our great questions with which we struggle. Some call it self-image, others self-esteem, others identity, others self-acceptance, but however we phrase this question it will always turn out badly if we ask the question in isolation. Who am I? has no answer until we have asked who God is and how has he revealed His name. There are certain things this prayer recognizes. God notices man, He is mindful of him. In other words, man, who he is and what he does, is significant. He matters.
And also, God cares for man, not in an abstract way of an uninvolved or distant manner, not with mere kind thoughts, but by actually coming to man, becoming truly present to him and looking carefully into his need. What is man? is not an investigative question. It is a question of wonder and amazement. For, other than gazing into the mystery of the love of God, there is no answer. No answer but the love of God. Slowly, the simple beauty of these words begin to glow in the recognition that, with a few strokes, the mystery of the universe is being explored. Man is made a little lower than the angels. There is an order of creation, but it is an order quivering with dynamism. For this creature, made a little lower than the angels, is destined to be crowned with glory and honor, to bear the full weight and dignity of bearing the image and likeness of God, and that true glory and honor creates a sacramental authority over all the creation. This authority is not abusive. It does not exploit others or the gifts of creation itself. For this authority exists only in the crown, and this crown expresses the inexpressible mystery and hope of all creation — animals, birds, fish and sea creatures.
And it is here that the New Testament steps into the text and supplies the mystery that is not fully expressed in the psalm. Hebrews2 calls this hymn to bear on the lives of wavering Christians, people who feel defeated, discouraged and perhaps even deluded. Their great pastor wrote in the second chapter, But now we do not see all things put under man. That has to be qualified as the greatest understatement of all time. We often have a hard time seeing anything we think we have control over — our appetites, our relationships, our health, our finances, our souls, our future. No. Unless we live in delusion we know things are usually out-of-hand or seriously threatening to get that way. Sometimes this just leaves us weary, but then we hear the words of the great pastor in Hebrews2, But we see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone that He may bring many sons to glory.
Here is the heart of the mystery. This Lord, who is our Lord, has a wonderful name in all the earth. The magnificence of that name is lifted high above the heavens. It is now that we know what that name is — it is Jesus. And it is above every name, and before that name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. That confession glorifies God the Father. Why? Because Jesus reveals the Father, and this psalm tells us how. It is in Jesus’ self-giving love that finds no place even on earth as a man too low for Him. He was born in a cave and lay in a manger. He was crucified and returned in death to a cave for a tomb. Nothing was too low for the Son who was revealing his Father, for the way of the Son is the way of the Father. And now Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God says to us, I am the way of self-emptying lowliness, the truth of getting to the destiny of glory, the life of living in relationship with the self-giving Father through His spirit. No-one comes to the Father except through me.
Let us not make the mistake of hearing that word, No-one comes to the Father except through me, as mere religious dogmatism. It is only the simple telling of the truth. For there is no other way to God but this lowly submission. There is no other glory to be hoped for, there is no other life that God will sustain, and in His Son our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, the man, we find our hope and our life.
And so, the psalm ends, almost as it began. O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is Thy Name in all the earth! What is now missing is, Thy magnificence is lifted high above all the earth. Of course, that is still true, but something even more is true. God’s magnificence now dwells on earth in man, male and female, who are in Christ. For, in the words of St Irenaeus, The glory of God is a living man.