Something Oxymoronic

December 26, 2016
Daily Scripture Texts
Psalm 148
Acts 7:59-8:8

Today is one of those rare days you get to use the word oxymoronic. Go on–throw it around a little because it fits almost perfectly. Almost.

The poet who gave us Psalm 148 is an orchestral conductor ringing out praise from the music set before him by bringing in, on cue, all the heavenly tenors, the sun, moon, and stars; those beastly basses too, sea creatures and mountain crags; and the regal sopranos, kings and queens over all the earth; even a gadzillion preschoolers. Each and every person and created thing out there live before us join together in praise directed by that pen/baton the poet wields in his hand.

Let all things praise him. That, in a song, is Psalm 148.

See the man with the baton up there in front?—then again, maybe it’s a woman, her shoulders squared. See the graceful smile, the way her arms reach out to absolutely everything he or she sees and knows.

Let all things praise him.

Takes your breath away. Makes the Mormon Tabernacle Choir into scruffy little gang of noise.

Let all things praise him.

Even death.

This is one of those rare moments when the word oxymoronic just plains works. The two passages are simply incongruous. The psalmist’s Super Bowl of Praise drops off the concert hall wall into a pit of sadness, the seventh chapter of the book of Acts.

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

It wasn’t pretty. We’ve gone from the temple to the gallows. But then, there are moments in all of our lives when it’s a good, good thing if you’ve got the strength, and faith, simply to whistle, to hum a line of a hymn you just can’t sing. Today, a wonderful couple I know is mourning the death of their teenage son by suicide. They’re musicians, but I’m sure they’re blessed to be able to get out just a couple of bars of praise.

Oxymoronic—these two passages. Incongruous. In a few thin Bible pages, we drop from ecstasy into agony, on a path we’ll all take some time if we haven’t already, a journey not at all unfamiliar. To put them together seems downright oxymoronic, doesn’t it?

But even in the passage from Acts, things change, don’t they? Phillip preaches, pulls of some circus miracles, and the crowds return. There’s cheering at least. The music gets a jump start. Life, in His name, goes on.

Last week, I went to the funeral of a woman whose young husband, way back when, came home from the Battle of the Bulge with a purple heart and stories he likely could never forget. She buried him a few decades later, as she did two of her own six sons, killed in accidents. None of them were saints.

One of her sons stood up at the funeral and told a story, remembered how once when he was in trouble, his mother, who was known for a smile that almost miraculously lit up the church at her own funeral–his mother looked at him, a woman who’d suffered so much loss, then gave him her own signature smile, and said, lovingly, “Count your blessings.”

Nothing oxymoronic about that. It’s simply called “grace.”

She could just as well have said, “Let all things praise him.”

That’s faith talk, music to all our ears.

About the Author
  • James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who spent 37 years teaching literature and writing at Dordt. When he retired from Dordt, he pulled up stakes in Sioux Center and pitched his tent north of Alton, where he lives out in the country with a broad backyard of fine Sioux County land. We’re cat people, he says, but can’t help thinking there are dozens of dogs in any nearby shelter who’d love to call their country place home. Who knows?

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  1. Thanks for the insights! Thanks for connecting these 2 passages. It’s a blessing for those of us who have recently buried a loved one. Death can and does praise God!

  2. Our family, like many others, has experienced many deaths in December (grandparents, parents, and uncles). Untrue oxmororonic fashion December has the most birthdays on our family calendar. Life is full of death and resurrection!