Wednesday of Christmas I – Psalm 111

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
    studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
    the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
    in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy;
they are established forever and ever,
    to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
    he has commanded his covenant forever.
    Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding.
    His praise endures forever!

When I was ten years old, my father accepted the call to serve a parish in rural Missouri. With the parsonage came 20 acres of land. The parish dated from the time of the Civil War. It had the land because there was a time when the preacher needed horses to visit his parishioners. We did not need a horse, but my father bought a horse for us. Did you ever ask for a pony for Christmas? I and my siblings got one!

My father had grown up riding horses at the very end of horse-powered farming in South Dakota and Wisconsin. He made sure our horse was well-trained, but he also made sure we were well-trained. Always approach a horse from the same side. Do not walk up from behind. Respect those hooves. I have clear memories of his instructions to us. They got reinforced not long afterward. I had a classmate in elementary school a year later who ended up in the hospital because his horse, not our horse, had kicked him.

The psalmist says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I learned as a child that a horse is not an object like a toy you can forget about, casually play with, or imagine that you truly “own.” A horse is a living creature, not always predictable, and possibly dangerous. Riding a horse is almost more of a partnership. If I was going to enjoy my horse, I had to first have a healthy fear of him.

My horse ended up providing a great deal of joy for my younger brother and me. We would ride him into town and give rides to all the other kids who lived horseless lives. It was a wonderful way to make friends. But it started with a healthy respect. Read all the things which God does for people in the first part of the psalm and remember, we do not own him, control him, or otherwise operate God. He is God, after all, and I am but a creature. But also know that that the fear of the Lord is not the end of the relationship. John tells us in I John 4:18 that God’s perfect love drives out fear. This fear is the beginning of wisdom, not its end.

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