I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”Psalm 122
I love the Book of Psalms for lots of reasons, but I don’t often get to preach on the psalms. So, I thought for our Advent vespers meditations this year I’d offer a reflection each week – on the preceding Sunday’s assigned psalm. Last Sunday’s psalm was the one I just read, Psalm 122, which has that well-known opening line: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord.”
This psalm is one of fifteen psalms that are called the “Songs of Ascents.” Because they were sung by Jewish pilgrims as they went up to Jerusalem to visit the Temple, usually for a major festival. Traveling up to the city set on a hill, Jerusalem, they sang these “songs of ascent” as they traveled together.
The psalm right before tonight’s psalm is another famous one, with another well-known opening line: “I lift my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” The hills they are referring to, of course, are the hills leading up to Jerusalem.
It is easy to imagine being one of these pilgrims, traveling up these hills, ascending to Jerusalem, for one of these festivals, along with many other fellow pilgrims. Singing these psalms as you traveled.
And then, arriving safely at the Temple, it is easy to imagine singing tonight’s psalm with joy: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem — built as a city that is bound firmly together. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.”
Think of all the times that God’s people would have sung this psalm. Perhaps Mary and Joseph were singing this psalm as they entered the Temple with their 40-day old baby, Jesus, to present him to the Lord? Little did they know that there would be a man there, Simeon, who would take their child into his arms, bless God, and say: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace.”
And what about 12 years later, when they journeyed with their 12-year old back to Jerusalem for the Passover? Perhaps they sang this psalm in thanksgiving after finally finding their son back in the Temple, after three days of desperate searching!
As an adult, Jesus went to the Temple himself. Perhaps he was chanting this psalm with his disciples as he journeyed to Jerusalem, even while knowing that he was journeying to his death? What might he have been thinking as he and his disciples sang this psalm?
Of course, after Jesus was raised from the dead, appeared to his disciples, and ascended into heaven, his disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and we are told that they were continually in the temple blessing God. No doubt the words of this psalm then took on new meaning and new joy for them: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”
We come here in much the same way that Jesus and the people of Israel went to the Temple in Jerusalem: In the midst of all the changes in our lives, this place of worship is a constant. We come here to present our children to the Lord; to have our youth instructed in the teachings of our heavenly Father. We come here to bury our loved ones. To pray for our sick. To be encouraged in our walk with the Lord, and to encourage others. We come here, tonight, to spend a little extra time in this Advent season of preparation, in the house of the Lord.
We come here because – like the people of Israel – we are on a pilgrimage, a journey, toward the heavenly Jerusalem. The journey that those pilgrims took to Jerusalem is a metaphor us, in our life of faith. We are on a journey, too, and like that journey to the earthly Jerusalem, it is not always an easy journey. It is dangerous. It is difficult. And we can grow weary of it. This is a season when we can feel especially weary. So many obligations and commitments and responsibilities and stress.
Somehow, in the midst of this journey, we find ourselves together tonight to be reminded of our destination, and to be reminded that we do not make this journey alone. In the midst of all the distractions and temptations and trials and tribulations that each of us face, we come to this house of the Lord to be reminded of our eternal destination, and to be encouraged, as we travel together toward our heavenly Jerusalem.
And for all of these reasons, and so many more, we can join all those who have cherished this psalms, and we can be truly glad when it is said to us: Let us go to the house of the Lord. Amen