< November 28, 2010 >

Commentary on Psalm 122

 

Psalm 122 is a perfect psalm for the beginning of a new church year on this First Sunday of Advent.

Identified as "A Song of Ascents," this psalm describes the pilgrim throng entering "the house of the Lord." As we begin a new church year we, too, herald the glad tidings and invitation to all people: "Let us go the house of the Lord" (verse 1).

The companion texts for this First Sunday of Advent likewise herald the invitation as we hear from the prophet Isaiah: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob" (Isaiah 2:2). Here on the mountain the message of peace is proclaimed and taught. Here the prophet heralds the word that calls for the beginning of a new era of swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, and nations not waging warfare (Isaiah 2:3-4).

The watchword of Advent is a call to be alert. The apocalyptic watchword of the evangelist Matthew for this Sunday also remains our word for this Advent season. We, too, do not know the day or hour of the appearance of the Son of Man; he is the one who will come when we least expect: "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour" (Matthew 24:44).

As we return to Psalm 122, we hear the call of the psalmist in context of these remarkable companion texts for the First Sunday of Advent. We hear this psalm in light of the assurance that our feet are also firmly placed in the ancient gates of Jerusalem, in the faith of the people then, and for us; we are invited to know the dwelling place of God's presence (verse 2).

In the presence of the Lord's sanctuary all the tribes of people are called "to give thanks to the name of the LORD" (verse 3-4). Here within these gates God's judgment is established. In the temple of the Lord thanksgiving and judgment are inseparable. Judgment alone belongs to the God of all creation and of all people. For this the response of all people is to give thanks for God's righteous rule and judgment, of God's equity and justice for all the tribes of people and for the house of David. In this setting the psalmist proclaims God's righteous judgment has been established (verse 5).

In this season of Advent we, too, are called into the sanctuary of the Lord. We also enter into the peace that only God provides. Here is peace only the Jesus supplies. Here is peace and security for relatives and friends, for all God's people. Here is present that for which all people long in the benediction: "Peace be within you" (verse 8).

This is the word like that of the prophet Isaiah to be heard and heralded in a world of bloodshed and war, of swords and spears, a world that longs for plowshares and pruning hooks. This is the word from Paul that surpasses all our human understanding and longing, a word centered in prayer for all people, for supplication for special needs, for thanksgiving for the God who executes justice and mercy. This is the God to whom we draw near in confidence and the one in whom all our requests are made known.

Within Matthew's gospel, God's presence stands over and against the fear of the thief in the night, and is replaced by the glorious Advent of the Son of Man who comes in clouds with great power and might to vanquish all our foes and enemies, the last enemy to be conquered is death. Here the words from Paul, now to the church in Rome, ring clear. They are heard with assurance in that marvelous crescendo conclusion to Romans 8, which comes in answer to Paul's rhetorical question: "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Romans 8:31)

"In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:37-39).

We enter the season of Advent in this assurance that the Son of Man who comes in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Lord of all. The heralding call and claim of this Advent season is present as Psalm 122 brings us into the beginning of this new church year: "Let us go to the house of the Lord" (verse 1). In this word of invitation we, too, come to the house of the Lord expectantly waiting the one who is present and will come as Lord of all.