Summary: First Sunday in Advent Year A. December 2, 2001 Psalm 122 Title: “God incarnate.”
First Sunday in Advent Year A. December 2, 2001
Title: “God incarnate.”
Psalms one hundred twenty to one hundred thirty-four, are commonly called Songs of Ascent, sung on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the three major annual festivals- Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Psalm 122 is the third pilgrim song in the collection. Verses one and two, express the joy at going to and arriving at Jerusalem. Verses three to five, express praise for the holy city and all it represents. Verses six to nine, pray for its welfare and that of the people of God. Placed on the lips of a single individual, it represents the sentiments of all pilgrims to God’s presence. It could have been composed at any point since the time of David. Since “Jerusalem” represents much more than the physical, historic city, the psalm has been prayed in many other settings and contexts, particularly among Christians with the “heavenly Jerusalem,” God’s dwelling with his people, in mind.
In verse one, I rejoiced when they said to me. We can imagine some sort of call in the village center announcing the departure for the great city, Jerusalem. We can imagine all the emotions that would be stirred up as a group of fellow pilgrims set out for so desirable a destination.
In verse two, and now our feet are standing. The psalmist thought he was overwhelmed with emotion as he set out for the city. Now that he is there the emotional impact has really hit him.
In verse three, Jerusalem…city…walled. All cities would have walls around them, but this was his city, his people’s city, the city of man, David, and the city of God, all packed into one. The experience was overwhelming.
In verse four, the tribes of the Lord. The more common expression would be “the tribes of Israel.” Too much should not be made of this. Perhaps, after the split of the northern kingdom, called “Israel,” the expression is an attempt to maintain their prior unity by calling the “tribes of the Lord,” the one God whom they commonly worship regardless of political division. Jerusalem was David’s city because he made it his capital according to 2Samaul 5: 6-12. At first, David was anointed king of the single tribe of Judah 2Samaul 1-4. Seven years later, after all the tribes of Israel came to him and proclaimed him king 2 Samuel 5: 1-5, he represented in his person a unified people heretofore only loosely identified.
As it was decreed for Israel. According to Exodus 23: 14-17, Deut. 16: 16f, among other texts, all Israelite males had to “appear before the Lord,” that is, go to the Temple in Jerusalem, three times a year. In practice, for those scattered all over the known world, this amounted to at least once in a lifetime.
In verse five, here are the thrones of justice. The securing of peace and the administration of justice were the major functions of the Davidic king. On lower levels, e.g. familial disputes, religious practices, the priests, both in Jerusalem and at other shrines, would share in that function. The prophets would ensure that justice was properly understood and exercised. But, it was the king’s function to see to it that all the tribes kept the law, understood it and interpreted it correctly. Thus, all the “thrones,” seats, centers, of justice found their center in the king as the people found their center in the city of the king, which was also that of the King of Kings.
In verses six to nine, the psalmist prays in the name of his “family and friends” that Jerusalem, the city and the symbol of all the people, may enjoy peace. Peace, Hebrew shalom, means “fullness” of life, well being, health, God’s presence. Essentially, it does not differ from the meaning of justice, a right relationship with God. Those two virtues, peace and justice, can only exist together. There cannot be one without the other, except in time of war. War was seen as a temporary suspension of peace in order to secure even stronger peace. “Blessings” is also synonymous with peace. Blessings were what resulted from a right relationship with God, justice or righteousness, and being all one should be, peace. Of course, in praying for peace, justice and blessings for the city, the psalmist is really praying for the people. “May those who love you prosper.” He knew full well the difference between a symbol and the reality it represents, and a sign and the reality it reveals and expresses.
The Incarnation, the word becoming flesh, God becoming human, revealing himself in a human person and human life, had not happened when this psalm was written. That mystery was in the process of being unfolded through time. However, the Jew did have preparation for it. The city of Jerusalem was simultaneously the city of God and the city of man, poetically expressed as the city of David. It was simultaneously the dwelling place, on earth, of God and that of God’s people. Even those who did not actually reside there felt it was their home. They felt it was the perfect merger between God and humans, both the earthly dwelling place for God and the heavenly counterpart for man.