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Psalm 122

It’s the First Sunday of Advent. Traditionally the theme of this Sunday is Expectation or Hope. As we read in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe – Aslan is coming, and that means that the witch’s spell is broken and the long season of winter is fading (always winter, but never Christmas). All Narnia has been waiting for the dawn of this day! This is exciting news!

Or is it? I think of the song by Carly Simon: “Anticipation – it’s making me wait, it’s keeping me waiting!” The problem with anticipation is, whatever it is you are anticipating is not yet here. And waiting is hard work. Welcome to the first move of Advent. And it is this move that may make this season so difficult for us as we live in a culture of consumerism that waits for nothing.

But Israel knew what it means to wait – to wait in hope – to wait in joyful expectation for Christ, the Messiah of God to make his appearance. And the Messiah did appear, though hardly in the fashion that was expected. The Church also is called to wait in this season of Advent – to wait in hope – to wait in joyful expectation for Christ to come again in clouds of glory – returning to make all things new!

I never much liked waiting. I don’t like to wait in the checkout line at the grocery store, or the long lines to ride my favorite rides at Disney World. Waiting often yields aggravation rather than anticipation. But that is not the idea behind Psalm 122.

Let’s get some context. This is one of the Psalms of Ascent (שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּעֲל֗וֹת) – a pilgrim song to be sung by the people of God as they go up to Jerusalem (one always goes up to Jerusalem – it is a theological claim more than a geographical one). And the very heart of this song’s concern is the temple – the House of YHWH (note the usage of בֵּ֖ית יְהוָ֣ה in verses 1 and 9 that functions as an inclusio for the psalm). Anticipation rises in the hearts of God’s people as they rise up to Jerusalem to worship God in the place where God rules the cosmos – note the use of “thrones” in verse 5, the place where God dispenses just judgment (מִשְׁפָּ֑ט), and the place where God makes and keeps promises to God’s people (reading the phrase house of David בֵ֣ית דָּוִֽיד – in light of God’s dynastic promise to David in 2 Samuel 7). This is the joyful expectancy of the people of God as they journey to Jerusalem to worship.

That worship is central to the journey of faith (and to the season of Advent) is also seen in some of the other language of the text:

– Verse 4 reminds us that the reason the tribes go up regularly to the city of God is for the very purpose of worship – to give thanks (לְ֝הֹד֗וֹת) to the name of the Lord. The Hebrew noun for “hand” is related to the verb “to give thanks,” so we stretch forth our hands a