Text: Psalm 122
Title: A Pilgrimage
Theme: With a joyful heart we prepare ourselves for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You probably are one of the over 37 million Americans that have traveled during this Thanksgiving Season. Whenever I travel, whether it is by plane or driving down 59, I am always amazed by the fact that every second, someone is going somewhere.
You probably have noticed that this morning, our worship service is a little different from other Sundays. We’re singing Christmas songs and there are some special candles in the sanctuary. We are in what is known as the Advent Season. Advent is very important in the Christian church calendar. As a matter of fact, the Christian year begins with Advent. It is 4 weeks before the Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. Advent is the time when we prepare ourselves for the birth of our Lord. Advent leads to Christmas. In other words, for the next several weeks, we are on a journey, a Pilgrimage that takes us to the heart of our Christian faith, Jesus Christ.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we’ll take a look at one journey that was described about 900 years before Jesus' birth.
Will you please turn with me to Psalm 122, “1 I was glad when they said to me,“ Let us go to the house of the Lord!” 2Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! 3Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together, 4to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 5There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David. 6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “ May they be secure who love you! 7Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!” 8For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you!” 9For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. 1人對我說：“我們到耶和華的殿那裡去”，我就歡喜。（本節在《馬索拉抄本》包括細字標題） 2耶路撒冷啊！我們的腳正站在你的門內。 3耶路撒冷被建造，好像一座結構完整的城巿。 4眾支派，就是耶和華的支派，都上那裡去；照著以色列的定例，稱頌耶和華的名。 5因為在那裡設有審判的寶座，就是大衛家的寶座。 6你們要為耶路撒冷求平安，說：“耶路撒冷啊！願愛你的人都亨通。 7願你的城牆內有平安，願你的宮殿中有安穩。” 8為了我的兄弟和朋友的緣故，我要說：“願你中間有平安。” 9為了耶和華我們 神的殿的緣故，我要為你求福樂。
” This Psalm was written by David.
1. Advent is a pilgrimage into God's presence.
Vs. 1, “1 I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord! 人對我說：“我們到耶和華的殿那裡去”，我就歡喜’” David was glad and joyous that he was invited to go to the house of the Lord. vs.2 “2Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! 耶路撒冷啊！我們的腳正站在你的門內。” By the time we come to vs.2, they had already arrived at their destination: Jerusalem. We don’t know how long it took them to get there. What do we know about Jerusalem?
Since 3500 BC, the city of Jerusalem was inhabited by the Jebusites. David conquered the city in about 900 BC. He made it the political center of his country. By bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city, Jerusalem also became the religious center. He had wanted to build a temple there for worship but God did not allow it to happen because too many had died under him. Later, his son, Solomon, built a temple there.
Jerusalem is also called Zion, a holy city. To the Israelites, the holy city is the place where God resides with his people. It is a city that symbolizes the presence of God. David was invited to take this journey, a pilgrimage into the presence of God. This is what Advent is about; a journey into God's presence. I would like to make several observations here.
First, the journey into God's presence is always a personal one. No one can take that journey for you. Your parents, your peers, or your church cannot take the journey for you. You have to take it personally.
Secondly, even though it is a personal journey, yet it is also a journey traveling in a group. ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord. 我們到耶和華的殿那裡去” This is why we are here this morning. This is why it is important for us to belong to a Christian community where we travel together into God's presence. As we travel, we can help and encourage one another.
Thirdly, it is a joyful journey. “I was glad when they said to me…人對我說：“我們到耶和華的殿那裡去”，我就歡喜” Yes, there are sad moments and hardships in the journey, But there is joy. Isn’t it true that even in our secular society, there is a joyous note in the air during this time of the year. When you go to the malls, the stores, you feel different. This is a partial reflection of something much, much bigger; that the journey into God's presence is a joyous one.
II. Unity is at the center of God's presence.
What do we find in God's presence? Vs.3, “3Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together,… 耶路撒冷被建造，好像一座結構完整的城巿。” This is about unity in Jerusalem. It expressed unity in God's presence. The God in the scriptures is a triune God; God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Each is distinct and unique, yet they are one. There is perfect love and communication among the 3 persons in this one Godhead. There is perfect unity in the triune God.
Not only is there unity in God, Vs.4, “4to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel…..眾支派，就是耶和華的支派，都上那裡去；” Yes, David went to Jerusalem, but this is also the city where the tribes of Israel went. It is about the 12 tribes traveling to Jerusalem, the city of God, the presence of God. Each tribe is different, but together they entered into God's presence. There is unity among them. Isn’t this what this Christian community is about? Each person here is different and unique but we are united; we are one. Unity does not require uniformity. We are one in our love for the Lord. We are one as we strive to have Christ and be like him.
As we come into His presence, what is expected of us?
1. Worship. What did David and the tribes do in Jerusalem? vs.4b, “….to give thanks to the name of the Lord照著以色列的定例，稱頌耶和華的名。” They worshipped God. When men come into God's presence, the only thing we can do is to worship him. When the wise men from the east came into Jesus' presence, they worshipped him.
The writer of the book of Hebrews gives us further insight about this worship. Hebrew 12:28-29, “28Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29for our God is a consuming fire.因此，我們既然領受了不能震動的國，就應該感恩，照著 神所喜悅的，用虔誠敬畏的心事奉他； 29. 因為我們的 神是烈火。” Before this all holy, all mighty, all righteous God, the only attitude we can have is that of reverence and awe. It’s like standing before President Bush, Queen Elizabeth, or Chairman Hu JinTao. Yes, even though they appear to be friendly and approachable, yet when we come before them, there is the sense of reverence and awe. This is the attitude we have when we worship God. It is not a light matter, it is serious.
2. Gratitude. Hebrews 12:28, “28Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, 因此，我們既然領受了不能震動的國，就應該感恩” When we come into the presence of God, we also come with gratitude. Why? You remember after the Israelites left Egypt and arrived at Mount Sinai where God appeared to them. Because of God's presence in the mountain, no one could even come near to it. No sinner can come close to the holy God. However, with the coming of Jesus, it is different. By dying on the cross and resurrecting 3 days later, our sins and God's wrath were removed. This is the reason we can come into God's presence without fear. This is the reason we are to come into God's presence with gratitude. Yes, we thank God for his blessings, but even more importantly, we thank him for removing our sins, putting Christ's righteousness upon us so we can come into his presence. We thank him because we can come into his presence through Jesus.
3. Living with integrity. What else is expected of us in God's presence? Vs.5, “5There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David. 因為在那裡設有審判的寶座，就是大衛家的寶座。” There is the throne of God. It is the throne of judgment. In the OT context, judgment has to do with one’s moral behavior; it is about doing the right or the wrong thing in life. In this simple verse, we learned that worship cannot be separated from our moral behavior. We cannot come here to worship God, and then turn around and mistreat our spouse, children and parents. We cannot come here to worship God, and then tomorrow mistreat people who work for us. We cannot come here to worship God, and then turn around and be rude, insensitive and uncaring towards our brothers and sisters in this community. We cannot worship God here and continue to live in sin, disobeying him. Worship, purity, integrity, they all go hand in hand.
III. Peace is at the center of God's presence.
What else is there in the presence of God? Vs. 6-8, “6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “ May they be secure who love you! 7Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!” 8For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you! 6你們要為耶路撒冷求平安，說：“耶路撒冷啊！願愛你的人都亨通。 7願你的城牆內有平安，願你的宮殿中有安穩。” 8為了我的兄弟和朋友的緣故，我要說：“願你中間有平安。”” David was praying for peace for those in God's presence. That there may be peace within the walls, there may be security within the towers. It is not about lack of conflicts and wars outside the city walls. It is about an inner peace. A peace that transcends all circumstances.
Some of you may be wondering. Isn’t it true that very often because we want that inner peace, therefore we are here; we want to travel into God's presence? To pray for peace in God's presence? David knew and we know, too, that we live in a broken world; even though we have come into God's presence, we have also brought with us much of our sinfulness. Therefore in God's presence, we can still be lacking that inner peace. This is the reason in both the old and new testaments we are instructed to rest in the lord, do not be anxious about anything, cast all our concerns to the Lord.
But you know what? We and David are also looking forward to the day when we shall see him face to face. In that moment, there will be perfect peace and security within us. It is there to stay with us. It will be with us forever.
Advent is the season when we prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a journey into God's presence.
When I travel by myself, I always look forward to coming home. I will call or email Cynthia telling her that 24 hours later I will be leaving for Houston. In another 1 hour I’d be heading to the airport. On the airplane, I watch the navigation monitor. 6 hours to destination. 2 hours to destination. The plane has landed. How I look forward to seeing my family again.
Isn’t this what Advent is about? We look forward to the birth of Jesus Christ, the coming of the Messiah, the light of the world. Every year, we travel down this path taking us into God's presence. We travel everyday, every moment into God's presence. We also travel along with other believers so they can help and encourage us. Many of us have experienced this in our fellowship and small groups. We pray for each other, cry with each other and rejoice together. This is a personal journey, yet also a corporate journey.
As we enter into God’s presence, we worship him with awe, reverence and gratitude. This worship is also manifested in personal holiness. It is in the presence of God that we seek peace and security that transcends our circumstances.
We travel every year down this path. We travel every day into God's presence. And moreover, we also travel towards the day when we shall him face to face. Every day I live in this world, is one day closer to seeing my Lord.
Some of us will be ushered into his presence when this physical body has finished its race. Others will be ushered into his presence at his second coming. On that day, in his presence, there will be perfect joy, worship, purity, peace and security. This is the hope that Advent brings to us.