1人對我說：“我們到耶和華的殿那裡去”，我就歡喜. 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。
1 敬拜。大衛和各支派在耶路撒冷做什麼﹖第四節經文的後半段﹕“……稱頌耶和華的名。”他們敬拜神. 當我們人進入神的同在﹐我們唯一能做的就是敬拜他。當東方的智者看到耶穌將生後﹐他們就來敬拜他。
<希伯來書>的作者對敬拜做了深刻的闡述﹕<希伯來書>12﹕28-29﹐“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﹔因為我們的 神是烈火。”在這位聖潔﹐全能﹐公義的神面前﹐我們唯有用虔誠敬畏的心來敬拜他。這就好像站在布什總統﹐伊麗莎白女皇或者胡錦濤主席面前一樣﹕是的﹐他們表現出了友善和親和力﹐但是﹐當我們來到他們面前﹐敬畏的感覺油然而生。這就是我們敬拜神應該持有的態度。這是至關重要的。
2 感恩。<希伯來書>12﹕28﹐“因此，我們既然領受了不能震動的國，就應該感恩。” 當我們進入神的同在﹐要懷著感恩的心。為什麼呢﹖你應該記得在以色列人出埃及後﹐他們來到西奈山﹐神在那裡向他們顯現吧。由於神的顯現﹐沒有人能夠靠近西奈山。沒有一個罪人能夠來到聖潔的上帝面前﹐但是﹐耶穌降生後﹐就不樣了。他在十字架上為我們而死﹐並在死後三天復活﹐藉此祂赦免我們的罪﹐除去神對人的憤怒。這樣﹐我們才可以毫無畏懼地進入神的同在﹔因此﹐我們要帶著感恩的心進入神的同在。是的﹐我們感謝神的祝福﹐但是﹐更重要的是﹐我們感謝他赦免了我們的罪﹐將基督的公義賜給我們﹐使我們能進入他的同在。我們感謝神﹐因為藉著耶穌﹐我們進入神的同在。
3 純正的生活。神對於我們進入他的同在後還有什麼期望﹖第五節經文﹐“因為在那裡設有審判的寶座，就是大衛家的寶座。”那裡有神的寶座﹐那是審判的寶座。審判是基於一個人的道德行為﹐基於一個人生活中的所作所為。在這節簡短的經文裡﹐我們學到了敬拜是不能與我們的道德行為相分割的。我們不能在這裡敬拜神, 轉過頭來卻虧待自己的配偶﹐孩子和父母﹔我們不能今天來敬拜神﹐明天卻錯待一起工作的同事﹔我們不能一邊來敬拜神﹐一邊卻粗暴地﹐冷漠地﹐毫無同情心地對待基督徒社團裡的弟兄姊妹﹔我們不能在這裡敬拜神的同時卻依然活在罪裡﹐行在背離神的路上。敬拜上帝與純潔的思想和正直的行為是不可分割的。
當我單獨在外時, 我總是渴望回家. 我會告訴仙霞24小時之後我就會起程回家. 還有一個小時, 我就會去機場. 在機上, 我會注意導航銀幕. 6小時抵達終點, 2小時抵達終點﹐已到達. 我何等想立刻見到家人.
將臨期是否也是如此? 我們渴望耶穌的降生, 彌賽亞, 世界之光的來臨. 每一年我們都踏上這旅程進入神的同在. 我們每天每時每刻都在這旅程上要進入神的同在. 我們也是與其他信徒同行﹐好得到他們的幫助和鼓勵。我們中間很多人已經在團契和小組中有過這種的經歷。你們彼此代禱﹐一起痛哭﹐一起歡笑。這是一個個人的旅程﹐然而﹐我們卻是一起攜手同行。
我們每年踏上這旅程﹐每天踏上這進入與神同在的旅程. 更重要的, 我們是朝向將會面對面與神相見的那一天. 我在世上渡過的每一天, 也是我更接近神的一天. 我們當中有些人會在肉體敗壞以後就進入神的同在﹐有些人要等到主再來的時候進入他的同在。在那一天﹐在神的同在裡﹐我們就會經歷完全的喜樂﹐敬拜﹐純潔﹐平安和安穩。這是將臨期帶給我們的盼望。
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. 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!’” 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!” 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.” 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…” 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,…” 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…..” 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” 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.” 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,” 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.” 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. 6-7, “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!”” 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 complete joy, worship, purity, peace and security. This is the hope that Advent brings to us.