We’re approaching the holiday season. It’s a time of travel for my family. I have two brothers who live with their families in Texas. One brother and his family live in Oklahoma. My parents live in Texas. And I live with my wife and four daughters in Virginia. We try to get together for a few days sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
So right after Christmas, we’re going to hop in cars and planes, making our way to the home of our heritage: East Tennessee. That’s where my grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins live. It is a time of year that we all anticipate with joy. The gathering of family to celebrate what God has done in our lives over the past year is a journey of joy for us.
The psalmist takes us on a journey of joy into the presence of the Lord God (Psalm 122:1-9). It is the gathering of family to celebrate God Himself. Today, we hear the joy of the pilgrims standing within the gates of Jerusalem in the presence of the Lord.[i] The delight of the journey.[ii] When we make our journey into the presence of the Lord, we find joy of the gathering of family and friends celebrating God with one heart and one voice.
1. It’s a joyful journey with friends
There’s something powerful about a “road trip.” As a student in high school, my friends and I would pack into my 1977 Chevy Suburban, carrying far more than seatbelts would allow. Our destination was Houston, Texas for a football game. The play-offs. The music would play, my friends would sing, the laughter would fill the car, and the joy would journey with us. It was a great journey.
We’re on a “road trip” into the presence of the Lord, and we take this journey with friends and family who love Him. Joy filled the heart of the psalmist when he heard about the “road trip” with friends into God’s presence.[iii] They were headed to the “house of the Lord.”
In the Old Testament, the “house of the Lord” was the centerpiece of His presence in the world. The pilgrim examines the bulwarks and walls of the city of God’s presence and people, and he delights in the safety and security that is found there.[iv] The place of God’s gathering is the place of unity of His people around Himself.[v]
Today, on this side of the Cross and the pouring out of the Spirit (Acts 2), the symbolic representation of God’s powerful presence is the heart of individual followers of Christ. And when we gather together to worship the Lord, His powerful presence is amplified by friends of Christ praising and pleasing the Lord (122:4). We are joined together under the name of the Lord. His character unites us. We are joined together by the testimony we share. His work unites us. We are joined together by our hearts of thanks. His grace unites us.
When we meet together in the presence of God with the people of God, we are in the safest place on earth. Where God reigns, there is safety. God brings justice to the gathering of God’s people (122:5). As we enter into His presence, unified by His Spirit, He directs our hearts to seek His will and follow His voice so that we might accomplish His purpose and not transgress.[vi]
The joy of God’s presence eclipses the difficulties of the week. The journey may be filled with dark shadows and deep valleys, but we won’t see the difficulties any longer when we stand in the presence of the Lord.[vii] The moment our soul touches the ground of God’s gathering, we are filled with the delight of His presence that eclipses the struggles of the journey.[viii]
The joy of the journey, however, is not supremely in the friends that go with us. The joy of the journey pours from the presence of Christ. We have a joyful journey when we go with friends into the presence of the Lord.
2. It’s a joyful journey toward the fullness of life
On this journey, we seek the fullness of life found in the presence of Christ. God offers the fullness of life through worship in His presence.[ix] The key terms in this passage are peace and security (122:6-8). In the gathering of God’s people we find fullness of life and quietness and security found in the presence of Christ.[x] When we journey into the presence of the Lord today, we are satisfied completely in Him. His presence provides the best life. It is our prayer that we might have the fullness of life that our love for the Father brings and breeds.
On our journey, our satisfaction in God through Christ inspires a life of love for others. When we seek the Father’s heart, we will find our hearts compelled to love others. For the sake of the community of faith, we intercede on their behalf, desiring the very best in life for them. Because of our encounter with Christ, we seek to bless others (122:8-9).
This is a powerful picture of worship. We pray together for the peace that only God can deliver, not merely for our sake, but for the sake of others who have gathered with us.[xi] We live for the pleasure of God, and in worship that means we have our hearts set on the blessings of God for others.[xii]
This is a joyful journey into the presence of the Lord. To travel toward complete satisfaction every day in God. To share that satisfaction with others. To do all that we can today to make God’s greatness shine. To do good to others because of our journey into His presence. It doesn’t get any better than that this side of heaven.
Lord Jesus, show me the path to the summit of Your presence today and help me make that journey toward joy, bringing others along with me.
[i]Claus Westermann, The Psalms: Structure, Content, and Message, trans. Ralph D. Gehrke (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1980), 104. Westermann suggests that Ps 122 is the only real pilgrimage song in the collection.
[ii]Bernard Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today, 3d ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 154.
[iii]Bruce Waltke, s. v., “sāmăch,” in TWOT, 879. Although there are many reasons for joy in Scripture, Waltke notes that the most often cited reason is “the Lord and His salvation.”
[iv]A. Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, trans. H. Hartnell, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 750. He considers the term, šĕ-hŭbberāh (“compact”), to designate the sharing and participation of the community of pilgrims in the presence of the Lord in the Holy City.
[v]H. J. Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 433-34; Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 158-59. Kraus writes: “v. 4 now refers to the importance of Jerusalem as the central sanctuary of the confederacy of the twelve tribes of Israel.” Allen suggests that the pilgrim “cites [Jerusalem’s] role as the religious center of the federation of tribes, which were bound together in a common allegiance to Yahweh.”
[vi]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 434.
[vii]The opening phrase of verse 2, “our feet are standing”, may be present tense or past tense. The perfect use of hāyāh refers to a past event that continues into the present time. See the discussion of G. S. Ogden, “Time and the Verb hyh in OT Prose,” Vetus Testamentum 21 (1971): 453.
[viii]H. J. Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 433. He writes: “Verse 2 then describes the moment when the feet of the pilgrims touched the ground of the city of God and entered the gates of Jerusalem.”
[ix]John Calvin writes: “Pacis nomen hoc etiam loco non aliud quam prosperitatem significat” (Commentary on the Book of Psalms, at Ps 122:7; CO 32.306.
[x]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 434. The terms are šālôm and šălwāh. The first term points to the fullness of life and the second term speaks of the quietness and security found in the presence of Christ.
[xi]The preposition, lemă`ăn, in 122:8-9 signifies purpose or intent.
[xii]Mays [Psalms, Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox, 1994), 393] writes that the peace described in this psalm points toward “well-doing” and “doing well.” Thus it is the doubled focus of experiencing and sharing the fullness of life with others.