[The livestream did not make it to the recording stage. The text of the sermon is below.]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I rejoiced when they said, ‘To the House of Yahweh let us go’” (Psalm 122:1). Because it is in the House of Yahweh our God that we may seek good (122:9). There may be a lot of reasons why people go to houses of God—let us be specific here and say houses of God where Jesus is the revelation of God—and there may be an equal number of reasons why people rejoice, or not, to go. People are seeking different things. Some of the things that people seek are even related to what God reveals in His house!
The psalmist is on his way—or he wrote this for people who are on their way—up to Jerusalem. It is one of the “psalms of ascent,” psalms to be sung on the way up to Jerusalem and the temple. “Ascent” because no matter where you are, you go “up” to Jerusalem, to where God is. Clearly, not everyone comes from rejoicing to the house of God. People suffered then as they suffer now. People were sick then as they are sick now. People sinned, and were sinned against, then just as they are now. People died then as they die now. The psalmist rejoices not because the world is a place that always produces rejoicing, but because he knows that the house of God is the location of God’s peace in the middle of this suffering, sick, sin-filled, dying world.
People might rejoice to go to our modern houses of God for various reasons: because they crave the social interaction; because they always did it; because they get to feel good about themselves, that they are worthy of God’s attention by virtue of being there. But nothing is static in this world. Just because we always did something does not mean that it’s worth doing, or that we have any idea why we were doing it, or that we will go on forever doing it. Social interaction can be had in many ways and in many places—and increasingly, we are choosing the non-social social interaction of the internet. And if we think that our presence here makes us worthy of God’s attention, well, we’ve over-estimated both our worthiness and the reasons why God pays attention to us.
We rejoice to go to the house of God as an act of rebellion against our sinful flesh, which does not want to hear God. This rejoicing is in the teeth of our flesh, our compliant, lazy, complacent, life-draining flesh. We rejoice because it means the end of our sin and the end of our death. We rejoice because this is life versus death, Jesus versus everything else. But we also know that because we are in Jesus, everything else will be added along with Him. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.
We rejoice to go to the house of God because we know what promises God has attached to the things that happen here. God says, I will tell you of your sin and my goodness. I will tell you what Jesus has done and what He gives you. I forgive your sins and remake you, over and over again until your self matches the Image of Him in whom you have been recreated. I wash you in blood that cleanses and makes white. I feed you in righteousness and I build up the walls of peace around you, until peace is all there is.
Peace is the hope and the longing of the people of God. Shalom, which is not just the absence of warfare, but the state of completeness, wholeness, where everything is right and good, and there is no conflict or danger, because there are no enemies. That was the promise of God about the land that He was giving to the people, to which He lead them through the wilderness for forty years: that there would be no more enemies, that they would have peace and security all around.
The walls and the towers, the strongholds, fortresses, and citadels of God’s house of peace are not like other safe places, other places of refuge that we seek in this world. For example, these walls are not going to keep out any invading army, or determined enemy. Even Jerusalem and the temple were not impervious to destruction. It is God who is our refuge and stronghold. It is only because God is in the midst of the city that she is not moved. The nations rage and the kingdoms waver and fall, but they cannot withstand the sound of His voice. The gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ and His Church. Yahweh Sabaoth—Yahweh of the heavenly armies—is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46:1, 5-7).
The fortress is not stone and wood, but it is physical. Our fortress, our stronghold, our walls are the body and blood of Jesus. He is your shalom, your peace, your wholeness, your security. Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us beyond death (Psalm 48:12-14). Ask for peace! This is Advent’s longing. The new and eternal city of God will come down from heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband; the bride of Christ is the Church. Pray for the peace of the city of God to come soon—the advent of our King! We who are beloved, who love Him who loves us, will be secure forever in Him and nowhere else. To all of you within the walls of Zion, I speak peace. Here is He who alone is Good. Come quickly, Lord and bring your peace on earth, a shalom that is beyond death!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/30/22