As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings. We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!
We are honored to once again have Rev. Neal Locke guest blogging for us. Neal and I met 15 years ago as students at Oral Roberts University. I am thankful that all these years later I can still call him my friend. (And, can say that we both successfully graduated.)
Neal, his wife, Amy, and three children, Grady, Abby, and Jonah live in El Paso, Texas, where Neal is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church.
A reading from the Psalms.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.
— Psalm 122:6-9 (NRSV)
The Word of God for the people of God.
The etymology of the name Jerusalem is shrouded in the dim mysteries of the ancient past, and will likely never be fully uncovered or agreed upon by scholars. But regardless of its true origins, a Hebrew psalmist in the time of David (such as the author of Psalm 122) would have certainly recognized in the latter half of the name the root שלם (SLM), from which we get the Hebrew word shalom. Incidentally, this is also the root for سلام (salaam) – the Arabic word for peace. Whether the occurrence of these letters in the name is coincidental or not is irrelevant—in the craft of skilled poets, words become more than their origins or parts, so we find in Psalm 122 a prayer for Jerusalem that “peace may be within you.” And indeed it is.
When we think of cities, ancient or modern, the word “peaceful” is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. Cities are full of people and buildings, bustling with commerce and activity. Cities are noisy, busy, restless and chaotic. How could Jerusalem in the time of David have been any different? How could it possibly have been a place of peace? Honestly, I’m not sure it ever was. Few cities have been sacked, besieged, invaded, captured, recaptured, destroyed and rebuilt as many times as the city of Jerusalem. Today it is still claimed by and fought over by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. In Psalm 122:7, the reference to “walls” and “towers” are an indication that even then, Jerusalem was a city built for war, not for peace.
I believe that Psalm 122 is not an acknowledgment of Jerusalem’s past or present reality, but rather a cry of the heart, a desire for how things might be: “May they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls; may security be within your towers.” The last two lines of Psalm 122 are also a call to move from prayer to personal action: “For the sake of my relatives and friends, I will say, peace be within you. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.
Like Jerusalem, all cities (no matter how busy or chaotic) carry within them the roots of peace, including our own. This peace may not be embedded in the city’s name, but certainly peace is embedded in the hopes and aspirations of those who dwell within it. This peace begins when we pray for our city, pray for the people and buildings and institutions inside it. Equally important, peace begins when we rise from our prayers and begin to work alongside those people and institutions, always seeking the good of the city for the sake of the Lord our God.