Reflections During Advent Week I
A Psalm for the Journey
Psalm 122:1. I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
“I was glad,” the psalmist exclaimed, and several thousand years later the words remain fresh and dynamic. I love this opening verse of Psalm 122 for its exuberance. Most biblical scholars believe the psalm was written for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. How eager the speaker seems to make that journey, how delighted to hear that the time to begin it has drawn near.
The first week of Advent invites us on a different kind of journey, an inward one that will take us through the weeks leading to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. In an ideal world, perhaps we would set out gladly, like the psalmist of long ago. Do we? Well—maybe.
And, also maybe not. Even for those who, like me, love Advent, conjuring up gladness can at times be difficult. In any given year, the season may seem different, changed in some way, lonelier or harder than previous years. We may be feeling the effects of a personal dislocation—illness, loss of a job, death of a loved one, aftermath of a divorce, complications of a move. Or we may be suffering from a more general malaise—outrage fatigue, environmental anxiety, worry about the economy, worry about what the future holds for us or the world’s children and the dispossessed. Frankly, it is in that generalized disquiet that I often find myself these days.
And so today the Advent journey begins, whether or not I am feeling glad. But then maybe the point of observing Advent isn’t to idealize the journey. Maybe the point is simply to set out with clarity and self-awareness about where I am, what I am happy and grateful for, what I worry about, what I feel sad or angry about, and what I long for.
If we read further into Psalm 122, we see that the writer doesn’t dwell in the feeling of gladness but uses it as a springboard, first into quiet reflection and then into prayer. That is a useful model. Taking a cue from the psalmist this week, first I simply allow myself to feel whatever it is I feel—often a mix of feelings. I notice any discontent as well as any gladness; I notice any sense of pain, weariness, grief, or despair as well as any sense of hope or joy. I notice what I long for. And then I pray, not only for my own journey but also for fellow pilgrims, those I already know as well as those I will meet along the way.
I hope you will take a few minutes sometime this week to read Psalm 122 in its entirety. (You can find it at
https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=1.) If you keep an Advent journal, you may wish to jot down some of the feelings you experience during the week. Don’t try to change them; just acknowledge what they are. Once you are aware of them, take some time to pray.
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge