This psalm is a song sung by pilgrims who yearn for God’s presence. After a long and arduous journey, what can be better than to arrive in “the courts of the Lord” for respite? The joy of worship in the Temple serves as the reward for the hardship of prolonged travel.
The psalmist twice uses the familiar phrase “happy are those.” The declaration stands in the long tradition that culminates in Jesus’ Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. (See Matthew 5:1-12, ceb.) While happy is the repeated word, singing “for joy” more fully expresses the outburst of praise by the weary traveler.
The difference between happiness and joy is a great discovery on our journey. Happiness can pass quickly, dependent on the winds of circumstance. After a while, the pilgrim learns that pursuit of happiness leads to a fretful soul. Joy, however, is ongoing, described elsewhere as what “comes in the morning” after a long “night of weeping.” Happiness is only part of joy. The pilgrims have joy as they seek the happiness that comes in praising God in God’s house and find their strength in God. Though their journey has surely been tough, the pilgrims already have joy. They understand that joy relates to overcoming sorrow; joy is a reversal of the grave. Joy comes from living life devoted to God, from whom all happiness and joy come.
Johannes Brahms expresses the nature of our pilgrim yearning in his serene German Requiem. The fourth movement, Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (“How lovely are thy dwellings”) is based on this passage. Listening to this piece of music may help you find rest for your soul.
Lord of hosts, my heart and flesh sing for joy to you, the living God. Amen.
God had prevented David from building a temple in Jerusalem but then permitted David’s son, Solomon, to build it. In First Kings, Solomon places the ark of the covenant in the holiest place, and God’s presence descends. The psalmist rejoices in the Temple and would rather be in its courts than anywhere else because that is where God dwells. The New Testament readings remind us that the people of God have always met with resistance. The author of Ephesians compares living the Christian life to going into battle, so we must be prepared. Jesus also meets with resistance in John. His teachings are too hard for many to accept, so they abandon him. When we face resistance, therefore, we should not be surprised; but we are also not alone.
• Read 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43. How does your faith inform your sense of hospitality to friends and strangers?
• Read Psalm 84. Is your joy in the Lord? How does your relationship with God help you through times of sorrow?
• Read Ephesians 6:10-20. How do truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and God’s word help you live boldly as an ambassador of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
• Read John 6:56-69. God came to us in a messy human body. How does your embodiment help you understand what it means to abide in Christ?
Respond by posting a prayer.
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.