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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: Psalm 137:1-6

Advent's Invitation: Consider your joy, and keep your song

jenmichel@me.com

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept When we remembered Zion.

There on the poplars

We hung our harps,

For there our captors asked us for songs,

Our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

They said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

May my right hand forget its skill.

May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth

If I do not remember you,

If I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.

Psalm 137:1-6

Maybe you, like I, wonder how we can bring ourselves to the melodies of Advent when we are in collective mourning for Newtown, Connecticut?

Yesterday, I am standing at the kitchen sink, and above the noise of breakfast clatter, I hear the names of the Sandy Hook Elementary children read aloud on the radio. Charlotte Bacon, James Mattioli, Olivia Engel. It’s a long list of tragic loss, and every name sears. It’s not their faces that make me weep, but their names. Oh God. How do we bury all the possibilities of a child’s name?

This morning, I read coverage of the first two funerals – Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto – and think of the utter impossibility of eulogizing children. What would I say of my own children were I to lose them? The heartbreak is in the absence of words, all that could not be said of their stolen days, months, years - the record that will never be.

No, I am convinced. You cannot eulogize a child, and this is just another ominous reminder that this, this, should not be.

We are struggling to find our words in the wake of Newtown.

And when the heart breaks, a song feels like an utter impossibility. This is the picture of Psalm 137: Israel has been exiled, taken far from home and settled in the land of Babylon. “By the rivers of Babylon we wept.” The weeping seems to have excluded the possibilities of a song: “There on the poplars we hung our harps.”

And this is grief. We hang up our harps when life shatters. We bury bodies - and with them, we want to bury our songs.

“How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”

And if we needed a reminder that this bedraggled and beat up planet is not our home, Newtown has been the chilling reminder of our own exile. The scene at Sandy Hook Elementary has stirred up all of our Edenic longings for a better world, a world where children live out their days, where poverty and injustice are banished, where all of creation sings the songs of wholeness and goodness, truth and beauty, justice and righteousness.

“How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”

Newtown testifies, not just to a season of national mourning, but to the universal groaning of Creation that began when sin birthed this tormented world of wrong: “For the creation waits with eager longing . . . the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” (Romans 8:21, 22).

We pine for a better world: the New Jerusalem, the future city of God, all of which are images used in the Scriptures to describe heaven. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.”

By the rivers of Newtown, we sat and wept.

How can we sing the songs of the LORD – the songs of Advent – in this foreign land, where Death still reigns supreme?

If I forget you – the new heavens and the new earth – I will lose all capacity for a melody.

I will lose my joy. And I will bury my songs.

Which is why today’s Advent invitation invites us to look beyond these shadows of death to a future hope. Receive today the invitation, which Christ secured on the cross when He defeated Death and announced that Creation was finally waking from the long sleep of her spell:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Today, consider your joy and keep your song. Because this is not our home: "Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and let us offer to God acceptable worship - A SONG? - with reverence and awe."

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days.” Isaiah 65:19, 20

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13

* * * * *

I spoke at two events this month on the subject of joy. Some have asked for the manuscript, and I’m including it here, knowing that its message of joy in the midst of loss may provide hope to us in our own sadness.

Grace Christmas Brunch, 2012, final