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Psalm 132:1-12

Lord, remember David and all his self-denial. He swore an oath to the Lord, he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: “I will not enter my house or go to my bed, I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

We heard it in Ephrathah, we came upon it in the fields of Jaar: “Let us go to his dwelling place, let us worship at his footstool, saying, ‘Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place, you are the ark of your might. May your priests be clothed with your righteousness; may your faithful people sing for joy.”

For the sake of your servant David, do not reject your anointed one.

The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant and the statutes I teach them, then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever.”

As I write this, countless people are being displaced by floods caused by an incredible amount of rain over the past weekend. Here in the Fraser Valley, and up through the mountain passes, roads are washed out, mudslides have cut off communities from any sort of access. In fact, on Sunday night this past weekend, Western British Columbia was cut off from the rest of Canada by road access because of such geological events. Power outages, water everywhere; people displaced, and communities stuck.

And while it pales in comparison to some of the other stories being told coming out of this weekend, on Monday I drove to the Abbotsford airport to pick up my wife, Rachel after she had spent a week in Ontario visiting family and friends.  As the kids and I were packing up to go get her, the power went out in our house. I thought, “Whelp… I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.” And we left in the rain. When we arrived at the airport I got a text from Rachel telling me that she had landed… but in Vancouver! Her flight diverted because the wind and rain was too extreme to land at Abbotsford Airport. And so, we decided to drive to YVR to get her. Little did we know what was ahead of us. Driving along the southern edge of the Fraser Valley, we got diverted three times because of wash outs and we drove through foot deep sections of water which flowed over the road. Taking the 99 north through Delta we had to get off and go around a flooded section. What was supposed to be a 40 minute round trip turned into over 5 hours of travel to get her home.

Again, I realize that this isn’t a lot compared to what some others are experiencing. And my point in sharing the story isn’t to garner sympathy for a dad in the van with two kids during a 100 year flood caused by an atmospheric river (thank goodness for loud music and leftover Halloween candy…). Instead, I share this story because, in a small and limited way, it is an example of the sorts of things we will willingly endure in order to be near to someone you love. I will drive through a flood to get my wife home. This summer we heard of stories of people driving through wildfires to get their loved ones to safety. People will go into war-torn countries to rescue loved ones.

And, perhaps it doesn’t make sense. Perhaps it isn’t even, strictly speaking, wise to do. But the yearning to be near someone makes us do strange and wonderful things.

Psalm 132 expresses that same sort of longing: the longing to be near to God. And it expresses what David did in order to know and be assured of that nearness. Actually, Psalm 132 uses the story of David to express the heart of the pilgrim on their way to Jerusalem during a festival season for Israel’s worship. It is part of the Psalter called, The Songs of Ascent. These are Psalms that would have been sung, chanted, prayed; either individually as a pilgrim traveled or corporately leading up the festival. They are called songs of ascent because pilgrims would travel up, or ascend, the mountain of Jerusalem to where the temple resided at the high point.

Like David before them, the pilgrims would go through anything in order to draw near to God. Whether the heat of the desert; the dangerous and precarious travel routes – from both the geology and wildlife, as well as the thieves and robbers; or the opportunity cost of missed labour and family while a pilgrim traveled the road to Jerusalem, there are all sorts of obstacles and trials a person would endure to enter the nearness of God at the temple.

Locating this experience by drawing on the history of David also makes sense; especially when you understand the Ark of the Covenant as the location of God’s presence among his people Israel. The Ark was first built, at the Lord’s instruction, after God’s revelation to Moses and the people and their receiving of the 10 Commandments (Ex. 20 and Ex. 25:10-22). From Sinai it traveled with the people during the wilderness wanderings for 40 years and was part of the first procession to enter the Promised Land (Josh. 3&4). After the time of conquest, the Ark was kept at Shiloh (Josh. 18 & 1 Sam. 4); for a period it seems it was also in Bethel (Judges 20:27). Following this, there is a fantastic story about the Ark being captured by the Philistines as a sort of war trophy and then carted back to their region along the coast, only for the Ark to be passed from city to city because of the disaster and danger possessing it wrought (1 Sam. 4-7) – this series of events is a personal favourite story of mine. Eventually it was returned to Kiriath Jearim, where it stayed for 20 years. That is, until David. Having just defeated the Jebusites and taken Jerusalem and then defeating the Philistines twice more (cf. 2 Sam. 5), David now sends 30,000 men to collect the Ark and bring it into Jerusalem. That big story and the occasion of David ushering in the Ark to Jerusalem is the background of this Psalm.

And now, three times a year, pilgrims re-live those events as they march up the mountain to the temple reciting Psalm 132.

Vs. 1 of this Psalm is better rendered, “Lord, remember David and all his afflictions (or ‘strenuous efforts’). It cost David effort and suffering in order bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and initiate the dwelling place of God’s presence at the Temple. David was willing to do whatever it took to experience the nearness of God.

What are you willing to do to draw near to God? What affliction, trial, suffering; what journey will you make in order to come into the presence of God? When faith gets hard will you harden your heart or harden your resolve? Remember what James says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:8). The old hymn sings it true: “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew / he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me. / It was not I that found, O Savior true, / no, I was found of thee.” Finally, what David exemplifies, what each pilgrim on the journey of ascent longed for, is finally and fully realized in Jesus. Not that we have come to the presence of God, but that the presence of God has come to us. And this time, it is God who suffers the affliction; Jesus bears the wounds. He makes the ultimate sacrifice so that he can come to us. “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb. 10:10).

While we might willingly do strange and wonderful things for those we love, Jesus endured hell – he was forsaken by God – so that we wouldn’t.

And for that love I will willingly go out into the flood – whatever that may yet be.

Lord help me to know and experience your nearness. Even when I don’t feel it, help me to believe it; even when it is hard, I resolve to trust in your presence. Thank you, Jesus, for making all this possible – even for someone as hard hearted as me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.