By The Rivers of Babylon
In 587 BCE, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar sacked the city of Jerusalem, torn down it's walls and destroyed Solomon's Temple. He then took thousands of Jews back to Babylon to live in captivity for what would eventually be an entire generation.
Psalm 137 imagines a realistic moment during that long treck to Babylon as the Hebrew captives neared the city where they would be paraded and then forced to settle and assimilate. The Babylonian captors demand a song "of Zion" from the captives.
The Psalm begins like this:
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and weptInterestingly, after a generation of living in Babylon, most of these Hebrew captives did assimilate to Babylonian culture. And when the opportunity came for them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and the temple, a large number of them stayed right in Babylon.
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
They'd begun to believe that the Babylonian dream was what they'd always wanted. And they couldn't be bothered to go fulfill the destiny that God had for God's people.
Theologian Walter Brueggeman equates that historical moment to the one we are currently inhabiting, and he also draws a comparison between those comfortable Babylonian captives and the current state of the Church:
The reason we have [run out of steam] is that we have believed the world too much. We have listened to the Babylonians. We have yearned too much for the American dream. And people who get caught in Babylonian dreams or American dreams wind up without energy for faith and mission.This Advent, our challenge as Christians in America is to resist the temptation to sell our souls for promises of security, prosperity, power, and success.
Instead, we are called to sing our songs of Zion in a foreign land, so to speak. We are called to hold fast to the promise of "God with us" through Jesus himself. We are called to act humbly, do mercy and act justly. We are called to live in the hope of Advent with courage and joy.
May it be so for you today.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.
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