In ancient Israel there were three annual religious festivals celebrated in Jerusalem – Passover/Unleavened Bread, Weeks (Pentecost), and Booths (Tabernacles). The Israelites celebrated these important feasts by traveling to the holy city of Jerusalem. The journey was arduous, as this sacred spot was higher than all the surrounding area; it was 2,500 feet above sea level on Mt. Zion. As the pilgrims ascended the mountain, they would sing Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). The Psalms of Ascent are encouraging, inspiring and comforting, and were sung by the pilgrims to strengthen each other on their strenuous trek.
Jerusalem has tremendous significance throughout the history of the Israelites. Before they entered the Promised Land, God instructed them to meet him three times a year in a place that He would choose to place His name (Deut. 12:1-11). “But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit … then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide.” But it would be another 400 years before Solomon built the temple and claimed the Temple as God’s house. God affirmed Solomon’s prayer when He said: “I have heard your prayer and supplication that you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built to put My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually” (I Kings 9:3; cf. II Chron. 7:12, 16).
Jerusalem was the place where Abraham climbed Mount Moriah and had his faith tested; in obedience he prepared an alter and was about to kill his own son as a sacrifice to God, when the angel held his hand and explained that it was a test. Abraham’s test of faith prefigured the sacrifice of God’s son, Jesus Christ. When Abraham and his son Isaac reached the mountain, Isaac innocently asked “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham prophetically replied “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8). Solomon’s Temple was built on Mount Moriah, and it was on a nearby hill, Calvary, that Jesus was crucified to death, becoming the perfect sacrifice that would take away the sin of mankind.
God chose Jerusalem because it prophetically foreshadowed Jesus’ first and second coming to earth; the two important events connected to Jerusalem prominently prefigures the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world on a cross outside Jerusalem, as well as the the King who will one day rule the world from David’s throne on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Advent starts this Sunday and is a wonderful time to reflect both on Jesus’ first coming, as well as his second coming. Just as the ancient Israelites traveled three times a year to draw closer God and give him homage, so too we can use the time in advent to ‘ascend to God’. Jerusalem is a place of pilgrimage where both the ancient Israelites and present day Jews and Christians visit to encounter God and experience His overflowing love and mercy.
“What is God’s love? Many think of it as a big strong rope, a lifeline that God dropped down from heaven, and now we have the privilege of trying to climb it. In other words, God sent Jesus because of His love, and now that He has done His part, the rest is up to us. God has thrown us a rope and now we need to climb ever closer to Him. There are many Christian books that tell you how to climb faster, higher, and with greater success. Many study such books, underline them and then get on with the task of holding on to the rope and clawing ourselves upward to God.” (Blogger Peter Youngren)
Sometimes the trials in life weigh us down and we simply give up in exhaustion and discouragement. It is crucial to have friends to encourage you and keep you uplifted in prayer just as the Israelites encouraged each other with the ‘Songs of Ascent’. Psalm 125 “Those trusting in the Lord are like Mt. Zion, unshakable, forever enduring. As mountains surround Jerusalem, the Lord surrounds his people both now and forever.” Life is a never ending journey, up and down, that we travel to draw closer to God.
During advent we reflect on Jesus’s first coming, when he was born as a human being, Emmanuel, ‘God with us’. Why is this an important event? Because through sin we become separated from God, and without God we are incomplete, simple creatures lost in despair, violence and loneliness. But with Him, we are redeemed, saved and restored.
We are so blessed today to be able to encounter our saving and merciful God in a myriad of ways; daily mass, confession, personal prayer, adoration, helping the poor and sick, and praying with others. This advent take time to discover a new way for you to rendezvous with our Lord.
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Is. 2:2
- Going Up to Jerusalem
- Why Did God Choose Jerusalem