Week 3 of Advent | Amanda Miller
Tuesday, December 18
Reading Psalm 48 transported me back to last May, when I was in Jerusalem on a study abroad trip with twenty Belmont students, another professor, and my husband and parents. Several of us spent one warm evening walking along the top of the medieval walls of the Old City, looking out over Mount Zion and the lights of the city. The psalmist invoked the poignancy of that moment, and the bittersweet taste of all my visits to Jerusalem: “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God. His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth . . . Walk about Zion, go all around it, count its towers, consider well its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will be our guide forever” (vv.1-2, 12-13).
Visiting Jerusalem is always a transformative experience. I have felt God’s presence there in meeting the people of all faiths who call it home, in visiting historical sites, in walking on 2000-year-old pavement that Jesus probably walked upon, and in experiencing something mysteriously sacred about the land itself. Jerusalem truly is beautiful, joyous, and somehow uniquely related to God, as the psalmist says.
It is also a place of sorrow, grief, and conflict—as indeed are all cities filled with fallible human beings. The juxtaposition of the holy and the profane, oppression and liberation, the divinity of God and the frailness of a human infant—these are the realities and the beauty of life in this world. In the 8th century BCE, in Jerusalem, the Israelite prophet Isaiah expressed high hopes for the end of oppression and a reign of justice and righteousness, that the new king (perhaps Hezekiah) would indeed be a “Wonderful Counselor” and the “Prince of Peace” for all peoples (Isaiah 9.1-7). Hundreds of years later, another group of people in Jerusalem read Isaiah’s words and found that they spoke to their own experiences with a “Prince of Peace”—not a king, but a poor artisan who taught, healed, and cared for all people equally, whether they were “respectable” or not.
Two thousand years later, we still read these words, and they still resonate with us. Because Jerusalem—like Beijing, like Cairo, like Nashville—is still a city filled with the presence of God, and yet in desperate need of that very same presence. We prepare this month to celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. May we see in this Advent season both the joy God brings, and the places where we are called to be the divine presence to the world around us.
Assistant Professor, School of Religion
To download a digital copy of the 2012 Advent Guide, put out by Belmont’s School of Religion, click here.