Psalm 137:1 By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our harps. 3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”4 How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
After many years of unfaithfulness to God, the Israelites were defeated in battle by the Babylonians and (those who didn’t die in the conflict) were sent to exile in Babylon. It was a terrible time. It would be 70 years before they (more realistically their children and grandchildren) were permitted to return to rebuild Jerusalem.
In this passage the writer documents what it was like to be taunted by their Babylon captors. In fact, they weren’t just asked to sing the songs of Zion (their homeland) but were “asked for mirth”. I can imagine one of the Babylonians yelling out, “Hey you! Sing us another of those songs of Zion – and be happy about it! Haha!” And so fearing punishment or perhaps even death they would comply, singing with feigned happiness about their homeland which lay in ruins.
Strangely I think many people this time of year are asked to do something similar. People are expected to be happy and joyful despite their lives laying in ruins. Loved ones have died and are missing. Relationships are broken, families scattered, finances lacking, bodily health a distant memory. And yet people put on brave faces because that’s what people are supposed to do. It’s supposed to be the happ, happiest season of all!
But what if it’s not?
This is the first year my family is experiencing the holidays without my step-father who died in February. I was afraid our gathering yesterday would have a heavy pall of grief over it, but that was not the case. Well, not entirely anyway. We did gather to reflect and remember, to give thanks, to offer a prayer. I’m glad we did that. Much of the rest of the day was quite pleasant. Yet I know for many people this was not the case. It was a day filled with grief and loss and bitterness – which promises to continue through the rest of the holiday season.
And so today I pray for all people whose hearts are broken, who feel anything but happy, who would prefer we just skip right into January. If that’s you, please know you can cast your cares on Jesus through prayer. He is ready and willing to walk with you through the sadness of the season. Lord, let it be so. Amen.