By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4)
Psalm 137 was written at an extremely dark time in the history of God’s people. Judah ha d been decimated by the Babylonians, Jerusalem destroyed, the temple demolished and countless atrocities carried out against the people. Considering all of this, it’s hardly surprising that the Psalm is laced with bitterness and a desire for revenge.
The Psalm is set in Babylon where the victorious Babylonians ask the Israelites for a song. The reply is incredibly poignant; “How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” Life for the Israelites would have been fairly good in Babylon and some must have wanted to settle down and make the best of things. In contrast the Psalmist wanted only to think of justice and Jerusalem.
As twenty first century believers we are called to sing in a foreign land, that is, a place sometimes hostile and often ambivalent to the Christian message. It can be a challenge and we need to make the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5). Yesterday we had a chance to literally sing in what is if not foreign land, then certainly unusual place.
Some time ago one of our members, Mark, wrote to our local Tesco Extra and asked if we could sing carols and give out mince pies and invitations to our Christmas services. If I’m honest, I didn’t think there was much point but Mark persisted and lo and behold was offered a slot on Friday evening from 6-8 pm a week before Christmas.
So much could have gone wrong, if there were only two or three people trying to sing carols or if we got in the way and upset the staff but in the end the Lord really blessed the event and made it for me a highlight of the year.
We had an excellent turnout and at first we were told that we could stand outside the main doors. It was very cold, two degrees below freezing but everyone was wrapped up warm so we began to sing. After twenty minutes or so the staff invited us to sing inside the store, this may have been through admiration of our superb singing or more likely pity. Whatever the reason we sang carols inside the store for the rest of our time.
I cannot think of a more public place in Talbot Green or for miles around for that matter and the way in which so many made such a public stand was very moving. Young people and some not so young, gave out the invitations and mince pies while the rest of us sang. We are a motley crew with people of diverse ages and backgrounds but we are the Lord’s motley crew. Some of the carols have some of the most wonderful words of our faith and some say very little (not sure what the words of “Ding dong merrily on high” mean particularly the “io io io” in the second verse, we only sang that once).
Many who approached naturally assumed that we were collecting for a good cause. In fact when one member of the public asked for the bucket they received the reply from Paul “Come on their not that bad are they?” Many were surprised to be told that we were singing for the community and to let everyone know that they are welcome in Ebenezer. We had a really good reception from the customers with some still singing the carols in the car park as they loaded their cars with shopping.
When the mince pies, leaflets and voices were used up, we finished for the evening. What a blessing! The feedback from those who took part was universally positive. Our prayer now is that the Lord will use these things to bring people to know him.