Yr B ~ Advent 3 ~ Psalm 126
It’s almost time to switch gears from the waiting of Advent to the celebration of the coming again of the light of the world in a manger in Bethlehem. Almost – but not yet.
We have some more waiting to do still.
We have some more thinking to do about the darkness that we too often try to ignore.
We’re about to mark the longest night of the year in this part of the world – a time when physically we’re in darkness longer than any other time in the year. It’s symbolic of the spiritual darkness that so many people find themselves in – especially amid the hoopla of the holidays.
So today we’re going to talk head on about tears, and for the third week in a row we’re going to hear a psalmist pray for restoration and healing. Yes Christmas is looming, but it’s still a ways off yet – despite what the mall says!
So we turn today to Psalm 126. It’s a lovely psalm, and nice and short – so maybe I won’t have much to say (yeah, good luck with that!). It’s called a psalm or song of ascents, which means it was probably part of a collection that Jewish people used when they were making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for one of their religious festivals. There was a kind of song book of certain psalms that they’d chant from as they walked the distance, which happened to be a fairly dangerous go. Psalms of ascent tend to be just like this one – gratefully celebrating past blessings and praying for fresh ones. Filled with hope and praying for awareness of God’s Presence in the midst of trouble.
It begins like this: Psalm 126:1 “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” When they say fortunes they don’t mean riches, it’s actually a reference to captivity, so it likely means they’re celebrating being freed from captivity. When that happened “We were like those who dream.” – or, we were like dreamers.
Interesting! Who are the dreamers?
What if we asked the other way? Who doesn’t dream? People with no hope, I guess. I think if you’re in the depths of despair maybe you can’t even muster a dream.
Dreams float on hope, on possibility, even if it seems far off.
Martin Luther King Jr. famously had a dream. John Lennon knew he wasn’t the only one.
What’s your dream?
When you’re celebrating and dreaming everything looks great. Verse 2 “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.'”
Things were so great even the nations, the outsiders, could see it. Even their enemies could tell by the looks on their faces and the spring in their step that they were feeling blessed. Why?
Because…verse 3 “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy!”
Life is awesome! It’s party time! Or at least it was.
Remember, they were reminiscing about how great it felt to be released from exile and captivity. They weren’t necessarily saying they felt all that blessed now!
No matter what your circumstance might be today, can you recall a time when you were on the top of the world? When everything was going your way and life was wonderful? When your mouth was filled with laughter and your tongue with shouts of joy? Of course you can!
But the psalmist isn’t there today.
Today they’re way down in the dumps.
Today those dreamy days are a distant memory.
Today they’re pleading for restoration.
Today they feel like they’re in captivity again – maybe not in a foreign land, but still held captive against their will by forces that seem overwhelming. Maybe we feel held captive sometimes too?
So the psalmist cries out in verse 4 “Restore our fortunes, O LORD, free us from the stuff that’s feeling like its holding us captive, God…”
How? How do we want the relief to come? – “…like the watercourses in the Negeb.”
That’s a really interesting image. The Negeb is a desert-like region south of Jerusalem. The image here is that of a wadi, which is a dry gully or valley. “For months on end, the wadi remains a wasteland where survival of any living thing remains in doubt. But in a moment, as the sky opens up and the torrents of rain begin, the wadi turns from a life depriving site to a life sustaining source.”
This is what they want. This is what we want.
We want God’s saving power to come up out of nowhere and the skies to open up and angel choirs to sing and we want floods of blessings to rain down on us and solve all our problems.
It’s a prayer for a magic wand – understandable, but not very faithful, and not very likely to happen.
What’s really fascinating to me, and what makes the psalms so powerful and so human, is that the moment after the psalmist ‘wishes upon a star’ they move into a stunningly deep, mature and profound theological insight. Maybe there’s a lesson here for us?
Maybe when you’re praying about big stuff you just gotta let ‘er rip at first and let all your passion and heartache and need just gush out whether it makes any kind of sense or not.
It feels good to just emotionally explode and lay your soul bare.
It’s pure emotion.
It’s unedited and uncontrolled and primal and raw.
I think that’s a brilliant place to start, because it’s so honest.
And after you pour your guts out, after the catharsis, there is a sacred quietness. A vulnerability. A surrendering. Shalom.
As you breathe in and out trying to get your bearings you are profoundly open to God’s Presence because you are so fully and completely present to that moment. And that’s when the psalmist’s insight comes.
Psalm 126:5-6 “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts (or songs) of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with songs of joy, carrying their sheaves (bringing in their harvest).”
In an instant we’ve gone from a snap your fingers magic wand wish to an image of something very slow and organic and faithful – sowing seeds.
Sowing is a serious act of faith.
Sowing is hope exemplified.
Sure, there’s a certain expectation based on years of experience where we’ve learned that if we sow a certain way and tend to the crop it will usually yield a harvest, but there are no guarantees.
And that’s why the psalmist has faith here. They sow because years of experience has taught them that God blesses, God restores relationships, God turns us back, God saves us from ourselves, again, and again, and again, and again – provided, of course that we tend the crop and don’t just abandon our sowings or think someone else will gift us with a harvest.
It’s such a rich image. And what do we sow? Love, of course. Whether we’re feeling on the top of the world or at the bottom of the heap we sow love. Whether we sow in happy dreams or sow in tears doesn’t matter. Sowing doesn’t guarantee a harvest but not sowing absolutely guarantees no harvest.
So the psalmist says, “May those who sow in tears reap with songs of joy!” That’s God’s promise.
If you have the faith to sow – if you have the hope for a harvest – even though you may be sowing in tears, you will reap in joy!
Now, watch this part carefully.
What happens to the tears? Are they taken away?
Does a magic wand sprout up out of the ground and make it all better to reward you for having the faith to sow?
Our tears are not taken away when we offer our openness to God and sow our presence in God’s Presence.
Our tears are not taken away… they are transformed!!!!!!!
The joy grows out of the sorrow.
The joy emerges from the tears.
It’s the sadness that gives birth to the laughter.
And it all comes through sowing, trusting, and waiting!
Waiting. There’s our famous Advent word again. But it’s not just waiting for time to pass. There’s a saying that goes ‘time heals all wounds.’ That may be. Time may heal your hurts but it takes Something More to make us whole. Something More! Something More promises a harvest of joy from your faithful sowing of love.
Waiting, but not alone.
Waiting in the deep hope of anticipating the joy of God.
Sowing and waiting is extremely counter cultural. There’s no quick fix here, no instant gratification – which of course brings me to Christmas.
Our modern commercial Christmas is all about the watercourses on the Negeb! Everybody wants it NOW. It is too easy, too shallow, too superficial, too instantaneous.
Christmas was originally conceived as God’s answer to the world’s deep need. Does Christmas today answer needs? Kinda, but they’re the wrong needs!
The only tears of weeping people seem to want to talk about come when they don’t get the gift they wanted. And any hints of darkness are quickly denied or shushed. Surely we can’t be the only ones who think this is crazy.
One quick glance at the news is enough to show us that the world has deep darkness – very deep darkness! So what do people do with their sorrow and tears and darkness? Sadly, if we only follow the modern Christmas way we’re only offered shiny, shallow, artificial light.
We sow nothing, and reap nothing.
Instead of acknowledging our truth we paste a smile on our faces and plow through the holidays hoping no one will notice.
Instead of sowing our tears we swallow them.
This is not healthy at all. Richard Rohr insightfully says, “Those who do not learn to transform their pain will transmit it!”
Everyone wants joy at Christmas, but not everyone is willing to do the waiting for it.
Joy is not the same as feeling good.
Joy is not simple happiness or things going well.
Joy is deeper!
Joy is something that stirs your soul, not tickles your fancy.
Real joy comes from resting in God’s Presence, and from trusting in God’s Presence even when God feels far away.
Real joy is not the opposite of tears, it’s the transformation of tears.
“May those who sow in tears reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with songs of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
From tears of weeping to tears of joy…
Such is the promise of God.
Such is the hope of those who sow in love.
Such is the gift of Advent waiting.