1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
Isn’t this a beautiful psalm? I think it sounds like Shakespeare. He used dreams and dreaming in so much of his own writing. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is basically one giant dream. The first half, especially, sounds like something a triumphant heroine would say in closing. So now I’m wondering if Shakespeare had any favorite psalms. If I had to take a guess, I would think this to be one of them.
But why would this psalm be suggested reading for Advent? My beloved NIV footnotes actually came up short (gasp!) on any clues. But I found a clue when reading different versions of this psalm online. And I’m so sorry I cannot remember which version or where exactly I found this note, because I really appreciated the insight and wanted to link it. 126:6 says “those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy.” The whole reason they’re going out weeping is because they are using what grain they have left, the grain that they also eat, to plant. Of course, you need to plant in order to have food in the long run, but if you don’t have enough grain to get you through the short run, what good is it? So, as these farmers go out to their field, using up most of what’s left of their food supply, they have many troubles on their mind. Can I make it to harvest? Will it be a good harvest? Will it rain enough? What if it rains too much, and there is a blight? What if there are locusts this year? A whole myriad of things can effect a harvest.
Planting becomes an act of Faith in a time of doubt. These farmers may be weeping, but they do it anyway, and God rewards them with the joys of harvest. Same with the streams of Negev, mentioned in 126:4. This time my NIV footnotes came through for me. Negev was a desert region (surprise, surprise) that had seasonal springs. In the summer months they dried up, but in the winter months the waters returned. So again, they require Faith through hardship of those who rely upon them.
What does this have to do with Advent? Advent is a time of preparation, of waiting. I for one can get anxious over preparations and waiting. This psalm is a reminder that on the other side of that anxiety is joy untold, we just have to have Faith. Now this isn’t to say that Faith will cure life’s hardships. One of my favorite church signs of all time said “God didn’t promise a smooth ride, but rather a soft landing.” But if you go through life’s hardships knowing God is with you, believing in a joy that is so great you’ll think it can’t be real, you must be dreaming, then those hardships will be easier to bear. It may feel like the world is against you. Hell, maybe the world IS against you. And it is okay to feel sad or overwhelmed or anxious or whatever. Look at those farmers, they were weeping. But don’t stop planting that seed, building that tower, persevering through your act of Faith, because that is what lays the foundation for an outcome of joy.
Next week I’ll be reading about John the Baptist according to Matthew. There’s three chapters where he is mentioned, so it’s perfect to round out the last full week of Advent. These chapters are Matthew 3, 11, and 14, if you want to read along.