Today is the third Sunday of Advent.  Only one more Sunday separates us from the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Like the other two Psalms in this Advent cycle, Psalm 126 is a plea for a reversal of a bad situation.  What is interesting is the order of these verses.  Psalm 126The plea comes in verses 4-6.  However, verses 1-3 are a celebration of how great it is (was?) that the Lord restored Zion.  The celebration comes before the plea?  There are three options for interpretation, as I see it.

1.  Verses 4-6 were written/prayed first.  After the prayer, the Lord acted, and the writer of the psalm composed 1-3 in celebration.

2.  Verses 1-3 are about a previous time when God had delivered Zion, and the psalmist calls these thoughts to mind–both his mind and Yahweh’s mind–as he prepares to make his plea.

3.  Verses 1-3 are, although written in the past tense, more about a future hope for when the Lord will restore the fortunes of Zion, something like a faith proclamation “Won’t it be great when the Lord does this.”  It is a little like talking about how great it is when it rains, then praying for rain.

I don’t know which one is the best option.  I lean toward option 2.  It makes more sense to me, particularly in light of verse 5.  The psalmist knows this kind of reversal to be possible because he has experienced it.

[1] When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

This opening verse is so poetic–it is almost Shakespearean.  What dreams may come, what restoration might follow, what amazing, crazy thing might the Lord do for us?

[2] Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” [3] The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

Can you remember the last time your mouth was “filled with laughter,” and joy rolled of your tongue?  If nothing else, these opening verses remind us that we should not fail to celebrate when things are good.  Remembering good things are an important way for us to cope with troubles in the present.  It reminds us that life was once good, and someday, it just might be so again.  Then, when those good days do return, make certain to laugh and shout.

My rebuke today is for those who, living in the middle of good times, do not know how to enjoy it.

[4] Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! [5] Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! [6] He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

There is a three-stage progression of the mental image here which smells like genius.  Whoever composed this train of thought was a skilled metaphor maker.  The first one, verse 4, is the common biblical idea of survival in the desert.  The Negeb received little rainfall and has few natural springs.  When the Lord acts, the desert we have made of our lives, the situation that has become unbearable any longer suddenly becomes habitable again.  Our lives can continue.  Notice the feeling of verse 4, though, is different than the rest.  Verse 4 is the plea–it is the point of the whole prayer–“Restore our fortunes, O Lord–Please!”

It would be negligent, I think, to skip over the spiritual symbolism of water for the Holy Spirit.  If we are spiritual dry, it is likely because we have moved away from the spiritual oasis of the Scriptures, worship, and service.

The second and third image intensifies the desert-turned-farmland even more.  In verse 5 sowing is made in tears.  This may represent the hard labor of planting in general, but more particularly it probably represents the futility of planting in a desert with no irrigation.  There is a certain kind of despondency and sorrow that comes upon a person who knows (or thinks she knows) their hard work is in vain.  The seed is planted, and the only moisture for it are the tears of a dehydrated, puffy, and red face made weak from sadness.

Surprise!  Because the Lord has acted, those futile crops, the doomed future, has actually produced!  What was thought to be useless and wasted is actually profitable.  Seed becomes sheaves, tears become shouts of joy.  Cue music–start singing ‘Bringing in the Sheaves . . .”

One wonders if, and I’m just thinking here, if one of the reasons so many things that ‘churches’ plant fail is because they are not planted with the appropriate amount of tears, or that they are always planted in what we think of as fertile places instead of the ‘desert’ where God is at work.

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