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.
Psalm 126 is one of 15 psalms known as the psalms of ascents, meaning “to go up” and refers to the going up to Jerusalem. Because as you approached Jerusalem from the lower countryside you have to ascend in order to get to Jerusalem. According to the Law of Moses, all the men of Israel were to go up to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. It was these psalms of ascent that the pilgrims sang as they traveled toward Jerusalem. In this Psalm of praise we see that the joy is past, present, and future: “We were filled with laughter” and “songs of joy”, vs 2; “we are filled with joy”, vs 3; and we “will return with songs of joy” vs 6. It involves a reflection of their past, the reality of their present and an anticipation of the future. Today just like those traveling on a pilgrimage of praise, we must reflect on God’s past provision, His present presence and His future promise. As we approach the Christmas season we find ourselves looking back at His past redemption and forward to His promised return. You see the Christian life is lived looking back at His redemption, not our regrets, and focusing on His future return not our failures. Living in this time between the provision and the promise means both pain and pleasure. It means living in the twin realities of tears and triumph, weeping, and worship. The first three verses of psalm 126 reveal a sigh of relief, as they remember their release from captivity in Babylon. They describe God’s deliverance as a dream come true because His promises were just about all the people had left of their religious heritage as they were held in slavery in Babylon. There was no temple for worship, and during those 70 years, those who remembered Jerusalem told their children about a land their children had never seen. Jerusalem was no more real to the children of the exile than a fable, or a story of the past. The only thing left to them was God’s promise to redeem his people out of slavery. All they had was the dream of deliverance, they knew about the promises but when the actual moment of provision came, it overtook and overwhelmed them with praise. God’s joy was lavished on Israel, giving the nation a reputation of being blessed, vs 2: “Then it was said among the nations, ‘the Lord has done great things for them’.” The rest of the world witnessed God’s special work of sanctification, the setting a part of what had been separated, the bringing back into love that which was lost. All of creation could clearly see that they had a God who communicated His care and compassion not just in words but also in mighty works. As He reached to rescued, so great was His act of restoration that the rest of the nation’s heard about it, even without the invention of radio, TV, or internet. You see when God intercedes it’s not just impressive its immense; even the ungodly admitted that He accomplished “great things”. What great things has God done? The record of our great God and His redemption is revealed on nearly every page of Scripture. Every divine act is a mighty and miraculous intervention. Eugene Peterson says that “Joy has a history, Joy is the verified, repeated experience of those involved in what God is doing. Our Joy is nurtured by looking at and living in this history, by building on this foundation of blessing. You see just like psalm 126 where the Lord restored the fortunes of His people the New Testament opens with the announcing of advent. God’s great work of redemption, the sending of His One and only Son Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. For centuries, the prophets had preached the message of the coming Messiah and now the Angels were announcing His arrival. Yet at first only a few dared to dreamed, in fact for a while only one person in the whole world, the virgin Mary, knew and understood the peace that God had planned. Over time others were invited to dream, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zacharias, the shepherds, the Wise Men. The opening words of Psalm 126 have become for Christians one of the most fitting exclamations of their understanding of what God did in sending his Son into the world to die for sinners. And, what began solely in the song of Mary is now sung by millions upon millions of the redeemed around the world this time of year . We join the voices of those who sang Psalm 126 for centuries before Christ was born, when God brought back the captivity of Zion, when God entered the world to redeem it from sin and death, we were like those who dreamed. The Lord has done great things for us and we can proclaim His praise.This Christmas season we have the same opportunity to praise as God’s people did in the past. As we celebrate the coming of Christ, the King who came to conquer the chaos. The question is, are we going to look to the past, to see His provision of peace and participate with praise in the present? Are we going to get caught up in celebrating Christ or are we going to cry over our current circumstances? Christ came to deliver us from the chaos, to replace our weeping with reaping, yet today instead of Christmas being a celebration of His coming for many it’s a crazy circus. Instead of Christmas being a celebration of being delivered from chaos we have created a season catered to the chaos. Our Christmas circus is more of a juggling act than joy in Jesus, instead of the Messiah we have mission impossible where we hope to jump through the flaming hoops of hype without getting burned. It’s become a credit card melting circus, where instead of the focus being on the everlasting One it’s on economics. What should be the most wonderful time of the year has become the most worn out time of the year. Where when it’s over instead of being filled with the presence of His peace we want to fill a prescription for Prozac. Christmas is about the Almighty not high wire aerial acrobatics, it’s about worship not a worry workout. What if this Christmas we took time to reflect on our redemption? What if just like the pilgrims who journeyed to Jerusalem in the Joy of worship we also made it really was a day dedicated to celebrate Christ. You see just as their release was a dream realized, so is ours. What may seem like a dream, something too good to be true is really reality, we don’t have to dream we can wake up and worship. This is redemption realized, the released from the bondage and penalty of sin. Other world religions offer rules, but our Redeemer offers redemption, which is more than just release from sin it’s a relationship with the Savior. Joy is the outcome of the Christian life; we don’t generate it God does. Today many are trying to gain joy through temporary pleasure; our enormous entertainment industry stands as a sign of what we are really seeking. We are attracted and addicted to artificial joy. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be entertained, but it’s foolish to think we will find joy from our entertainment endeavors. Joy is not a commodity, it comes from Christ, it can’t be purchased, it’s a product of our pursuit of Jesus. We don’t need a distraction from our stressful lives, we need a cure, and the only cure comes from a living relationship with Jesus. Our need and desire for joy is legitimate, but how we get that need met often isn’t. So this season stop and savor your salvation, soak in God’s One and only Son.