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.
After discovering joy as we reflect on the past we now look forward in verses 4-6 to the anticipated joy of the future. One reason for our rejoicing is that His redemptive work is still being revealed and realized in us. In verse 4 they ask God to “restore” the nation’s “fortunes”, some restoration has occurred, but a fuller measure is still to be seen. An analogy is made as the singer asks that the nation be restored “like streams in the Negev.” The Negev is a desert land, and its name means “dry” referring to desert waterways, called wadis, which are bone-dry most of the year, but in the rainy season this barren land is transformed. As the wadis fill with rain they become streams of life giving water which wash over the dry parched land transforming the barren into bloom. What was formerly arid and uniformly tan and grey becomes a carpet of color. This transformation of barren to bloom is what the singers of this psalm are looking forward to. A completion of God’s redemption in the future, which results in a lush, luxuriant landscape of life. Growing up in the Middle East I got to witness this wonderful desert transformation, as new tender green shoots emerge from the dead dry dust. What was formerly dead becomes alive and dynamic like a dream come true. Just as the rain restores the Negev, so God will restore us, bringing rain to our drought-stricken lives. Just as the singers of Psalm 126 looked forward to a second coming of God’s redemption, like a dead desert exploding into a dynamic blossom, so too can Christians at this season of advent also forward to the second coming when Jesus will make all things new. In Isaiah 65:17-19 17 we read “Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore. 18 Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation! And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness. Her people will be a source of joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and delight in my people. And the sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more “This is not the only prophecy of the new heavens and earth in Scripture but it is one of the most familiar. It is here that we learn about the lamb and wolf dwelling together and the lion eating grass like an ox. Things that we would say feel more like a dream than reality. Some teach that these images are simply metaphors of peace and tranquility. Yet I disagree, no more than John’s visions of the New Jerusalem are fanciful. Streets paved in gold? Gold that is as transparent as glass? A city in the form of a cube 1500 miles on each side? Amazing, astounding, breath-taking dream like images, yet why do we suppose that the God who has made all that we see cannot do as he says? What is more real or more likely, what God does at the beginning, or what he has reserved for the end? Now these singers share some difficult truths as they remind us of the reality of living between the rescue and the redemption between the first and the second coming. When the gift of God first came into the world as a man, and the one where that man, Jesus Christ, will return back to the earth to complete his work of redemption. It is here that Psalm 126 concludes with advice for those of us living in the middle. This middle time is marked by two features, sorrow and sowing, weeping and reaping. This in-between time of sowing seed is a sorrowful and costly one. We are reminded that it will be a painful path and not the picture of pleasure that the preachers of the prosperity gospel paint. To conclude that Christians should be happy in the here and now means to carefully cut out a large bulk of the bible. It means to tear out the teachings on testing’s and trials, and carefully sweep the sorrows and sufferings under the carpet. To ignore the labors, persecutions, difficulties, dangers and discouragements. To forget about the pain that is painted all over the epistles, and hung throughout the history of the Church. Paul was absolutely correct when he wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12 these words “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Today we seem to forget or forgo talking about the tears but tears in the Bible are apparently in order with some of God’s greatest people. Joseph wept, Hannah, David, Hezekiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Peter, Jesus, Mary, Paul, and John wept. The people in psalm 126 still had a lot of problems even after their return from exile. God’s mighty deliverance was followed by depression and disappointment as described in Haggai 1:5-11 and the local opposition in Ezra. Those that had come out of captivity were still in distress even in their own land, Nehemiah 1:3. They had to have faith in their Father that He would continue to be with them and bring them through the trials. You see all these sorrowful things are like seed sown in the ground and those who sow such things will come back with rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them. It was Jesus who showed us how redemptive and productive suffering is to the spiritual life. Enduring the opposition, persecution, and finally crucifixion by sinners was not pleasant but painful. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame and now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. We see it in the painful and sorrowful labors that attend the work of the gospel, and the joy of final redemption when Jesus returns. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.” Most of the time living the life that Paul preached about is not fun, you invest yourself, your words, actions, money, and materials in the lives of others. It’s like taking precious seed and burying it in the dirt. Yet, Paul, like Psalm 126, sounds the other note as well. “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. And, may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” As you contemplate Christmas and prepare your heart to celebrate God’s first coming, respond to His invitation to indulge yourself in the joy of Immanuel, the God-with-us that is so wonderful it’s like a dream come true. As we live between the dream come true and the dream for which we are waiting to come true, let us serve Him by sowing the good seed with sorrow. Knowing that the One who kept His promise, coming to the cradle, will come again on the clouds. Joy is essential to our lives; it is the experience of knowing that we are loved, and that nothing in this world can take that love away. One of the rarely spoken truths is that we often discover joy in the midst of sorrow. It is as a pilgrim on these painful paths that we become most aware of a spiritual reality bigger than ourselves that helps us to hope. We may undergo hardship, but God has the last word of hope. This means we can rejoice even when our dreams are not realized, because Joy is not an escape from sorrow. How many foolishly put their hope in the thought that they can achieve joy by eliminating the things in life that hurt. We have become experts in constructing foolish and futile strategies for achieving joy. But its only when we come to the end of our resources that we realize that joy is what God gives, not what we work up. True joy reminds us that we can face reality, because we do so with the assurance that God is working in our lives, even in the things that cause us pain, to bring about His perfect will. So if your Christmas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be don’t worry, you still have Jesus and that means you have joy.