“Shouts of Joy!”

Psalm 126, December 13th, 2020

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


(Second Sunday of Advent Year B Blue or Violet)

Light the Third Advent Candle – Joy

“Hear now the ancient words, written so long ago, attributed to the Psalmist, contained in the Book of Psalms, chapter one hundred & twenty-six, verses one thru six.”

Psalm 126

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 

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.” 

3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. 

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. 

5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. 

6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. 

“Having listen to the Psalmist’s words of laughter and of joy, shouts of joy, which shall come when fortunes are restored, let us now ponder how these words translate into our lives today.”

“Shouts of Joy!”

This morning we have lit three candles, the Advent candle of Joy now joins that of the candle of Peace and the candle of Hope.  We started our Advent season with a conversation regarding the importance of hope.  We all need a little hope.  Sometimes, it feels like we truly need a lot of hope, yet hope is like a mustard seed.  Once we plant the seed of hope into our hearts or the hearts of others; once planted, then it is a matter of nurturing the budding seed of optimism, expectation, and faith, holding them close and encourage their growth.  It is amazing how hope can grow and grow when we each make the effort to share it with those around us.  In the warmth of this feeling of hope – which shall burst forth from our very hearts, we create a place, a safe place, where peace can once again flourish also!  The hymn “Let there be Peace on Earth”, points out the need for us to recognize that peace begins within each of us.  Just like the seed of hope, peace needs to be cultivated and fed.  Through encouragement we can create a space for peace to flourish.  All these things are possible ‘if’ we but recognize that God’s Living Spirit is available to help us grow a ‘plentiful and bountiful garden’ giving us nourishment to support the harvest of these first fruits of our ever budding and growing faith, especially during this season of Advent!  Upon this backdrop – we can begin to grow and reap some joy.  But first, let us expand our conversation to include the foundation upon which joy is truly a celebration!

Many of you, by now, know of my love to have hiked up the White Mountains of New Hampshire when I was younger.  Consequently, mountain hiking oftentimes, if not always, causes one to acknowledge and give homage to the fact that before we can climb up, we shall need to hike into and sometimes go further down into the valley, into the foot or base of the mountain before the climb upward begins.  Also, an experienced hiker, of such terrain, knows that there are often highs and lows in the journey toward the true base of the mountain.  First, we must journey ever forward into and onto the trail – if one has been blazed for us to follow.  If not, the journey can be even a bit more difficult, as at times the trail may seem unpassable and we will need to go around any obstacles, or even ‘climb over’ it if we have the strength.  If not, we may need to go back and chose a different path.  If we are committed to getting to the peak of the mountain we shall need to hold fast to our commitment and grab hold of a bit of grit and push ever forward and upward to claim the ultimate prize – of standing at the top!  If one has ever experienced the true joy of making it to the top, hopefully above the tree line where the visibility of the terrain is, ‘life changing’, as it gives one a fresh, a new understanding of the vast beauty of God’s Creation!     

Life of course is not all about a recreational hike up a mountain.  Life does, however, offer us some parallels to the imagery of a mountain hike, the highs, the lows, the false trails, and those impossible moments.  Hardships of all sorts often stand in the way of a hoped for ‘softly cushioned hike’ into the future for most of us.  Usually, we find ourselves deeply involved in the realities of our today’s and the future is something we sometimes ‘dream of’ with ‘high hopes’ of a better day!  In the modern world in which we live the things we hope for may not equate to asking for the “restoration of the fortunes of Zion.”  The Israelites surely equated their fortunes in a different context than what you and I would define as ‘our fortunes or misfortunes’ in the context of the Twenty-First Century, where we now exist.  As we consider those things which we seek after, we may find ourselves stumbling upon some of the common pitfalls of life which we humans of any generation can identify with.  At such times as these, when our fortunes, our life situations and needs… necessitate being righted, we have turned to God and perhaps those around us asking for some respite, some relief from it all. 

Thankfully, we each have, or we know of someone who has felt that needed uplift, that desired helping hand, thereby once again finding themselves, and hopefully ourselves – standing upright upon our feet once again.  When this happens and we find our balance in life along this journey restored, righted, and rebuilt, we have rejoiced.  Most certainly, at such times, oftentimes unexpected moments of transformation, times of rejuvenation of life’s situations… whether they be your own, or in the life of someone you know – when life took a turn; it improved dramatically, leading onto an enhanced and enriched pathway, an improved circumstance; surely there is renewed joy at such a juncture!  Let us never forget those past moments of joy and renewed hope!  For we both know, you and I, we know that life still has a few ups and downs in front of us.  So, let us cling to the knowledge that our God has not and shall not forget us! 

We also know, all too well, life often brings moments of sorrow.  Sorrow comes when we have dared to truly risk caring for someone in our lives.  Sorrow can lead us into many directions…. shedding tears is an obvious direction, a common malady, we humans turn to in times of sadness or sorrow.  The psalmist points to tears, in contrast to the joy, those who came before us have felt; moments in their journeys when God has come into their lives and taken them forward into new times.  Most of us can identify with such times, instant’s when things have gone awry.  Surely, in times such as these which we currently live in – we can all relate to this thought!  We can surely relate to the people whom the Psalmist refers to.  Prayerfully, we can tell our own stories of how God came to us or someone we know and helped them through a difficult time.  I could tell you about times when my plight seemed so utterly hopeless… and the fix(s) that were needed, they were clearly out of my reach, out of my control to affect the outcome.  However, at a point, not necessarily a point of my choosing, God orchestrated, arranged, or coordinated a set of circumstances that took me to a ‘new place’ into a new and better reality.  We are being reminded, through our scripture lesson today, that we do not walk alone on our journeys.  Sure, it can feel that way now and then.  Yet, if we follow the guidance of the Psalmist we can see, clearly, that a ‘Power’ outside of ourselves has intervened and has pulled us, or someone we know, ‘out of the pit’ or difficulty which had been causing such hardship, distress, or sorrow.  As we continue our Advent journey, toward our annual Christmas celebration, our celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus, we are reminded of the lengths that our God, that ‘Power’ outside of ourselves, is willing to go to be with us and help us through the difficult times!  This ought to bring a ‘joyful uptick’ in our current emotional state!    

The psalmist speaks of “those who sow in tears,” a form of weeping which through their tears “shall reap shouts of joy!”  How can this be?  First, we need to reflect on what we know of weeping.  In ‘eulogies’ for those who have died, passed from this current life, we often see families and close friends mourn the passing of their loved one with tears.  Pastors often refer to these tears, these moments, and times of weeping, as a form of cleansing, a time of healing for the pain, the sorrow that one feels at such times of sadness.  Tears at such a time, are often considered to be tears of healing; washing away the pain, the anger, the fear, and the distress which one feels at the time of loss of a loved one.  Collectively, our times of weeping join us together with our ancestors, as they too have wept tears of sorrow and pain.  The point is, if we allow ourselves to just imagine, just imagine if our descendants, families and all our associates, never wept for the pain of loss, injustice, or the oppression of others, just imagine what a ‘hollow sense of insensitivity’ would now overshadow us!  Just imagine if we did ‘not’ feel our pain or the pain of others… picture how meaningless our lives would be.  No, we cannot set aside our tears for they are the fruit of our very essence as feeling, loving, and compassionate people!  It is through our tears by which we bond with those, who have also felt the fulness of life’s sorrows and joys!  Today, we can take joy in knowing our God, through the mystery of the birth of the Christ Child, born of Mary, has also felt our pain and that of all peoples: past, present, and future!

The promises of God, at the time of the Christ Child’s birth, causes us to dream.  Dreams lead us to awaken with new determinations to do the will of God.  Dreams energize us to be the people of faith that comfort others in their needs.  In Christ, we are comforted to know the people from back when the Psalms were written.  They needed to be reminded of the faithfulness of God as they too, felt the twinges, the stings, and pains of human life, as they wept.  The Psalmist uses their pain to speak of past trials and tribulations of the ancient people of God as recorded in the Old Testament.  Let us as a people seek after the fullness of God’s love to restore our sense of peace and feel the joy of our reading this morning, as it reminds us of the belief that God will once again: be there for those who seek after the love of God.  And the Psalmist said: “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, our God has done great things for those ‘who came before us’.  Surely, our God, has also done great things for us, also, and we rejoiced.”  /Psalm 126:2&3 adapted/

In closing, let us be reminded of how laughter leads to relaxed emotions and how laughter calms our stress as well as our very nerves.  My grandfather, the Rev. Herbert Dixon, was ‘really’ good at telling jokes, causing folks to laugh.  Even when I was in seminary, thirty years ago, a fellow student was working in a church near the area where my grandfather had been a pastor.  He mentioned Rev. Dixon’s name to some of the church members and they remember my dear grandfather, who died back in 1964, they remember him for his sense of humor.  What a beautiful tribute to who he was and how he sought to simply bring the love of God, the faithfulness of God, to those who put their trust in God’s hands.  Let us wear the garment of joy ‘loosely’, just as a joyful old preacher wore his sense of humor ‘loosely’ for those he served.  We can be thankful that the Psalmist of old, and all the good men and women who… have been willing to tell us that through God’s faithfulness, trust can lead us to rejoicing – with laughter and shouts of joy!

Amen.

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