When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who
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.
our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb [desert].
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.
You know the Christmas season is
supposed to be a joyous season. We have all kinds of Christmas
carols filled with references to that joy -- Joy To The World (the
savior is born), Oh Come All Ye Faithful (joyful and triumphant), Hark
The Herald Angels Sing (glory to the newborn King), Joyful All Ye
Nations Rise (join the triumph of the skies), Angels We Have Heard On
High (sweetly singing or' the plains and the mountains in reply echoing
their joyous strains). You know all those songs.
And the secular songs as well join in
the happy chorus. Whether laughing all the way through Jingle
Bells, or shouting out with glee for Rudolph. It's a joyous time.
So why is it that so often it seems to
be a bleak time? Why is it that there's so much depression in
December? Why is it that suicide rates always go up in the
I've always wondered what the
correlation is between the increase of depression in society and
typically the increase in worship attendance in December. Is there
some connection here? Are you a person that comes to church
because you're depressed or are you a person who gets depressed after
you come to church?! J
I hope that's not the case, certainly that's not what we seek to
create. If you've been to churches like that, that are filled with
depressed people (they begin with a funeral dirge and then it goes
downhill from there). But we want to uplift people, depressed
There are many reasons why holidays can
be hard, especially the Christmas season. LeBron McBride, a
Disciples pastor and family therapist in Georgia, names 8 causes for the
holiday blues in this month's DisciplesWorld magazine (it's a great
magazine, if you don't have a subscription you should get one, but if
not we'd be glad to give you a copy of this article). He provides
some suggestions for how to combat those blues. The 8 causes he
cites (let's see how many of these fit):
First, for those without families,
holidays are a painful time that remind them that they are alone.
Second, for those who have recently
lost a loved one or a job or their marriage, the holidays remind them of
Third, holidays are a time of
over-indulgence in alcohol, fat, and sugar. None of them very good
for our bodies, creates shame and guilt, and physically we don't feel as
well as a result.
Fourth, holidays can be an enormous
financial burden, or simply remind us that we never have enough to buy
all those wonderful things we see advertised.
Fifth, holidays are a very busy time
for us, resulting in physical exhaustion.
Sixth, holidays often add stress to our
Seventh, when it has been a difficult
year, coming to the end of the year causes us to reflect on the pain of
the past year and brings all of that up again.
And then lastly, especially at
Christmas time, the religious emphasis of the holidays may call up
feelings of spiritual emptiness or lack of meaning in our lives.
Now that I've reminded you of all those
things (to bring you down) -- do you feel any better? J
Well, there are many sources of help,
and the article cites many of those. Things such as seeking out a
friend, seeking help from a counselor or therapist or a physician,
starting a good regimen of exercise and diet, meditation and
prayer. Giving of yourself -- holiday season is a time to
give. It's often in that giving of ourselves that we are renewed
in our own spirit. And it's precisely because all of us have felt
some of these things at some time in our life that we need to hear the
good news in this Psalm.
So I want you to take note that the
context of Psalm 126, with its three references in just 6 short verses,
to shouts of joy, to mouths filled with laughter and rejoicing, that the
context is NOT (I repeat, not) some joyous holiday, a great victory
celebration. The perspective is not one of being on the inside for
a festive party, pitying those on the outside, on the street with their
signs. And you know that feeling -- be thankful that you're here
and not out there. That's not the perspective of this
The context, instead, is that of those
that have lost their fortunes. Those who sow in tears. And
go out weeping, as the Psalm says, to reap their pitiful harvest that
they know is woefully inadequate to provide their means. The
worker laid off at Christmas time. The parent with no money to buy
Christmas gifts for their children. The man or woman diagnosed
with a terminal disease. People who have every right to be bitter,
angry, or depressed, and yet somehow, inexplicably, have discovered in
spite of everything else, in the midst of all their difficulties, that
it is still better to live with joy rather than in sorrow.
How can that be?
When Patrick and I, my son, went to
Nicaragua three years ago (a completion of 5th grade in a
Spanish-immersion program), to tryout his language skills, we went and
visited (a group of 20 kids and adults), a school on an island in Lake
Nicaragua (a group of islands). And this little school building
was literally the only building on this island. A one-room
school-house for about 80 children. Fortunately, in Nicaragua it
doesn't get too cold so you don't have to be inside. The kids and
their families were all waiting there for us on the island when we got
there, and all their boats lined up that they had come in, etc.
And there was a big opening ceremony, and speeches made, and songs sung,
and our kids brought with them gifts. School kits of paper and
colored pencils and plastic rulers. When they handed out those
gifts to the other children you would have thought they were Santa
Claus. The kids were so excited to receive these things and
immediately began playing with their new gifts and drawing things and
And then those children returned the
favor by teaching our children how to fish. In true Tom Sawyer
fashion with nothing but a stick and a string on the end of it and a
hook. They went out in teams with one Spanish child and one from
our group with a contest to see who could catch the most fish. And
came back with bucket-loads of fish. Just had a great time.
And of course there was a party with a piñata, and all the kids
laughing and giggling.
As we left in the twilight of the
evening and got back onto our big boat and waving goodbye and shouting
to one another, we could see the homes on all the other little islands
around. Huts, really. No electricity, no telephones, none of
the modern conveniences. Very simple lifestyle. It was easy
to imagine that the uniforms those kids were wearing to school were
probably the nicest clothes that they had. As we left, I
wondered: which group really was the richer of the two?
There are two people in our midst that
characterize the spirit of this Psalm, one who is a youth and one who is
. . . .well, older.
John Campbell, Monte's grandson and
Glen's son, broke his arm in a football game -- a Pop Warner
championship series. Very severe break, had to have a metal plate,
surgery, and all of this. His folks were concerned that he
wouldn't be able to play basketball (his favorite sport). You know
what John told his father? He said it was the "best thing
that ever happened to him". It was his right arm, and he's
right-handed. "But Dad, now I'll have to learn how to dribble
and shoot with my left hand. I will be a better basketball player
because of it". What a spirit.
Lee Wahlstrom didn't break his arm, he
broke his shoulder, and that's why he's in a sling right here.
Just right outside, out front, after volunteering as he always does on
Wednesday's, went out and tripped and fell. And Lee, being a
former paramedic, knew enough not to try and get up, and laid there in
the rain and the cold on the pavement. Even though the new fire
station is about a block away, it was at least 15 minutes (seemed like
an eternity) we were out there waiting for help to arrive trying to keep
Lee warm on that cold pavement. And you know what he was doing the
whole time? He was telling jokes. He was keeping us in a
good spirit. When the paramedics finally did arrive and asked if
he'd lost consciousness, I said "heck no, he hasn't even lost his
sense of humor!". What a spirit.
Christian author Fred Beakner says that
happiness is a result of human achievement. A happy home, a happy
marriage, a good job that makes you happy, those are things we do.
Joy, on the other hand, comes as a result of a divine gift. He
writes: "the miracle sometimes of being just who we are, with
the blue sky and green grass, the faces of our friends, and the waves of
the ocean being just what they are. The joy of release of being
suddenly well when before we were sick, of being forgiven when before we
were ashamed and afraid, of finding ourselves loved when we were lost
and alone. Joy comes as a gift, and often as a surprise."
So hear the good news. The source
of our Joy: what God has done before, God will do again, says the
Psalmist. The joy of the Psalmist means even in times of tragedy
and sorrow, therefore, we can be joyful. For if God restored the
fortunes of Zion once, God will do so again. If God healed the
blind and the lame once, God will do so again. If God fed the
hungry and the poor once, God will do so again. If God overcame
death and the cross once, God will do so again, and again, and again.
Why? Because that is the nature
of our God. It is the promise not of some far-off future act of
God but of that on-going presence of God in our world here and now that
is the source of our joy. It calls us to imagine a different
world, a world where God reigns and restores the fortunes of all who sow
in tears. Like those who dare to dream of a time when people would
be judged by the strength of their character and not the color of their
skin. Imagine a future, God's future. Free of all prejudice
and discrimination. Like those who dare to dream of a land with
freedom of religion and speech. Imagine a place, God's
place. Of respect for all faiths, and freedom from all terror and
hate. Like those who dare to dream of a country ruled by law and
elected leaders, not armies and Kings. Imagine a world, God's
world, ruled by justice and peace. Like those who proclaim that
the poor are blessed, and those who ate manna in the wilderness.
Imagine a people, God's people, who will not allow a person to go hungry
or a child to grow up in poverty.
Imagine what a day that will be when
God restores our fortunes. What a day that will be when we not
only believe the promise of God but we act on the promise of
God. Then we will be like those who dream. Our mouths will
be filled with laughter. Our tongues with shouts of joy. And
it will be said: the Lord has done great things for us.
Rejoice, people of God, this is our
destiny. Heaven on earth. Live with joy, for our Lord is