Advent: Born to Set the People Free

Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
hen 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.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves. 

I am in the middle of writing my Master’s thesis. In my paper, I am examining Jacob’s nighttime experience wrestling the man at the Jabbok and considering it as him going through a dark night of the soul. Dark nights, struggle, and wrestling have been fresh on my brain for the past year. Because of this, I am uplifted as I read of the true delight of Psalm 126!

As I have pondered the meaning of darkness, I have learned there are ways of experiencing God that can only occur in the darkness. Exceptional discoveries about our identities, drawing close to precious relationships, and a more intimate prayer life are a few gifts. And then, of course, there are ways we can feel God only in times of joy. Psalm 126 is a community hymn located in the middle of the Song of Ascents, traditionally read at the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths or Sukkoth) in the autumn. These psalms acknowledge God’s provision for the ancient Israelites during the wilderness wanderings.* Interestingly, multiple genres of psalms are represented in this collection: laments, hymns, a royal psalm, and a wisdom psalm. The ancient Israelites had their share of struggle and celebration, and they knew how to communicate with God regardless of their season. They did it all. They felt it all.

Quite frankly, it is hard for me to write about joy and celebration in the midst of the Israel-Hamas war. There is simply no way to wrap up a theme as complicated as the balance of mourning and rejoicing in a neat little bow. Please feel my open-endedness as I express that there is no reconciling certain evils in this world. I refuse to slap on a hollow phrase about how “God is in control” when millions of people are experiencing such sorrow. What I will say is that Psalm 126, along with other community hymns in the Psalter, is not an example of toxic positivity. It is a poem that represents God’s people expressing their joy after they experienced some healing from their past heartbreaks. As the psalm says, “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”

Jacob left a changed and blessed man after his time of wrestling. He crossed over Penuel with the name “Israel” and a limp. We, too, are forever changed after our darkest nights. Yet with every passing day, God’s joys can still abound. I consider God’s “brand” of joy as hearty, warm abundance. It is the joy that parents feel when their children are born, what dogs feel when they are let off leash, and what all of us feel after deep belly laughs with our best friends. When there is a moment, a day, or an entire season that we witness the bountiful joy of God, may we also respond with celebration.

I thank You, God, that I have lived
In this great world and known its many joys;
The song of birds, the strong, sweet scent of hay
And cooling breezes in the secret dusk,
The flaming sunsets at the close of day,
Hills, and the lonely, heather-covered moors,
Music at night, and moonlight on the sea,
The beat of waves upon the rocky shore
And wild, white spray, flung high in ecstasy,
The faithful eyes of dogs, and treasured books.
The love of kin and fellowship of friends,
And all that makes life dear and beautiful…
Because of these and other blessings poured
Unasked upon my wandering head,
Because I know that there is yet to come
An even richer and more glorious life,
And most of all, because
Your only Son Once sacrificed life’s loveliness for me–
I thank You, God, that I have lived. Amen.

– Elizabeth, Countess of Craven (1750-1828)

*Nancy deClaissé Walford, Introduction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient Israel, (Nashville: Chalice Press, 2004), 120.

Mia Hong

Mia holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Therapy from the University of Georgia. She is currently a second-year M.T.S. student at McAfee School of Theology. Since starting at McAfee, she sojourned to Seattle with her husband and dog, but she is delighted to move back to Georgia in January to finish her degree! In her free time, you can find her wearing a cozy sweatshirt and reading a fiction novel.