Advent: God With Us

Psalm 126 

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

 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.”
 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

 Restore our fortunes,[c] Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

For young children, there is nothing like the excitement of scampering around at night through the neighborhood, aglow with twinkling lights of every color, ringing the doorbell of an unexpecting neighbor, and then greeting them with an exuberant rendition of “Joy to the World” sung at the top of their lungs. Add in a few jingling bells and the promise of cookies and cocoa at the end, and caroling is nothing short of a dreamlike experience.

Many years ago, as a young mother far from home and knowing my husband would likely have to work many holiday weeks, we started our own Christmas tradition of caroling in our neighborhood with our friends on Christmas Eve’s eve. The children would gleefully sprint from house to house to be the first to ring the bell and yell out to each other songs to sing. Parents would scurry behind them just trying to keep up in the dash through the neighborhood. Inside each home, a family member would beckon everyone to come quick to the door and hear a song. Sometimes we would be met with a spontaneous gift of cookies or candy canes. For a few moments on a dark and cold December night, we were united through song in a message of joy and hope.

Then came the pandemic and our tradition had to be put on pause, and we ached for the exuberance of those December nights. The advent hymn, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, captures this sense of waiting together for the return of unabashed Joy to the world. Jesus is this “joy of every longing heart.” In Psalm 126, we see the same promise of restoration by the Lord for the people of Israel. They, too, move like in a dream, their mouths full of joyful exclamations of the great things God has done. They can hardly contain themselves in their exuberance. Even in the sorrowful moments, unified together, the contagious songs of praise could turn their tears into rejoicing. We saw this play out in real life; some years our friends would be going through difficult times, and this night would be a chance to remember the innocence of childhood and to set their cares aside for a time. As the psalmist writes, “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them” (Psalm 126:6). The power of community and singing together is an important reminder of God’s presence in our lives in both sadness and rejoicing. Together we can sow in sorrow and reap in joy.

This Advent season, pay attention to the way that songs can unite us in a joyful exclamation of the good gift of Jesus our friend. Consider organizing a family sing-along in your home, caroling in your neighborhood, making a “carol-of-the-day” calendar, attending a special musical performance, ringing bells by a red kettle, or singing those Christmas Eve hymns just a bit louder. As Buddy the Elf would say, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

Sarah Blackwell

Sarah Blackwell is a contributing writer at Word & Way and a 2020 graduate of the Gardner-Webb School of Divinity. She is an adjunct instructor in the Religion and Philosophy Department at Wingate University and a D.Min. student at McAfee School of Theology. She is author of a children’s spiritual formation book, God is Here, and writes at