Psalm 126 – Faith in Times of Doubt

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

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, 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.

 

Isn’t this a beautiful psalm?  I think it sounds like Shakespeare.  He used dreams and dreaming in so much of his own writing.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream is basically one giant dream.  The first half, especially, sounds like something a triumphant heroine would say in closing.  So now I’m wondering if Shakespeare had any favorite psalms.  If I had to take a guess, I would think this to be one of them.

But why would this psalm be suggested reading for Advent? My beloved NIV footnotes actually came up short (gasp!) on any clues.  But I found a clue when reading different versions of this psalm online.  And I’m so sorry I cannot remember which version or where exactly I found this note, because I really appreciated the insight and wanted to link it.  126:6 says “those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy.”  The whole reason they’re going out weeping is because they are using what grain they have left, the grain that they also eat, to plant.  Of course, you need to plant in order to have food in the long run, but if you don’t have enough grain to get you through the short run, what good is it?  So, as these farmers go out to their field, using up most of what’s left of their food supply, they have many troubles on their mind.  Can I make it to harvest? Will it be a good harvest? Will it rain enough? What if it rains too much, and there is a blight? What if there are locusts this year? A whole myriad of things can effect a harvest.

Planting becomes an act of Faith in a time of doubt.  These farmers may be weeping, but they do it anyway, and God rewards them with the joys of harvest.  Same with the streams of Negev, mentioned in 126:4.  This time my NIV footnotes came through for me.  Negev was a desert region (surprise, surprise) that had seasonal springs.  In the summer months they dried up, but in the winter months the waters returned.  So again, they require Faith through hardship of those who rely upon them.

What does this have to do with Advent?  Advent is a time of preparation, of waiting.  I for one can get anxious over preparations and waiting. This psalm is a reminder that on the other side of that anxiety is joy untold, we just have to have Faith.  Now this isn’t to say that Faith will cure life’s hardships.  One of my favorite church signs of all time said “God didn’t promise a smooth ride, but rather a soft landing.”  But if you go through life’s hardships knowing God is with you, believing in a joy that is so great you’ll think it can’t be real, you must be dreaming, then those hardships will be easier to bear.  It may feel like the world is against you.  Hell, maybe the world IS against you.  And it is okay to feel sad or overwhelmed or anxious or whatever.  Look at those farmers, they were weeping. But don’t stop planting that seed, building that tower, persevering through your act of Faith, because that is what lays the foundation for an outcome of joy.

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Next week I’ll be reading about John the Baptist according to Matthew.  There’s three chapters where he is mentioned, so it’s perfect to round out the last full week of Advent.  These chapters are Matthew 3, 11, and 14, if you want to read along.

Psalm 16 – Borders and Refugees

God has promised us our inheritance.  By sharing our country with others, that inheritance is not jeopardized.

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

 

Happy Advent! I’m so excited to get started.  But where to start? “A Liberal Christian Reads the Bible” is all about finding the Biblical support  for radical love and acceptance. Psalms are kind of like hymns, and singing always lifts my spirits, so I decided to warm up with a psalm.  Googling “Psalms for Advent” gave me a whole list (actually a whole list of lists), and I started with the first one, Psalm 16. I feel like it was divinely inspired, no joke.  By the end of the first verse, I knew it would be a good opening.

Before we talk about the psalm though, let’s talk about Advent. In a nutshell, Advent is the start of the liturgical (church) calendar, and one of my favorite seasons.  It is a time when we prepare for the coming of Christ – both His birth and His return as Messiah.  It is a time of general reflection and contemplation, making it a good time to start this project of biblical reflection and contemplation.  I think of it as a mini and more joyous Lent. Now, let’s talk about the Psalm.

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.”  That word refuge struck me immediately, as the media is full of news of the caravan of refugees now waiting in Mexico to cross the US border.  Then, the last verse of the first part of Psalm 16 says “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance.”  So, the first section of the psalm starts with refuge, and ends with boundaries…refuge, boundaries…refugees, borders.

16:5 (the verse immediately preceding the one mentioning borders) says “you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.”  Here God is reminding us that there is enough for all.  There are LOTS of problems in this country.  Lots.  But even so, it is a place that people come from all over the world.  If we are faithful Christians, shouldn’t we believe in God’s ability to provide for all of us?  He has assigned us our portion, our lot is secure, our boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places.  Let us share our bounty with those who may not have such blessings.  It will not hurt us to do so.

Instead, we will be “saints who are in the land…the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.” (16:3).  The ones who are in this land (the United States) who welcome these refugees, and indeed, any person in need, will find favor in the eyes of God.

Even though the first section of the Psalm spoke to me strongest, I don’t want to ignore the second two sections of the Psalm, so let’s discuss its broad strokes really quick.  According to my NIV footnotes, it is a prayer for safekeeping or a song of trust.  The three stanzas have three individual themes: One, Refuge; Two, Counsel, and Three, Rejoicing.   We’ve discussed refuge at length.

Reading it in the context I have chosen, I see part two as a reminder to reflect upon my actions, making sure they are truly Godly.  Isn’t the author of this psalm describing all of us at night when he says “even at night, my heart instructs me.”? I know that I, for one, tend to go over the day’s events as I lay in bed.  If we have the Lord “always before [us],” or actively in our thoughts, then even this seemingly mundane act can become an act of faith.

In part three, the writer rejoices. The line that most struck a cord with me is “You have made known to me the path of life…” (16:11).  To bring things full circle, Advent is a time of preparing for Jesus’ arrival.  Arrivals signal the end (and beginning) of journeys, or paths.  The refugees are on a journey, or path.  Americans are preparing for their arrival.  Some with hate and fear in their heart, others with love.  Let me end with a plea, that we prepare for the refugees’ arrival the same as we would prepare for Jesus.  With rejoicing, with generosity, and with love.  God has promised us our inheritance.  By sharing our country with others, that inheritance is not jeopardized.  Not to get ahead of myself in this Bible study, but Jesus says to welcome a stranger is to welcome him. (Matthew 25:35)  Let us welcome the strangers, and become saints of the land, worthy of God’s delight.

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If you would like to do something to help the refugees both at the Mexican border and elsewhere, the International Rescue Committee is a great organization worthy of donations.  Located closer to the action, SIREN is helping refugees apply for asylum. Also, it never hurts to call your representatives to let them know you do not agree with actions being taken at the border, like tear-gas used on children.  While there probably won’t be any immediate effect, being vocal in your beliefs can help change policy in the future.  You can find out who your representatives are, and their phone numbers, here.

Wednesday I’ll start discussing the book of Malachi, if you want to read along.