"Shouts of Joy"
December 11, 2022 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis
Passage: Psalm 126
Link to service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Shouts of Joy
December 11, 2022
Read Psalm 126
This is the Word of the LORD.
This is the third Sunday of Advent. Traditionally, the third Sunday of Advent is focused on “joy.” Hope, peace, joy and love are the topics for the four Sundays of Advent. Let me take a moment to review where we have been.
First, Advent is a time of hope. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Just as the people of Israel waited for the fulfillment of God’s promises in the birth of the Messiah in order to make things right; we await Jesus’ coming again because we look around and see things are not the way they should be. We talk about hope during Advent because God has been faithful in the past; we trust God is faithful now even when things look bad; and we look forward with eyes of faith to the day when God will fulfill his promises. Jesus has come; He has given us his Spirit to sustain us until the time when He will come again. There is a new heaven and a new earth yet to be seen. Jesus has promised and Scripture teaches that we have been adopted as children of the King of the coming heavenly kingdom. Advent is a time of hope.
Second, Advent is a time of peace. We talk about peace during Advent because it is something God has promised. In Jesus Christ, we can see how God has reconciled us to himself – creating eternal peace with those who had rebelled and waged war against him. God has broken the bar of sin across our shoulders; he has released us from slavery to sin. We know this in faith. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem because it takes eyes of faith to look at the current situation – and even look through it – to see into the full realization of the future kingdom of the Prince of Peace (one of Jesus’ titles). Living in peace means living into the new Jerusalem – within the holy presence of the sovereign God. Advent is a time of peace.
The third week of Advent is a time of joy. When we think of joy – particularly in the context of meditating on the promises of God – we think of things like Psalm 100:
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Right? There are all these amazing words of encouragement, comfort, wonder, and – yes – joy. It is a victory parade into the temple where the party is going to happen. About two months ago, the San Diego Padres ousted the Los Angeles Dodgers from the baseball playoffs. To most here, that does not mean a whole lot; for those of us who lived in San Diego and have endured the oppression of year after year defeats at the hands of the “dragon up the I-5” (as the Dodgers were known), the last strike of the clinching game set off a collective expression of uninhibited happiness. That’s what we normally think about as joy – that explosion of happiness.
While joyful, that is not the fullness of joy that we remember during Advent. Joy is a part of Advent; the difficult part is remembering “for what” and waiting with joy without knowing when. Specifically, I know Jesus will return – I know it will happen; but when? It warms my heart to think about seeing the kingdom of God revealed and fulfilled. I see glimpses of it in moments, but there are so many more moments in which it seems so far away. Over time it can be hard to retain focus on what is coming. The kingdom of God becomes a blurry notion in the background while the demands of the day shout for more immediate attention.
The writer of Psalm 126 was keenly aware of the tension between remembering and waiting. Psalm 126 is included in the Psalms of Ascent. These were songs that pilgrims to Jerusalem would sing on the way up the hill or up the steps into the Temple area. They are songs remembering God’s faithfulness in the past and they are songs of prayers asking God to intervene in the present and future.
The psalmist was remembering the power of God in restoring the Jews to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, even though circumstances were difficult for the psalmist presently. Watch:
- He remembered, “The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.”
- He waited, “Restore our fortunes, O LORD, … May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”
- Then, he expressed hopeful anticipation, “Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
Do you hear the anticipation? Even in the midst of the darkness and struggle of now, there is anticipation and there is joy: there is the confident hope that God will do what God has promised – even if it takes a little longer than we would like for God to “remember” to do it.
Psalm 126 is appropriate for us in this time because it is a song of lament. That may seem strange to say on a Sunday devoted to “joy”; however, it is important that we approach our faith and witness with clear eyes: having joy is not the same as always being happy. For the Psalmist, things were not how they were supposed to be. In many ways, this psalm is an Old Testament version of “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” Yet even in the lament, even in the chagrin at seeing how things are – and how they are not the way they are supposed to be – there is hope that God will make himself known supernaturally. And when God makes himself known, there is joy. The psalmist experiences that joy even in the anticipation – joy that what God has promised will come true and it will be awesome.
It can be difficult to have joy anticipating God’s action in the future while currently in the midst of sorrow. Think about Elizabeth in Luke 1. Ultimately, she became the mother of John the Baptist. That was not her situation when she was introduced. Elizabeth was married to Zechariah. He was a priest from Aaron’s line – that is, a prestigious family of priests. She and Zechariah were good, respected people. That is, they were respected within the community to a certain extent – the one big mark against them was that Elizabeth had never given birth to a child for Zechariah, which is how it was understood. In the eyes of her community, the problems with infertility were her issues: she was barren.
Thus, things were not as they were supposed to be. Elizabeth did not want to be barren. She wanted a child, she wanted children. She spent years – day after day, month after month, year after year – wanting and wishing to get pregnant. How many times did she lie awake at night, tears in her eyes and a hole in her soul, crying out to God to let her conceive?
- “Why me?”
- “What is wrong with me?”
- “What did I do to deserve this?”
Silence. What she got was silence.
Day after day, month after month, year after year, she waited for an answer in the silence. And then, things seemed hopeless. She eventually became too old to conceive. It seemed like the answer to her prayers was, “No.” She had to live with that stigma, with that disappointment, and bearing the weight of that shame thrust upon her by a community that should know better, but still …
How about you? Are things the way you think they ought to be? What are the tough times you are facing? What are the things that would cloud your experiencing and expressing joy? For some, it is the press of monthly bills that are piling up, the fear of trying to figure out how they are going to make ends meet. For others, it is the question of health and whether they will be strong enough or able enough to continue to be independent. For others still it is the loss of something or someone important to them – either through death or brokenness. What makes you ask,
- “Why me?”
- “What is wrong with me?”
- “What did I do to deserve this?”
Whatever it is, the darkness can seem overwhelming; it can seem so heavy and oppressive that there is no way out. In these circumstances, joy is not a plastic smile pasted over the difficulties.
Joy is the attitude of determined persistence in the midst of the present suffering – holding fast to the vision of a savior, of redemption, of restoration, of rescue. Hebrews 12 says it this way:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
“Look to Jesus who, for the sake of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross.” See the joy set before you. Endure now, knowing that we are persevering for the joy set before us.
There are some for whom the struggle seems too heavy. There are others who wonder what is all the fuss about? For example, how do we have joy in God when we do not take time to think about the ways we have sinned? Friends, I know this is uncomfortable and not very “Christmas cheery,” but some of the reason we do not experience joy is because we do not take our own sin seriously. Our hearts are hard as we have justified or excused our own sin; thus, we tend to gloss over the power of what God has done in Jesus and thereby miss the foundation of our joy.
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”
“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)
We cannot begin to understand the joy that the birth of the Christmas child brings unless we understand the futility and hopelessness of trying to restore our relationship with God by ourselves. Without Christ, we lived in captivity to sin. We were in exile from God’s holiness. We were sinners dead in our sin. Without Christ, we were under the curse, we were under the weight of God’s judgment.
The true joy of Christmas is this: rescue. It is not a celebration of our abundance. Unlike the advertisements, eternal love is not expressed in a diamond or other material gift. The Christmas spirit is not a reverie of friendship for the sake of having a party. It is the complex emotional experience of relief, of unrealized yet expected hope, of a new perspective. Help is on the way. We are not alone. God is with us and we are assured of our hope in him.
Remembering Our Joy
We just have to understand what is the source and foundation of that joy and what it means to be joyful. The presents – well, spoiler alert – the presents we give and receive are not the end goal of this season. The social engagements and the obligations and the expectations that so many of us carry are not the reason for the season. Like Linus says on the stage, the miracle of this season is the incarnation – it is Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Let me stop there for a moment. Those words have become so familiar that they may have lost the ability to truly impact us; but think about what it means: God chose to be with us. The creator of all time and space; the one who was, who is and always will be; the one who is sovereign over everything – this God chose – chose – to be with us. If you were God, would you want to be with us; would you choose to be with us? Some of us, sure – but all of us?
When we are honest with ourselves, we know we want to be loved, but we also know we are not all that loveable. If we take a hard look at ourselves from God’s perspective, we can see how our hands are dirty. We know the sin in our lives – how we have chosen our own will over obedience to God or our own desires over loving our neighbor. What would we do if we were God?
Yet look at what God actually did. What does it mean to us for God to be with us? How many of you remember the buzz about Elvis? The Beatles? Do you remember the concert footage of screaming fans, all reaching out their hands to be touched by these celebrities? Can you picture the clips of them staring in amazement at their hands, “He touched me! He touched me!” Brushes with “greatness” have a lasting impact on people and they remember those moment for the rest of their lives.
More so was Jesus. Think of the more profound, permanent and eternal ways he touched lives: “Go and tell John [the Baptist] what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5) Brushes with Jesus had an eternal life-giving impact. Or, as the Apostle John would later write, “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:4)
Looking Forward In Joy Through Hard Times
As we look back to remember how God did this in Jesus Christ, we also look forward to the time when He has promised to come again. God has transformed history. God has transformed creation. God has changed things for you and for me. Advent is a time of darkness in which we anticipate the coming of the light: when we focus on God’s story, on God’s activity, and on God’s word. The source and foundation of our joy is God – it is not something we do or accomplish. Joy is found in remembering what God has done, what God is doing, and holding onto what God has yet to do.
Do you trust God today? Posed that way, of course we know the answer is supposed to be yes. But do we? Do we hold fast to the hope that God’s loving-kindness is for those who are in awe of him from generation to generation? Are you living eternally, today?
Friends, in the midst of everything we perceive in the world around us, look and see: God has not abandoned us. God has not given up on us. God has not walked away from us. He has given us hope, he has given us peace, he has given us joy. He has given us Jesus.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come: Let earth receive her king; let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the world! The Savior reigns: Let us our songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains, repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.
“Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Psalm 126:6)
“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12) The miracle of this season is the incarnation – it is Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
O Come Let Us Adore Him
- Can you have joy if you are not happy?
- What is the joy that is set before us – the joy that made Christ willing to endure the cross?
- How can you live into joy now, even if you see your own dirty hands and struggle to understand how you are loveable?
- How can you live into joy now, even if times are difficult and challenging?