I’m sitting in my office on one of the sunniest mornings we’ve had in weeks, but if I were to walk out the door without a jacket, I’d be freezing because it’s also one of the coldest mornings so far this winter.
This is a season of contrasts: in the weather; in the hectic busyness verses the desire to “cocoon” at home; in people’s emotional states.
December is “supposed” to be a time of happiness in all the frenetic activity, and that cultural expectation merely highlights the fact that, for many, this is not an easy time. Some are still suffering from the economic downturn even as others have found jobs. Those who are unsteady on their feet worry about slippery sidewalks while children pray for snow days. Not every family dynamic is what we’d like it to be. Grief and loss and winter depression are mocked by happy carols piped into shopping malls.
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 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.” 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 the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. [from Psalm 126]
As I looked at the lectionary readings for this week, I almost didn’t choose the Psalm for my reflection. In its six short verses the writer uses the phrase “shouts of joy” three times. That seems a little too cheerful for our age. On the news this morning there were a few uplifting stories, but most of it was about abuse, scandal, economic distress and crime. “Shouts of joy” don’t seem quite appropriate.
It might have seemed that way to the psalmist’s early readers, too. Crisis after crisis plagued the people of that age (and every age before and since), too. Whether the predicament was the threat of war, drought and famine, poverty, or the same types of personal suffering we all experience, many of those readers would have related more to the “tears” and “weeping” parts of this psalm. And that is exactly the point.
For people who live in the desert, the dream of the restoration of watercourses (the streambeds that filled with water after infrequent rains) was just the right metaphor.
Yes, the drought may be long, but someday the rain will return to your parched souls, so that life may once again bloom in the deserts of your hurt places.
This is the very essence of hope. That one day the world will live in peace; that everyone will have decent work and enough to eat, sufficient clothing and shelter.
That even on a cold day in winter, joyful laughter may roll off the tongue.
May the joy of Advent make its way into your heart.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2011