Advent 3B Lectionary Psalter: Psalm 126
1When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2Then 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.” 3The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. 4Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. 5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. 6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
This Psalm is one of fifteen Psalms known as the Songs of Ascent or, literally, “Songs of Going Up”. In The Mishnah, the “Oral Torah”, the first major work of rabbinic literature, these fifteen Psalms coincide with the fifteen steps to the Temple. They are, literally, songs of going up to meet God. It is a psalm of both preparation and anticipation. It is a reminder of what the Lord has done and a promise that God will do it yet again. This Psalm came from people that had no voice. They lived in an empire that was not theirs and whose leaders barely knew they existed. And they knew that they needed to be restored, that they needed to go home. It is a calling to wait with hopeful expectation. It is a calling to dare to dream of what will be.
We’ve said it over and over but we have to admit that we do not wait well. We are accustomed to instant gratification for the most part. We’re used to doing pretty much what we want when we want. That’s why the world of today that has seemed to slow to a crawl because of the Covid pandemic is so hard for us. We miss what we used to do. We miss where we used to go. We miss who we used to be. We’ll miss that full, bustling sanctuary on Christmas Eve. Some of us will miss holiday family get-togethers. We even miss the crowded, joyous shopping trip. But we can remember…and we can dream of next year.
Have you thought, though, that maybe this “new” way of living into which we’ve been forced is a way of slowing us down? Think about it. When the Israelites to whom this song was sung found themselves in these low times, those times filled with despair, those times when hopelessness could have run rampant if not checked, they drew on their memories, their institutional memories. They remembered what God had done. It wasn’t things that happened in their personal lives; it was the memories of a people, those stories that were so much a part of them. And they remembered that God had restored them. And, through that memory, they had faith that God would do it again.
Advent calls us, too, to remember. It’s hard for us. We normally move so fast through life, always stretching toward the next moment, always focused on our present and our future. But it’s our past, our memory, that holds the foundations for our faith. The Greek word for it is anamnesis. Interestingly, it’s used in the medical discipline to talk about medical history, that history that stretches back into blood relatives that came before us, perhaps those that we have never met. We Christians use it to talk about the Eucharist, when we remember what God has done—not to us as individuals but to us as children of God. We remember God’s never-ending presence over thousands of years of human history. It is OUR history; those are OUR memories. And, then, like the Psalm, we look forward to the promise of life ahead. But that life would make no sense standing alone. Our understanding of it comes from our institutional memory.
Memories and dreams go hand in hand. Memories provide our pathway, our innate knowledge of where to travel, much like a river does. Like the Negeb in the Psalm, each season it is filled after the winter rains and, rejuvenated, it knows where to go. It knows where to flow. It knows the direction to move. Seeds, too, have a memory, a sort of “code” that was implanted in them from the beginning of time, that tells them what to do, tells them what they will become. We are not that different. Our memory reminds us who we are; our dreams show us who we will be. They are interconnected, inseparable. So in this somewhat strange Advent season we’re in, remember the songs, those “songs of going up” and pay attention to your dreams. Our faith is made of memories and dreams, past and future, that teaches us to walk and gives us the notes to sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. Next year…always next year…but it would mean nothing if we didn’t remember.
A dreamer is one who can find [his or her] way in the moonlight, and [whose] punishment is that [he or she] sees the dawn before the rest of the world. (Oscar Wilde)
Grace and Peace,