Restoring Joy

Scripture: Psalm 126

 

Title: Restoring Joy

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Joy remembered, joy hoped for
  • Sowing in tears, reaping joy
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

This morning we are talking about joy

  • To help us think about joy I’d like to give you a few moments now to ask those around you: what is joy?
  • When you’ve done that for a minute or two I’ll invite you to quickly share your thoughts with the rest of us

 

[Give people a chance to discuss what joy is and then invite their feedback]

 

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on joy

  • Joy is one of those qualities that is hard to define in words
  • In many ways it has to be experienced
  • But even then the experience is complex and multi-faceted
  • Joy can be experienced differently depending on the circumstances and the person

 

Joy is both a gift (like a pleasant surprise) – and a choice or a decision we make

 

Joy can be both a positive energy (like a happy or exhilarating feeling)

  • But it can also be a settled, calm assurance (or a quiet confidence) that God is working all things out for good even though life might be difficult right now

 

Joy can be the product of hope – the anticipation of something pleasing

  • Or it can be the realisation of something good – like when a positive change is made or something lost is finally restored to us

 

Psalm 126 captures something of the complexity of joy

  • We will read this Psalm antiphonally which means I will read the lines in plain type and then you can respond by reading the lines in bold italics…

 

 

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.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

Joy remembered becomes joy hoped for:

For many people Christmas is a difficult time of year

  • And one of the things that makes it so difficult is the expectation that we must be happy – Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy
  • But if you have experienced a significant loss in your life then Christmas will tend to remind you of that loss – sort of amplify it

 

It’s like C.S. Lewis said…

  • “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”

 

Pain, grief, sadness is the price we pay for happy times we have lost

  • There is no escaping that fact

 

Although Psalm 126 is about joy, the context is one of loss and the sadness of longing for something that is no more

  • Psalm 126 is very much ‘the pain I feel now is the happiness I had before’

 

In the first three verses the psalmist looks back to a time in Israel’s past when the people had suffered loss and the Lord had restored them

  • What we notice is that the first 3 verses of Psalm 126 are all past tense…

 

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

  • In other words: ‘When I look back to a time when I was happy I remember it was because God restored us’
  • It was God doing great things for us that made us laugh and rejoice

 

In this picture of joy (past tense) it is God who is the source of joy

  • God did something which made us happy
  • But now that joy of restoration has gone and it’s like waking up from a happy dream to a harsh reality

 

As the exiles made their way home to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon it was like floating along in a pleasant dream at first

  • But when they arrived in the holy city it was like waking up to reality
  • There were weeds to be pulled, crops to sow, walls to build and a temple to restore
  • The honeymoon was over too quickly and all the work was ahead of them

 

If all we had was the first three verses we might think the psalmist was wallowing in self-pity – looking back to the good old days in a way that makes him feel depressed in the present

  • But this looking back isn’t self-pity
  • These memories contain the seeds of hope
  • God has restored our fortunes in the past and so he could do it again
  • Joy remembered becomes joy hoped for

 

We see this hope expressed in verse 4 where the memory of past joy turns into prayer…

  • Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like watercourses in the Negeb
  • In other words, ‘Surprise us with the joy of restoration Lord’

 

The word Negeb means ‘dry’ or ‘parched’ – it is the name given to the southernmost part of Judah

  • For much of the year the Negeb is a desert but then suddenly, in winter, the rains come, turning dry gullies into rivers and streams
  • Literally overnight the desert is transformed into fields of grass & flowers

 

This is a vivid image from the geography of Israel

  • The message is clear – don’t lose hope
  • God has the power to transform dry places and he can do it quickly
  • Maybe your life is miserable now but anything could happen
  • Things can & do change for the better

 

Some things in life can be scheduled and other things can’t

  • You can schedule buses and trains
  • You can schedule a holiday and shifts at work
  • You can schedule meal times and exams
  • You can schedule TV programming and your dentist appointment
  • But you can’t schedule everything

 

You can’t schedule your mid-life crisis, for example

  • There is probably a 20 year window in which it might happen but you don’t get to decide the day or the hour
  • Just like you don’t decide when you will get sick or when someone might die
  • Some things simply can’t be switched on & off like a light

 

So what about joy then – can joy be scheduled?

  • Well, the impression we get from the psalm so far is that joy is not something we have much control over – like rains in the Negeb it all depends on God and so it can’t be planned for
  • This is dangerous thinking – it leads to a victim mentality

 

Sowing in tears, reaping joy:

To help restore the balance Psalm 126 finishes with a contrasting image to the streams in the desert

 

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy

 

There is quite a bit in this one liner

  • For starters, we can’t expect to feel happy or joyful all the time
  • Tears, sadness, grief & pain are part of life
  • In fact the image of sowing in tears suggests that sadness is a necessary prerequisite to joy

 

Tears are something which cleanse our eyes and our soul

  • When you set the table for a meal you don’t put out yesterday’s dirty dishes to eat off – you put clean plates on the table
  • Tears cleanse the plate of our soul so a fresh meal of joy can be served up

 

What I’m saying is intuitively obvious to anyone who has suffered loss

  • We can’t really enjoy something good until we have first grieved our losses – accepted them

 

Sowing and reaping is slow and arduous

  • Unlike the streams in the Negeb it doesn’t happen overnight
  • Sowing & reaping happens over the course of a year as a combination of hard work & patience on the part of the farmer as well as God causing the seed to grow
  • We might say: joy is not entirely in God’s hands, it’s in our hands too – so (like farming) it’s a partnership

 

Or as Henri Nouwen put it…

  • Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

Yes there are some things in life that we don’t get to decide – some things we have little or no control over – but with joy we do have a choice

  • We can’t expect to always feel happy – there will be times when life is hard graft
  • But if we sow seeds of hope in God during those tough times, we will eventually reap a harvest of joy

 

And what does it mean to sow seeds of hope?

  • What are the difficult choices we need to make to eventually reap joy?
  • Well, sowing in tears might mean praying for someone in hope that God will save them
  • It might mean forgiving someone in hope they will come right in the end
  • Or, it might mean asking forgiveness in hope that this will lead to peace
  • It might mean saying ‘no’ when the bong is being passed around in hope that our friends will say ‘no’ too
  • It might mean saying ‘yes’ to helping someone, without hope of reward
  • Or it could mean suffering shame, insult, misunderstanding and abuse in the hope that some might find Christ

 

Conclusion:

Sowing in tears can mean a lot of things

  • Ultimately, for Jesus, it meant suffering an agonising death on the cross in hope that humanity would be reconciled to God
  • Of course, after Jesus had sowed in tears, he reaped a harvest of resurrection joy

 

Christmas is a time of joy – not painless, tearless joy – but joy on the far side of pain and grief

  • Maybe you haven’t got to the far side yet
  • Maybe you are still sowing in tears
  • That’s okay – in fact it’s more in line with the gospel than you might think: Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted
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