Excerpted from A Season of Hope. An Advent Guide for Lectionary Year B from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
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.
When a conversation with a friend, neighbor, or colleague turns to our current political climate in North Carolina and the United States I have found myself having an increasingly difficult time expressing my emotions in words. It is hard for me to put into words what I feel when I receive a new notification on my phone with the latest news headline. I have often considered turning off the alerts, refusing to remain an informed citizen, and choosing instead to live inside a bubble of ignorance. After all, ignorance is supposedly bliss. But that is a privilege that many of the people I love who live in the margins of our society are not afforded. So I continue to pay attention to the headlines and turn to the Psalms for comfort, because they express the rawest human emotions and help to give voice to my frustration, anger, pain, and despair.
Psalm 126 conjures up images of the Israelites held hopelessly captive in exile in Babylon and in this particular moment many of us can relate. In North Carolina we are held captive by members of our state legislature who insist on choosing their constituents through gerrymandering rather than allowing us, the voter, to choose our elected officials. We are held captive by our fear that our Commander-in-Chief may at any minute tweet something that could spark a nuclear war. Our brothers and sisters who are undocumented are facing exile back to countries that many can hardly remember ever living in. Emboldened white supremacists are attempting to exile people of color by pushing them even further to the edges of society. The freedoms of a growing number of people are being held captive by verbal and physical assaults, bad policing practices, funding cuts to critical social safety net programs, and other immoral legislative policies.
But the Psalms also offer us hope in the midst of our despair and feelings of captivity. Psalm 126 utilizes a lot of group language: we were like those who dreamed, our mouths were filled with laughter, the Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy, restore our fortunes. If those in captivity are ever going to be liberated they must resist any and all efforts to divide them. As the saying goes, our liberation is bound together. The psalmist also reminds us of the importance of continuing to dream. History shows us that dreamers are dangerous to those in power who are determined to maintain the status quo. The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis and the prophetic witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. attest to the potency of dreams. The psalm concludes with the promise that, “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.”
While it is entirely appropriate to mourn the current state of things and to feel frustration and despair, we must continue to sow seeds. We must continue to show up at marches and protests. We must continue to confront the forces of violence with peace. We must continue to gradually pull back the veil on injustice for one day we will return with songs of joy, carrying our harvest of sheaves from the seeds we currently sow.
Today, we look toward that manger that soon will hold the long awaited Messiah, the Prince of Peace, and we are reminded that while the captivity has been great, so too is the deliverance.