Advent 3: Home with Rejoicing

By Jan Richardson

Image: Shall Come Home with Joy © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Psalms, Advent 3, Year B: Psalm 126

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
—Psalm 126.6

Visiting with friends a few weeks ago, on the edge of this season. Talking on the porch as the almost-Advent evening gathers around us. One among us speaks of the great storm he has been going through for some years. “I believe in the providence and care of God,” he tells us. “But if you could just pray that God would take his foot off my neck.”

All around us, there are reminders that for many—and perhaps for us, ourselves—this is a season in which joy can be elusive. Economic pressures, broken relationships, disasters, violence, illness, isolation: these do not abide by a holiday schedule. And though God does not will the brokenness, still I want to cry out, on behalf of those who suffer in this season, “How long, O Lord?”

And alongside this awareness, Sunday’s psalm sidles up, offering its vivid images of rejoicing, restoration, return. The psalmist remembers what God has done for God’s people: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,” he exults, “we were like those who dream…. The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.” But then time shifts for the psalmist, his remembrance of restoration past becoming a prayer for rejoicing yet to come: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord,” he pleads. “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” (NRSV).

Perhaps more than any liturgical season, Advent possesses the sort of already-but-not-yet quality that the writer evokes in this psalm. Even as we remember and celebrate the Christ who came to us, the season calls us also to anticipate his promised return. This can be a difficult tension to navigate, especially when it may seem that Christ left so much undone in his earthly life and is tarrying overlong in completing his work of restoration.

The Advent season does not seek to explain away or release God from culpability for coming up with a cosmic design that leaves so much to be desired. Advent is an invitation, however, to stretch ourselves toward God’s sense of time, to reach into that realm where God has already brought about the healing of the world. We will see this divine sense of time with particular clarity next week, when the lectionary gives us the Magnificat and we hear Mary sing of God’s redeeming work as if it has already taken place with completeness. These days beckon us to stand with those—such as Mary and the psalmist—who can sing of restoration that has already been accomplished, even as we, so immersed in chronological time, know it is still to come.

Advent urges us to push at the limits of linear time, to tug at the place where the “already” intersects with the “not yet.” One of the ways we do this is by seeking to discern how God is calling us to participate in bringing restoration into reality: to learn to look at the world through the eyes of a God who has already somehow, in some realm, made it whole, and then to look for how God is asking us to help bring about that wholeness now.

We lean into God’s sense of time also by following the psalmist’s example of rejoicing, which is about so much more than a sensation of happiness. The rejoicing that the psalmist writes of is not so much a natural disposition as it is a practice, a habit, a way of being that does not depend solely on external events. The rejoicing to which God invites us in Advent, and in every season, is a rejoicing that goes deeper than the often contrived cheer that the marketers try to sell us in this season. This rejoicing does not involve ignoring the pain that is present in the world. It means, rather, seeing the world as it is, in all its beauty and its brokenness. It means choosing to resist being overwhelmed by the brokenness; recognizing and celebrating the presence of beauty and relationship; and developing a capacity for hope and working toward what we hope for—and what God hopes for in and through us.

As we seek to do this, we need all the blessings we can get—and give. A blessing is a kind of prayer that calls upon the God who dwells both within and beyond time. It is an invocation and plea that God, who promises restoration in the fullness of time, will see fit to infuse this present time with that restoration and healing. When we receive a blessing, or offer one, we stand at that place where promise and reality intertwine, and a space of possibility opens itself to us.

As you continue to journey through the days of Advent, whether these days offer delight or difficulty or some measure of both, may God stir up in you a habit of rejoicing, and bless you to bless those who need encouragement in this season.

Blessing to Summon Rejoicing

When your weeping
has watered
the earth.

When the storm
has been long
and the night
and the season
of your sorrowing.

When you have seemed
an exile
from your life,
lost in the far country,
a long way from where
your comfort lies.

When the sound
of splintering
and fracture
haunts you.

When despair
attends you.

When lack.
When trouble.
When fear.
When pain.

When empty.
When lonely.
When too much
of what depletes you
and not enough
of what restores
and rests you.

Then let there be
rejoicing.

Then let there be
dreaming.

Let there be
laughter in your mouth
and on your tongue
shouts of joy.

Let the seeds
soaked by tears
turn to grain,
to bread,
to feasting.

Let there be
coming home.

—Jan Richardson

2015 update: “Blessing for Rejoicing” appears in Jan’s new book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. You can find the book here.

[To use the image “Shall Come Home with Joy,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

3 Responses to “Advent 3: Home with Rejoicing”

  1. carolyn Says:

    There’s something in this full-of-grist-for-the-mill piece that reminds me of the poem ‘A Brief for the Defense’ by Jack Gilbert; at one point he declares ‘we must risk delight….we must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world…..’ With thanks and gratitude to both of you, mid Advent. Amen.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Ooohhh, thanks for this, Carolyn! What good words—both yours and Jack’s. Bless you and thank you. And Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  2. Bonnie Odiorne Says:

    Oh, I love this poem! There is no causation, logic, just juxtaposition. No linear time, but Time, for rejoicing. Thanks so much, Jan! Waiting is hard and exciting all at once. And we burst out with its intensity. Glory!

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