Summary: Psalm 126 shows us two advents of God’s redemptive blessing of his people, and provides advice for how to between the advents.
Third Sunday in Advent 2005
Living Between the Advents
Psalm 126 – the Psalm appointed for this third Sunday in Advent – is one of 15 psalms grouped together in the Psalter which all bear the designation “a psalm of ascents.” The word “ascents” is a noun form of a verb meaning “to go up,” and it alludes to the idea of “going up to Jerusalem,” since you approached Jerusalem from lower countryside. You never went DOWN to Jerusalem, you always went UP to Jerusalem. And, according the Law of Moses, all the men of Israel were to go up to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
There was a hymnody for these festal seasons, just as we have hymns for Christmas. And, they were the “going up psalms,” the psalms you sang when you were in caravans, traveling across Israel or Judea toward Jerusalem.
So, Psalm 126 is one of those going-up psalms, and it clearly dates from after the time when Israel went into the Babylonian Captivity. In fact, it is looks back in time to that event.
I want to examine Psalm 126 more closely today, because it provides for us a template, a pattern, if you will, for thinking about Advent this year and every season of Advent. Psalm 126 mentions, if you will, two advents and it also contains advice for how to live between these two advents.
The first advent mentioned in Psalm 126 is contained in the first three verses. It was the advent of God’s promises of redemption. Those promises were just about all the people had left of their religious heritage as they were held in slavery in Babylon. Their was no temple worship. There was, most likely, next to no worship at all. During those 70 years, those who remembered Jerusalem told their children about a land the children had never seen. Jerusalem was no more real to the children of the exile than a fable, or a story of the past. The only thing left to them was God’s promise to redeem his people out of slavery and to restore them to their home and to restore them to His worship.
That event is what opens the words of Psalm 126. “1 When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.” If you asked someone what is the most remarkable feature of dreams I think almost everyone would point to their surreal quality, the way in which dreams combine actions, people, and situations that are weirder than anything you could create from scratch if you tried.
But, there is another quality of dreams which I think is even more important: the intense sensation of reality that accompanies dreams. It’s this quality of dreams that makes people fear dreams when they are bad dreams. And, it is this quality of dreams that make people reluctant to come fully awake if they are enjoying a pleasant dream. In either case, it’s not just the pleasantness of the dream, or the scariness of a dream that either entices or repels us – it’s the fact that the dream always feels more real than real.