“A song of ascents.

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.” (Psalm 126, NIV)

Psalm 126 is found in a little section of psalms identified by their common heading: Songs of Ascent. [120-134] These psalms, also called “songs of steps” and “songs of degrees”, share certain characteristics; brevity, focus on a key-word, use of repetition, and their witty or proverbial style. These 19 psalms came to be sung by the people on the ascent up to Jerusalem to attend the three great festivals; Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. [Deut. 16:16] Four of them were written by David, one (127) by Solomon, and the rest are anonymous, as is Psalm 126.

Psalm 126 follows a simple outline. Verses 1-3 are praise for the Lord’s great things “done for us.” In verse 4 there is a short, focused prayer. And in verses 5-6, we find a proverbial conclusion.

Joy is most definitely the theme of this psalm. “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.” [Vs. 2a] “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” [Vs. 3] “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…” [Vss. 5-6a]

Their joy is unbelievable, like waking from a wonderful dream to find it is a reality! Sometimes joy “hinders” faith, in the sense of something being too good to be true. This Psalm expresses just such unbelievable joy! This psalm was originally composed by a Jew, returned from Babylonian captivity; seventy years after the captivity began. Perhaps many of the Jewish exiles had lost hope in the promises of a return to Jerusalem. What a wondrous surprise when the promises made by God through Jeremiah came true with Persian King Cyrus’s decree that the captive Israelites should go home. “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.” [Vs. 2a]

Shaken awake to the reality of Yahweh’s fulfilled promises, they echo the words of their pagan neighbors, “The LORD has done great things for them.”; with ecstatic praise; “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” [Vss. 2b-3] Based upon their revived sense of God’s favor, they pray that the great things will continue; “Restore our fortunes, LORD, like streams in the Negev.” [Vs. 4] May the showers of blessing fill the parched streams with abundant waters.

The writer coins a proverb, which reflects upon seventy years of suffering the seemingly suspended sense of God’s presence, while rejoicing in the present presence of His promises fulfilled; “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.” [Vss. 5-6]

The joy expressed in Psalm 126, due to the great things God has done for them, is echoed in other places in the Scriptures appropriate for Advent. It is alluded to in Mary’s response to Elizabeth in Luke 1:46-56; “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, …for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; …He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” Jesus Christ, the babe in Mary’s womb, brought unexpected joy, not only to her but for Israel and the whole world.

The Apostle Paul speaks of God’s great things in Ephesians 1:18-21; “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” The Christ who was born from Mary’s womb has brought unbelievable realities to believers, in this life and for eternity to come.

John saw these great things as he received the Revelation of Jesus Christ; “The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: ‘Amen, Hallelujah!’ Then a voice came from the throne, saying: ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!’ Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.’” [Rev. 19:4-7]

“The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

Like the former Jewish exile who wrote these words, today we also rejoice at the great things God has done. As Creator; “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, … So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” [Gen. 1:1, 26a, 27] Sadly, the first man and woman chose to believe the serpent’s lies instead of God’s word, thus bringing death and exile into the world and upon all human beings. But God, in His grace, mercy and love, decreed a way for us to return from our exile in this fallen world, when He spoke to the serpent; “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Jesus Christ is the seed of the woman.

All of God’s works, throughout the history of the world, were orchestrated to bring this decree to pass. The greatest work, that brings the greatest joy of any conceivable gladness was announced by the angel Gabriel to Mary; “‘You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.’ … ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’” [Lk. 1:31, 34-35] Nine months later, another angel announced to shepherds in the fields surrounding Nazareth; “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” [Lk.2:10-12]

The decree to end our exile from God, issued after the Fall in Eden was rehearsed when Jesus was born. And our guarantee of everlasting joy was sealed 33 years later when Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification. All we need to do is accept the invitation to begin the journey home. There may be lots of tears along the way, but we have the promise that we will return with songs of joy, to be sung for unending millennia to come.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” Be filled with joy!