Having joy doesn’t mean everything is ok.
Today we lit the pink candle on the Advent wreath, which is the joy candle. Traditionally this Sunday in the church year is called Gaudete, which in Latin means rejoice or be glad. And all of our readings today are filled with mentions of joy and gladness. Even the appointed Psalm for today, Psalm 126, is filled with mentions of Joy. It’s not very long so I’m going to read it to you.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
It’s easy to think that in order to be joyful, our lives have to be going well.
It’s easy to think, “I would be joyful, if only life could go back to normal.” This isn’t the holiday season any of us expected or wanted. We still have to take precautions for traveling. We might not see the family we wish we could see this time of year. A lot of our holiday activities and traditions have been canceled or remade. And it’s not the same. Everything we do this Advent and Christmas will probably be tainted with a reminder that it could be different, that it’s not the way it should be. And it’s easy to think, “I would be joyful, if only life could go back to normal.”
Or it’s easy to think, “I would be joyful, if only the pain would go away.” You know how this works when you suffer from chronic pain. You have good days and bad days. And it’s easy to make the pain the measure of life. If you have some relief from the pain, then you have reason to be joyful. But if not, then nothing is right.
Or it’s easy to think, “I would be joyful, if only my finances were better.” Every month I’m struggling paycheck to paycheck. The bills never stop coming. It’s easy to make something like that the measure of our lives. To think that if I could just get ahead, I could enjoy life again.
And to a certain extent, it’s hard to blame us for thinking this way. I mean, take chronic pain. If you don’t get relief, then it’s hard to function. The day is difficult to endure. You can’t do what you want to do, and what you are able to do is a struggle. If you don’t get relief, there is plenty of reason to be in anguish and unhappy.
But it doesn’t mean you can’t have joy. Having joy doesn’t mean that everything is ok. Having joy means that despite our sorrow, we still have something to look forward to. Our joy doesn’t come from having our life in order. Our joy comes from knowing that despite our struggle, God will come through in the end.
Psalm 126, says something unusual. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
The person who weeps in sorrow is planting seeds that will one day blossom into joy. Our weeping won’t last forever but must give way to joy. In fact, we should expect it to happen that way. Just like a farmer plants seeds in the ground. He doesn’t think to himself, “Well, that’s the end of that.” No, he expects that in time those seeds will sprout into plants that will be fruit for the harvest. The farmer plants seeds expecting that one day he will be gathering up an abundance of grain at the harvest.
When it comes to weeping and sorrow, that’s not the way it seems at the time. At the time, it seems like it will never get better, like there’s nothing to look forward to, and it will never go away. In fact, tears and weeping are what happen when you can’t see how anything will get better. Tears and weeping are what happen when the loss and the tragedy finally hit home, and there’s nothing left to do but mourn it all!
But for the psalmist, weeping and sorrow are not hopeless. They are seeds that one day will bear the fruit of joy! After all, we may not be able to see how it will get better. But the Lord is good, and his steadfast love endures forever. And even though we may be sorrowful, God is in charge and he will come through in the end.
The people of Israel learned this firsthand. The people of Israel had lost all hope. They were God’s own treasured possession. He brought them out of slavery in Egypt and put them in the promised land and dwelt among them in the temple. But then Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians came along. Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and destroyed it. He captured Zedechiah, the king of Israel, killed his sons before his eyes, and took him off to Babylon bound in chains. He gathered the high priests from the temple and had them put to death. Then he took all the gold and bronze vessels from the temple off to Babylon for himself, and then destroyed the temple. And whoever hadn’t died by the sword, he took from their homes and relocated them in Babylon.
Now at that point, what did they have left to hope in? They lost their kings, they lost their homes, their nation was totally destroyed. What did they have left to hope in? Every ounce of hope was clean cut off, like a tree chopped down or like dry bones scattered to the wind.
Well they may have lost everything in this world, but they hadn’t lost the Lord. And while they may have been like dry bones, with their hope clean cut off, the Lord is the one who raises the dead and makes something out of nothing! And that’s what he did. The Lord, the Creator, moved Cyrus, the king of Persia to conquer the Babylonians, and send the people of Israel back to their land to rebuild their temple. And that’s exactly the occasion of Psalm 126. “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.”
We may not be able to see how it will get better. But the Lord is good, and his steadfast love endures forever. And even though we may be sorrowful, God is in charge and he will come through in the end. The people of Israel learned this firsthand, when they returned from exile. But this is always how the Lord works.
Just ask Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his envious brothers, betrayed by his master’s spiteful wife, and forgotten altogether in prison. The Lord didn’t forget him. But was working in these things for his good, to make him second only to Pharaoh so that he could save his brothers and his father and thousands of people from famine.
Or just ask Naomi, who traveled to a foreign country with her husband to find work, only to have her husband and her sons die there. All she had left was Ruth, her son’s foreign wife. But the Lord used Ruth to give Naomi a family, an adopted son, and grandchildren. And the one who called herself bitter, in the end couldn’t help but call herself blessed by the Lord.
Or take just about everyone Jesus came into contact with. Mary and Martha wept bitterly at the death of their brother Lazarus, only to have Jesus raise him from the dead. Jairus had a daughter who was sick and died before Jesus could get to her. He had lost all hope that anything could be done, only to have Jesus take her by the hand and say, “Talitha cumi” “little girl, arise” and she got up. Or the woman who had an issue of blood that would not stop for twelve years—twelve years. She had spent all that she had on doctors who only made her condition worse. But when she touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment, she was made well.
I could go on and on because just about everyone who came into contact with Jesus came to know that we may not be able to see how it will get better. But the Lord is good, and his steadfast love endures forever. And that’s because Jesus is the steadfast love of the Lord. Jesus is God’s unwavering commitment to rescue us. He is the lengths of how far God goes for us, giving his own Son even to the point of death, so that nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God. In your baptism, God washed you in that same steadfast love. There in that water, God made a commitment to you; he made you a pledge and a promise. He pledged himself to be your God and for you to be his beloved child, and he promised never to let you go. And in that pledge and promise you can rest assured that every tear will come to harvest in joy and gladness because God will come through. The day is coming when Jesus will return, and flood the earth with the steadfast love of God. As the book of Revelation puts it, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be more more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
We light the pink candle today not because everything is ok, not because our lives are going well, everything is back to normal, we’re pain free, and our finances are all figured out. We light the pink candle today because we know that Jesus is coming again. And that candle is a reminder that no matter what we suffer, God will make good on his promises to us. He will come through.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.