Mark Schloneger lives in Goshen, Indiana and is pastor of North Goshen Mennonite Church. He and his wife, Sarah, have three children: Adele, Norah, and Eli.
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;
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 rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
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.
My first Bible was the Children’s Living Bible. A note on the inscription page says that my parents gave it to me on September 5, 1975. I was five years old. The very next page is entitled, “My Important Events,” with several empty lines below it. On that page, there are three notations, written at different times, by my young, unsteady hand. I wrote just the facts, in pencil: Tony died, 1976; Cindy died, 1977; Jim Jenson died, 1979.
Tony was a boy in my Sunday school class who died in a farm accident when I was six years old. Cindy was a teenager in our church who died in a car accident. Her sister was also in my Sunday school class. Jim Jenson was our next door neighbor who sat on his back patio and watched me play imaginary baseball games. He died because he smoked too much.
For some reason, as a child, I felt that my Bible was the place to write these things down. No one told me to do that, and I can’t exactly remember why I did. But on the cover of this Bible, my first Bible, there is a picture of Jesus, walking through rugged mountain terrain, carrying a frightened little lamb to safety. I think it had something to do with that.
A few years later, I tried erasing what I had written. When that didn’t work so well, I scribbled over it with a red magic marker. No one told me to do that either. But I was older, more self-conscious, and I didn’t want to risk embarrassment. “My Important Events” is now an exhibit of both childlike faith and its rejection.
Often, as we grow older, we stop pleading our hard cases at the feet of Jesus. We stop grasping at his tassels for healing and comfort. Sometimes, fraught with despair, we stop expecting God to act in us, through us and beyond us.
Is it because we are too afraid that we’ll be disappointed or too fearful to be vulnerable? Or is it because the daily news contains so many tragic “important events” that the picture of Jesus carrying a frightened lamb to safety seems like an embarrassing remnant of an earlier, simpler time; something to scribble over in red magic marker?
In a time of trial, Psalm 126 gathers the people before God with a vision based on memory. When the Lord brought us back from exile, we were dreamers, laughers and joyful shouters. We rejoiced at what the Lord had done, and the nations testified to God’s power.
The psalmist holds this vision of Israel’s collective memory to speak into the people’s present grief and despair. Like a child begging for one more push on the swing (and then one more) (and then one more), Israel comes before God with the simple plea to “do it again.” Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the rivers spring to life after a long, dry season. May those who sow in tears reap with joyful shouts. You did it before. Do it again.
Then, surprisingly, Israel’s plea becomes God’s promise: The sowers who go out weeping shall come home at harvest with joyful shouts.
I find it significant that the psalmist describes God’s acts of restoration with the metaphor of the rivers’ rise and fall and the farmers’ sowing and reaping. Based both on Israel’s past experience and the observed routines of life, the people are called together to bring their “important events” before God with the simple faith that they belong there.
In times when we lament what is happening in our world, in our church, and in our lives, we are called to bring our fears and sorrows before God with the expectation that God is acting in us, through us, and beyond us. Remember? Dry riverbeds become flowing waters, sowers return as reapers, and weepers become dreamers, laughers and joyful shouters.
Israel’s memory and testimony is our memory and testimony. God has done it before. God will do it again. Isn’t that a message of Advent? After all, “Our Important Events,” is simply one page bound by the cover of Jesus walking through rugged mountain terrain and carrying a frightened little lamb to safety.
Sign up now to receive the 2015 Advent reflections in your inbox daily: