I grew up in a church
where we marked the season before Christmas with an Advent Wreath.
Every Sunday, the kids would watch expectantly
as a family would come forward and light a purple or pink candle on the wreath.
It was cool because they got to use of of those brass sticks
with a wick that comes out of it.
Each week we’d light a candle,
and then on Christmas Eve, the white candle in the center would be lit.
In my mind it that white candle
was sort of like the neon “No Vacancy” signs outside a cheap motel.
doing research about the Advent wreath for a church where I worked,
I learned that the Advent wreath,
just as many Christian traditions are,
was borrowed and adapted from a Pagan tradition.
In Scandinavia, as the cold days of winter grew shorter and shorter,
families used to hang a wagon wheel above their kitchen table,
and place lighted candles on it,
as an invitation to the Gods to turn the earth back toward the sun.
This was the practice of a people
who did not yet know that the earth traveled in a predictable pattern.
To them, the sun’s rising every morning
must have seemed like a matter of luck --
it was lucky that the Gods had decided to be benevolent one more day.
And so through the dark season,
Prayed that the Gods would allow the days to grow lighter and lighter,
rather than darker and darker.
Because they feared the sun would never rise again.
I have to tell you,
I sort of feared that the sun would never rise again
a couple of weeks ago when daylight savings time started.
It was the first time since last winter that I had headed off to church
when it was already dark outside.
And it felt terrible.
It was really cold.
I bundled up as much as a could, but even so,
I had this sinking feeling that maybe God had finally left us
and the winter would just last forever.
Psalm 126 has these two movements
that I think are in keeping with these kinds of feelings --
trusting that the sun will rise once more.
The first half of the Psalm is a memory.
God -- you’ve done this before;
You’ve restored us before.
And the second half is a plea.
God -- please do it again.
In essence, the Psalm is saying,
God, when you delivered us from exile, we laughed and rejoiced.
Please do it again.
Please help us to trust that you’ll do it again.
The images in this Psalm
are not of light and dark,
but of harvest.
A dry desert valley is suddenly flooded with rain,
and in an instant transformed
from a dusty, arid riverbed
to a fast paced stream that makes everything around it green and verdant.
The sowers go out to the fields, weeping,
but return with sheaves of wheat and mouths filled with laugher.
God, you’ve done it before,
please, do it again.
That’s the prayer of this Psalm.
You’ve brought the sun up after a long winter.
Please, bring it up once more.
A few weeks ago,
I visited a good and long-time friend
who has recently undergone some significant an unexpected changes in her life.
These were the sorts of changes that she had no control over at all.
It was a little bit like someone ripped the rug out from under her life,
and she woke up one morning to find that she didn’t recognize anything around her,
and she didn’t really recognize herself.
“Emily,” she told me,
“I feel like a stranger in my own life.
I feel like I’m a thousand miles away from myself.”
Sometimes it feels like all we ever do is sow in tears.
Like the only thing we have to plant in the earth
is our own sorrow.
Like my friend,
or even like the writer of this Psalm, living in exile,
you may feel a million miles away from the place you thought you’d be.
You may have had the rug pulled out from under you,
or felt the sharp pang of betrayal by a God who didn’t treat you
the way you were sure you deserved.
You may survey the landscape of your life
and find that you don’t recognize this place at all.
You may have nothing to plant
but your tears.
And though it feels like you have nothing to offer,
you head to the fields,
and offer your sorrow.
I must admit that it was more than daylight savings time
that had me feeling like the sun would never return
a few weeks ago.
In October a relationship with someone I loved ended
and these days I find that a certain feeling
has taken up residence in my heart.
This isn’t how I thought things would end up.
For the most part,
I feel fine.
I like to be at work, and I like to be with all of you.
But there are moments
when that feeling of deadness
opens up into a hollow, empty pain.
I think they call it grief.
The sun is setting so early these days,
and it feels a bit to me
like the days will only grow shorter and never longer.
Perhaps I will hang a wagon wheel from the ceiling of my apartment
and set candles on it,
And pray for God to turn my heart.
And perhaps I will carry my grieving heart
out into the fields
and sow my tears.
Offer my sorrow and pain
to the earth
and let God
do God’s work in me.
We do not know what happens between the planting of tears
and a joyful harvest,
only that a strange and unlikely reversal takes place,
in which the dregs of what we have to offer
become the only thing God needs.
It is our sorrow that becomes fertile soil
and our tears that become seeds
for a harvest we can hardly imagine.
It is a promise that is set before us in this season
in which God breaks in to our world
and turns everything on end.
God, not distant on a cloud,
but here with us in flesh and blood and body,
and then dead.
And then absent.
And then gone.
And then the harvest,
and then shouts of joy.
Who knew that brokenness held such possibility?
Who knew that sorrow held such potential?
We are not talking about rescue here,
Our sorrow does not coax God to grant wishes.
Our sorrow is simply a place where God finds us.
A place from which God turns us,
bit, by bit,
back toward the sun.
You may have nothing to plant
but your tears.
And though it may feel like you have nothing to offer,
head to the fields,
and plant them.
For God is turning over the earth of our lives,
turning the sorrow of our lives
strange and unexpected
that we can harvest.