Advent Reflection on Streams in the Desert and Shouts of Joy
Restore our fortunes, LORD,
as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears
will harvest with shouts of joy.
Where I live in the Texas Hill Country, hundreds of creeks meander through the oak-covered hills, canyons, and ranches. A few of these creeks run year round, but most are seasonal. Many of the creeks are, in fact, dry most of the time. This has been especially true during the last year, when we have been experiencing a devastating drought. But, when torrential rain comes, the creeks quickly fill with rushing water, water that often overflows the creek banks.
The streams in the Hill Country are not unlike the wadis in the desert of Israel, which remain dry except in the rainy seasons. When the rain comes, these parched creeks are transformed into life-giving streams that “renew the desert” (126:4). This was exactly the sort of renewal that the people of God needed after they were brought back from exile in Babylon. Though they were once again in the land of promise, their life was anything but perfect. They were “planting in tears” (126:5). On a literal level, the people struggled to get the hard ground to produce the food they needed to eat. But, emotionally and spiritually, the people were also “planting in tears” as they sought to rebuild their shattered lives.
Sometimes we can feel as if we’re “planting in tears.” We work hard to raise our children in the Lord, but they wander away from the life of faith. We labor faithfully in our jobs for many years, only to be laid off in the latest downsizing. We save for a secure future, yet our savings shrink as the economy staggers. We try to honor God in our daily lives, but our sin keeps dragging us down. I expect you have your own version of “planting in tears.”
Psalm 126 offers the hope that God will renew us like streams in the desert. It proclaims with confidence that “Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy” (126:5). This harvest comes fully in the future when the reign of God is established on earth. Thus, we look forward to the day when we will reap the harvest of our lives with celebration. In the meanwhile, we get to enjoy a taste of the future even as we wait for the banquet that is yet to come.
On the third Sunday of Advent, we add a new element into this solemn season of expectation and hope. Today we rejoice because we know that our hope for a savior was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. Moreover, we know that the tears of this age will one day become overflowing streams of joy.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When do you feel as if you are “planting in tears”? What sustains you even when life is hard? Do you think about the harvest of the future, when there will be shouts of joy? When do you experience a bit of that joy in your life?
PRAYER: O Lord, the words and images of Psalm 126 touch our hearts. We too need you to restore our fortunes, like streams in the desert. We need the living water of your Spirit to refresh our parched souls.
It does seem, Lord, that our planting is often in tears. Our lives are filled with challenges, discouragements, and frustrations. Sometimes we are slammed by tragedy. We keep on “planting,” but with plenty of weeping. Thus we long for the day when you will reign completely, when our planting in tears will return an abundant harvest. We look forward to shouting with joy in your presence.
Thank you, gracious Lord, for allowing us to sample a bit of that future joy even now. Thank you for the reassurance of your Word. Thank you most of all for our Savior, Jesus Christ, whose birth we prepare to celebrate in this season of Advent. Amen.
Here’s how . . . .
This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (www.thehighcalling.org). You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.