Psalm 126:1-2 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;
Have you ever heard news so stunning that it numbed your heart? Have you ever gotten news so unexpected and so overwhelmingly good that you stared, speechless? So good, that it caused you to question reality itself? What I’m talking about happened to the Patriarch Jacob who believed his son Joseph was dead. Jacob mourned and lived in sorrow, then in Gen 45:26 he gets the news that Joseph is in fact still alive; his sons “told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And Jacob’s heart became numb, for he did not believe them.” Jacob is gripped by a joy that affects the function of his body. His reception of the news is physiological. He hears news so great it causes disbelief. Jacob doubts the news because of the wonder of it; it’s too good to be true. His doubt originates in the overwhelminggoodness of the news.
But the point of the good news is ultimately belief, not unbelief. And not an arid intellectual belief, but a belief that starts in the gut and springs forth in delighted laughter. God overwhelms evil with good, the poorness of fallen man with the wealth of our risen Lord. God takes what is empty and fills it to the point of near breaking and dissolution.
God’s outpouring is good. So good, in fact, it startles the intellect and strains our faculties. And God does this to fill up the lowly with glorious song and rich laughter – with Joy. That is the Christmas story, that is the Christian story, this is your story.
Its Christmastide, a feast day to celebrate with song, food, presents and lights – the implausible reality – God descended into the womb of a woman to fulfill all His promises. It’s the season in which we get a special opportunity to comprehend with all the saints the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.
God overwhelms us with glorious blessing, to fill us with laughter.
God acts to Overwhelm us with glorious blessing
Psalm 126 mentions the restoration of Israel’s fortunes, a return from captivity, victory after a long period of defeat. It’s not specific to a certain episode of restoration; it’s about the people of God and our common experience. No restoration though, was as remarkable and complete as our great Exodus in Christ. As it says in Ephesians 4:8, Christ “led captivity captive and gave gifts to men.” All the things that hold us captive, the king of our woe; Satan, His entire host, his minions of sin; his entire army of death – was led into captivity. We were converted from the armies of Satan to the armies of God. We have been made slave to the victorious Lord Jesus and discover that Slavery in his house is blessed sonship.
God took away our captivity and our sin. But God takes away to replace. He empties, to fill. Jesus gave gifts to replace what He’s taken, and those gifts are greater than what he’s taken away. Compare death to life. The emptiness of fallen humanity to the fullness of the self-sustaining Triune God. Compare joy to sorrow, laughter to tears, song to silence. Fear to courage. Faith to despair. Compare the taste of cake to the taste of ashes. Christ has come and in His wake is a starling, overflowing grace that drowns our death and numbs our hearts and baffles our intellect.
We are like those who dream. Is it true? Is it real? Are we, you and I, the inheritors of the stars? Are we perfect before the Father? Was our God a suckling babe? Was the Eternal one born in a Roman province under Caesar Augustus, to a virgin? We are like those who dream, and we blink in the brightness of the light like those struggling to wake up. God’s goodness is like a dream because His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Our limits can’t bind Him. With God all things are possible. We hear and see with our flesh. God’s actions and promises are contrary to our own experiences. God’s actions are nearly incomprehensible because our minds our created and finite, full of the creation’s limitations. Our flesh aches, our strength fails, our imaginations have borders and boundaries. For instance, how can we comprehend the idea of eternity, when we live in a world with beginnings and endings? Furthermore, God was a man, with two natures, conceived by the Holy Spirit, laid in a manger, honored by angles and shepherds?
Its sounds too good to be true. As fallen creatures we are too weak to believe such wondrous things. So, Christ came, cleansed us from the inside out and poured into us His Spirit. Christ cleansed and lined the interiors of our hearts with reinforced steel so that He could pour into us His infinite Love, his limitless spirit, so that we would be so drunk on 100 proof grace that we’d stagger about dazed with God’s glory.
He reinforced the cavern of our hearts so that the fullness of God could dwell there.
Ephesians 3:16–19 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
God’s spirit gives us strength to comprehend, to know that the Gospel is not a dream; God’s love is ours in Christ Jesus. To us was born a baby, a God-child, who didn’t stay a child. He grew big enough and strong enough to carry a cross up a hill and lead captivity captive in His wake. God’s work isn’t a dream, Satan’s is. Satan’s dream passes away as the sun of righteousness rises with healing in His wings, casting out darkness, the nightmare of death. We are all undone, disarmed and defeated by the grace of God.
I’m not saying that God defeats Satan, sin and death and you just stand by as an onlooker. Jesus defeated your selfishness with His selfless sacrifice. Jesus defeated your self-righteousness with His perfect obedience to Our Father. Jesus defeated your worldly wisdom with heavenly foolishness. Jesus defeated your pride with His humility. God came as a man to defeat death and you, who were an enemy combatant, are now a member of His body. Awake, blink away the doubt. It’s not a dream. We are undone and remade by God’s unmerited favor and compassion
A perfect example of what I’m talking about occurs in Acts.
Acts 12:6–11 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
God’s grace visits Peter and he thinks it’s a vision. He goes through the motions, all along thinking it’s all just a dream. God overflows his ability to comprehend with blessing too good to believe. Think about when you first believed, when you first emerged from baptism, when the first flush of love reddened your cheeks, when you first realized God would hear your prayers, when the church’s fellowship first welcomed you, when the Bible became true, the first time you knew what a sin was and confessed it and felt no shame for you knew you were forgiven.
You were like the Apostles in Luke 24:10 Jesus “showed them his hands and His feet and while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, Jesus said to them, have you anything to eat?” God has done great things for us, let’s eat; let’s feast. The blessing and grace of God is difficult to believe because it’s so glorious.
Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us. God overcomes us with a staggering grace, to train our imaginations to run wild in anticipation and hope.
Consider what God has done for you and expect great things – things too good to be true, overwhelming your expectations. Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Well, our Father in heaven who caused donkeys to talk and seas to part and a virgin to conceive and stars to descend to stand at attention above lowly mangers, who loved you enough to slay His son to save you – delights to say; “watch this.”
And God delights to startle us with his Love to fill us with laughter and song
Psalm 126:2 “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”
God takes away our captivity and slavery: He takes away sorrow and overwhelms us with the blessing of His joy. He reveals gives himself to us, so that we might know joy, take delight, and be filled with mirth. God overcomes our curse with blessing. Our dourness with jovial love, our pessimism with glorious Hope. Jesus states the reason He has revealed Himself to us in John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
God’s aim is filling the empty with His joy. The nature of His joy is found in Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” God is in our midst and sings in His joy, gladness, and love. God as visited us, freed us, indwells us, to give us a joy that sings, to give us a gladness full of laughter. That is the Christmas story, the Christian story, your story.
In our sin we doubt and weep, God frees us so that we may believe and sing. Now I am not saying that God fills us with laughter and song and if you aren’t singing and laughing you aren’t full of God’s spirit. Psalm 126 begins with restoration – as if Israel had known blessing, passed through a period of uncertainty and travail to emerge again with unexpected blessing that set them laughing and singing. God loves to mature and sanctify us. To take us from glory to glory. Our trajectory is upward though it’s not a straight line.
We have a weekly Sabbath because God knows we need to renew the covenant with Him that often. It’s been a long year. Lots has happened. Many things are uncertain and here we are again, seasonally, liturgically – pondering the impossible. The God-man. The Christ- child. The God among us who cleansed us so that the Spirit might dwell among us always. In a Middle Eastern town, amongst livestock, under Roman tyranny, God cried for His mother’s breast.
We are like those who dream, nothing is impossible for God, ponder it, let grip you heart. Begin to imagine what’s possible. What God might do next?
We serve a God of wonder – so sing, raise your glasses and cheer, lift your prayers up to God’s throne even as your countenance lifts with the mirth of God’s glorious gift of Jesus Christ. Let’s consider two empty women that God filled, that God overwhelmed with joyous blessing, which demonstrate what I’m talking about. Abraham’s wife Sarah laughed at God’s promise to give her a child because the promise seemed so ridiculously impossible. She laughed at God and God said, literally, “Oh yeah? Watch this.” And then in Genesis 21:6-7 we read a joy-filled, humbled, transfixed Sarah say: “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
God delights to do what His children think is impossible, to set them laughing, to fill them with Joy and praise. Another example is found in Luke 1. Mary, the Lord’s mother, was visited by an angel who startled her. The angel greeted Mary with a greeting too glorious for her and the angel told her news to marvelous to believe. Mary was already a daughter of God. She wasn’t found singing, but God startled her with glorious news, with greetings of joy to set her singing. And Mary’s response was to compose a song to commemorate the glorious deliverance of God’s people. “My soul rejoices in the Lord,” she sang. The mercy shown her, shown to her people, shown to the whole world – was so unexpected, so amazing, so singular – that Mary sang.
When Christ fills us with Grace we are filled with gratitude. Karl Barth said “Grace creates liberated laughter. The Grace of God…is beautiful, and it radiates joy and awakens humor.” The Lord has set before you the record of His faithfulness, his works of wonder, His feats: His grace. Don’t be shaped by what your eyes see, or by your comprehension of events and what you can imagine happening.
Take up and read. Listen, hear me. I bring you good news of great joy. It’s hard to believe because it’s so wonderful. God has come, in the flesh, as a man, the God-Man to build a bridge over the vast chasm separating us from Him. He’s built the bridge with His perfect life, so you don’t have to be. He’s paid the toll to cross with His own blood. It’s not a dream.
This is the Christmas story, the Christian story, your story. We need to ponder this marvelous story as much as possible. Preach it to ourselves and to one another as often as we can. Let us laugh in merriment; sing in joy; feast in hope. Let us shout and sing and laugh in joy for the glory of the Lord. Let us delight in His love; in his presence for that is why He’s sent His Son.
And He has sent His Son.
A Song of Ascents.
 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 they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
 The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
 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.