2nd Sunday in Advent (C)
December 6, 2015
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is Psalm 126, our Introit for this morning.
As the popular Christmas carol says, it is the most wonderful time of the year. Children are excited to see Santa, we’re looking forward to relatives coming over for Christmas celebrations, I’m looking forward to seeing all of you on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as we praise God for sending us His Son. This is a time of joy. Yes, I know it’s stressful and hectic, but joy is there, even if it doesn’t appear until Christmas Day. Psalm 126 isn’t a Christmas Psalm so don’t wait to hear about Christmas joy. Psalm 126 is a perfect Psalm for today though because it is an Advent Psalm. Because it’s an Advent Psalm and not a Christmas Psalm, the author of the Psalm offers a different kind of joy, he offers repentant joy.
Repentant joy is not what the world is expecting as it counts down the days to Christmas, but it’s what the world—and we ourselves—need more than anything. To understand this we have to go back in time just a bit to about five hundred years before Jesus. The Israelites had had their fun. They had rejected God. They had chosen to worship gods of gold, silver, and wood. They married pagans who led them further into rebellion against God. After warning them repeatedly through the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others, He finally had enough and sent the Babylonians to drag them seven hundred miles back to Babylon. They had sought joy outside of God, and so they paid the price.
Is that any different than today? Hardly. The world directs our attention for joy and happiness everywhere but to God. Primarily, the world says that we’re to find joy in ourselves. Do what you want. Believe what you want. Worship what you want. The thing is that there is not a single Bible passage that says earthly happiness is what life is all about, nor is there a passage that says “God wants us to be happy and doesn’t mind if we sin to achieve it.” And yet, that is often the way we think. We set up false scenarios where the things we need for happiness are an affair, or a bout of drunkenness, or gossip and slander about our friends and neighbors. Burger King no longer uses their slogan “Have it your way”, but we still think that’s the way it should be.
In our pride, we have even thrown down the gauntlet to God. We have refused to pray because the thing we want is wrong. When it comes to God we think that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. In a way, we challenge God to see if He’ll step in and stop our sinful behavior. And if He doesn’t? Well, then everything is okay. What’s sad is that God does put things in our way. We have family and friends that try to steer us back to where we should be. God puts messages in front of us, whether it’s here in church or on Facebook. We don’t like it when that happens though, so we quickly accuse people of being judgmental or holier-than-thou. We can do what we want, but the powerful truth, the absolute truth is there is no joy in sin. It doesn’t satisfy. It only hurts us and those we love.
It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway because you need to hear this and the world needs to hear this: real joy is found only in God. It took the Israelites fifty years before they finally were able to find this joy, and this is when Psalm 126 was written. The Psalmist says, “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” As they returned to their homes, they were like dreaming sleepwalkers who suddenly realized that they weren’t dreaming, but it was all real. Their punishment was over, they were once again in God’s favor. The author of the Psalm says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” With tears of repentance they had pleaded with God for forgiveness, and He had given it to them. Now they rejoice! Now they praise Him for His mercy.
While the Israelites were captive to an enemy nation, we’ve been free as a nation since 1783, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been free. We’re politically free, but not free from Sin. We were captives to it, it controlled us, it dictated to us how we were to live. There is only way to become free that is through repentance and faith in the forgiveness of your sins in Christ Jesus.
The Psalmist writes, “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” The weeping that he is talking about is the sorrow we have over our sins. Sorrow for our sins, which is also called contrition, is the godly sorrow that leads to repentance. In repentance we sow tears of sorrow over our sins and soon God by grace brings forth a harvest of righteousness in faith toward Christ. The Psalmist says, “Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” Like rains in the desert cause flowers to spring up, so also tears of sorrow lead us to the beauty of forgiveness. We struggle yes. Life is a struggle as we fight against what we want and focus solely on what God wants, but we have to struggle before we can have joy. Repentance isn’t easy, it isn’t fun, but the forgiveness that follows is incredible, and brings us an unrivaled joy.
We have this joy because repentance means that we are being drawn into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It means that you can know, you can believe with your whole heart that as bad as your sins were, God’s love and desire to forgive is greater. His great love was seen in the sacrifice in His only begotten Son who died cursed by Sin. He died captive to Sin, but when He rose free of sin and death, you were freed as well. No longer are you captives for your heavenly fortunes have been restored. You can rejoice and say with Israel, “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.”
The godly sorrow that we have that leads us to repent of our sins, is not a one-time event. It’s not something we do once and say that we’re covered. Every single day, in the morning, in the evening, at any time during the day, we confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness. Every day we put our old, sinful nature behind us as we put on forgiveness and by doing so put on the lives of those freed from Sin. We are now new people, free to resist Satan and Sin, free to live as God desires.
To help us with this new found freedom, to help us recognize our sins, and to lead us to repentance and godly sorrow, God has given us this place. He brings us here where we can stand in His forgiving presence. Here is where the power of His Word instills in you faith. The faith that leads you to Him, to trust in Him, to turn to Him after you’ve sinned. I know you might be tired of hearing this, but it’s here in the Lord’s Supper that the Son of God physically joins you to Himself. As you are touched by Christ, as you eat and drink the body and blood that were shed for you, you are forgiven and strengthened for your daily battles when Sin tempts you and the Devil tries to take you captive again. God’s gifts to you forgive you, enable you to fight the good fight, and to find true repentant joy.
Repentant joy doesn’t really fit with the joy that everyone else is looking for. It’s not the joy of Rudolph who is accepted only because Santa needs him. It’s not the joy of George in It’s a Wonderful Life, and it’s not the joy of a perfect Christmas Eve. Repentant joy is the joy of forgiveness that comes when you hear God’s Word, when you receive the Savior’s body and blood. Repentant joy is being declared forgiven, loved, and cherished by God. Repentant joy comes from knowing that you’re not captive to anything but God’s love, and that in His forgiveness you can rejoice all the days of your life.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen