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Advent III - St. Boniface, Augsburg

III Advent 2017

St. Boniface, Augsburg

The Rt. Rev. Pierre W. Whalon



One of the best things about having a lectionary — the three-year cycle of Bible readings for church on Sunday — is that it requires the preacher to face most of the entire Scriptures rather than rely on his or her favorite passages.


As it turns out, however, the lectionary today serves me up my favorite psalm, 126. It is both an expression of hope for the future, and an admission of tough times today.



1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, *

then were we like those who dream.


A funny expression, which means like someone fantasizing. “Zion” here means the nation of Israel. They’ve lost everything…


2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *

and our tongue with shouts of joy.


Then in the future — not now.


3 Then they said among the nations, *

"The Lord has done great things for them."


Because basically other people laugh us to scorn, and heap ridicule upon us. The word “Hebrew” comes from a word which meant something “illegal immigrants” does today. In those days to come, however, those folk will praise God for what God has done for us, restoring our prestige.


4 The Lord has done great things for us, *

and we are glad indeed.


We’re still dreaming, folks. We haven’t heard a word from God in a long time, and we feel deserted and afraid.


5 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, *

like the watercourses of the Negev.


Now we are getting real. It is this switch of tone and timeframe that I have always loved. After our day dream of a better day taking place in a past that hasn’t happened, now we need to pray, and do something.


“The water-courses” refers to the dry river beds of the Negev desert. Today it accounts for more than half of southern Israel, and not a lot of people live there. These ancient river beds are dry as dust, except when there is a very exceptional rainfall. So this prayer is, “please bring us back into right relationship with you. It would be as if the rivers of the desert were flowing with water again.


6 Those who sowed with tears *

will reap with songs of joy.


Now this is not a dream anymore, this is an affirmation of faith. God will hear and God will act. We are going to go out and sow the last of our seed corn.


7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. Amen.


Hebrew poetry loves to repeat the same sentiment in another line with different words. Sowed with tears — songs of joy; Weeping carrying seed — joy shouldering the harvest.


In our society, we do not encounter subsistence farmers anymore. People who must farm in order to survive is who our ancestors were, of course, for thousands of years. But for you and me, it has been a long time since subsistence farming was the rule in Europe.


What you need to know is that when a subsistence farmer goes out with the last of the seed, to plant one last crop, what is happening is an act of desperation. If the crop fails, the whole family will die of starvation. Do or die.


The alternative is to cook and eat the seed. But that is a death sentence as well, unless a miracle happens.


So we want to be in right relationship again, and we have asked God for it. And now we are going to act as if God has kept faith with us.


What the psalmist is saying to us today is that we are longing for meaning again in our lives, the real significance of human life, which is to be in relationship with God. Today it feels like everything we trusted is going wrong: democracy is producing tyrants, the poor just keep getting poorer and the rich richer, there might be war again and this time nuclear. The ice caps are melting. More personally, we can’t seem to trust the news media, and the Facebook we loved delivers lies masquerading as truth, which turn out to be concocted by our enemies. And will my children be better off than I am — they don’t seem to think so.


Maybe if I take a chance on God? Yes, I know my friends at work will laugh at me, but have they got a better idea?


This longing takes the shape of a fantasy, a daydream: “when I found God again, everything was right again with my life.” But the psalmist is also saying that you need to take that chance. If it turns out there is no God, there won’t be songs of joy, for sure. But also consider the alternative, namely where we are now.


The affirmation of faith is that God will act in my life. God does not need us to make a desperate act in order to answer our prayers. But if we are desperate — and I think we are starting to feel that way — then placing our faith in God would be a desperate act.


We wouldn’t actually starve to death. At least I don’t think so (although Otto Spengler did famously say that civilization is only three meals away from collapse…). But in terms of something in which to place our hope, our spirits are hungry for meaning, for significance, in the lives we live now.


And so we need to act and stop daydreaming. I am inviting you now to stand with me and renew our agreement with God, our covenant made at Baptism, which will replace the Creed today. It is found on pages 304 and 305 of the Book of Common Prayer:


Celebrant:       Do you believe in God the Father?

People:            I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant:       Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People:            I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant:       Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People:            I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Celebrant:       Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People:            I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:       Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People:            I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:       Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People:            I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:       Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People:            I will, with God's help.

Celebrant:       Will you strive for justice and peace among

all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People:            I will, with God's help.


Now let us go out from here and do something about our faith. God will answer you.

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