Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on December 17, 2017
[sermon begins after two Bible readings; Luke and John readings may be read at the end of the sermon after the references]
Psalm 126 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. 4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. 5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. 6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
Whew! Today’s Bible readings are full to overflowing. John the Baptist points to Jesus, the Light coming into the world. Mary sings about God lifting up the lowly, scattering the proud, dethroning the powerful, feeding the hungry, emptying the rich, and mercy-ing the fearful. Paul tells the Thessalonians that God’s faithfulness gives them the peace through which they rejoice, pray, and give thanks. And the Psalmist rejoices. Our Psalm today is one of the “Songs of Ascent.” Scholars generally agree that Psalms of Ascent were likely sung by the faithful while on pilgrimage towards Jerusalem.
Although their ancient pilgrimage is loosely analogous to our preparation for Christmas during Advent, this Psalm was more likely chosen for this third Sunday of Advent because it rejoices in God’s restoration. First and foremost, Psalm 126 rejoices in the restoration of God’s people to the land of Zion. They returned to the land after the Babylonians took their ancestors as spoils of war seven centuries before the birth of Jesus. The complete joy upon being restored to their land is like living a dream too wonderful to be true. Laughter and shouts of joy flow freely – like the watercourses of the Negeb.
Psalm 126 also connects with other divine restorations – Sarah to Abraham, Joseph to his father and brothers, God’s people to the land through Moses, Ark of the Covenant back to the people, the birth of the Messiah, Jesus to his parents, and the resurrection of Jesus. These stories of restoration, like the return of the Babylonian exile, all follow pain or disconnection or trauma beyond anyone’s control. Tears and weeping are held in tension with shouts of joy in the Psalm.
A few weeks ago, I invited those worshipping to pick a word from scripture that would become their word for the church year. My colleague Pastor Wright mentioned choosing her word as an Advent discipline for the last several years and I brought it back to you all. Before I preached that Sunday sermon, I spent a few days praying and mulling over my own word. For some reason it seemed important to me to choose before I had a lot of conversations with other people about their words. So I thought about my life to this point, and the last year in particular. In the midst of it all, there was a word that kept popping up for me. So I searched the Bible for the word “laugh.” There’s a lot of things happening in the world, city, and families that need serious attention, rightly so. I need to be reminded to laugh for I dearly love to laugh and no one has the power to steal joy.  The search turned up Psalm 126. I love it for the imagery of laughter flowing freely. The kind that comes up from the deep. Not forced laughter like when someone tells you to “cheer up.” Rather, the kind of laughter that comes from experiencing hard things and also being able to experience joy. Psalm 126 holds this tension.
Early on that first Sunday in Advent, Pastor Margot texted me. Keep in mind that I hadn’t told her my word or even that I was going with the whole word choosing thing for my sermon. Here’s what she texted:
“Blessings on your proclamation today! You were in a dream I had this morning and we were laughing. May there be joy for you today.”
What?!!! I couldn’t believe it. Maybe you don’t either. When these kinds of things happen, I prefer not to try and explain them. I just think it’s cool. And I like to think it’s the Spirit but there’s really no definitive way to do an evidence check. So let’s just say in this moment that it’s cool. It’s also cool that it’s one of the lectionary readings for today. I didn’t know that before I picked it either. When I started tuning into sermon prep for today another circuit in my mind crackled. Again, no explanation, just cool.
Way cooler is that Jesus prayed the Psalms while on earth. This means that in the Psalms we encounter the praying Christ as we pray the Psalms. Think about that for a minute. Psalms are prayed weekly in worship and countless times of day by people of faith, by the body of Christ, around the world. These words become Christ-bearers in the world, we become Christ-bearers in the word as we pray them.
Sorrow and joy are all of a piece. There are people who know suffering and who know joy. Not necessarily at the same time but they are often experienced together. I’ve seen it in people who are dying who seem to hold both joy and suffering at the same time. I’ve seen sorrow and joy in people who lost a spouse and learn to live again. I’ve seen sorrow and joy in people who have lost children and who celebrate the joy of parenthood with the memory of their child who died and with their living children. I’ve seen sorrow and joy in people who experience significant assault and oppression get up the next day, living and laughing, knowing why the caged bird sings. [8a] You may be, or may know, one of these people. Their joy will not be stolen by anyone or anything for any reason. The co-existence of joy and sorrow is difficult to put into words but it’s certainly a shared human experience. Let me put it this way, you know it when you see it.
Today is the third Sunday of Advent also considered joy or rejoice Sunday when we light the pink candle symbolizing joy here in the sanctuary. As with all things liturgical, consensus can be elusive but there is general agreement about rejoicing in the Lord because we are that much closer to Christmas. Paul encourages us to rejoice always. Again, not a shallow “cheer up,” but rather rejoicing in God’s faithfulness that gives us peace through which we rejoice. For it is God who is the foundation of our joy. Mary sings her joy at the coming of the One who levels the ground between the mighty and the lowly. John witnesses to the One who is the light, who pushes against the darkness that would overcome us if left to its own devices. We join them in rejoicing for these things and for all that God is doing in us as Christ-bearers in the world. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice! Thanks be to God and amen.
 Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament and Alvin N. Rogness Chair in Scripture, Theology, and Ministry
Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minn. Commentary on Psalm 126, WorkingPreacher.org, December 14, 2008. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=193
 Psalm 126:1b
 Psalm 126:
 “Pick A Word, Any Word.” Sermon for Sunday, December 3, 2017. Posted at CaitlinTrussell.org. Step 1, she chooses one word from scripture at the start of Advent. Step 2, she keeps the word on her radar for the whole year. She talks about listening for the word in her scripture study and also in her life. The word serves to keep her awake and engaged as a disciple throughout the church year. http://caitlintrussell.org/2017/12/03/pick-a-word-any-word-or-slp-happens-mark-1324-37-and-1-corinthians-13-9/
 A nod to Jane Austen’s character Ms. Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice who finds it a shame to not have a reason to laugh with Mr. Darcy.
 Jesus prayed these prayers while on earth and now we do too as a congregation, the body of Christ. Therefore, in the Psalms, we “encounter the praying Christ…Even if a verse or a psalm is not one’s own prayer, it is nevertheless the prayer of another member of the fellowship.” Excerpt from: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 46-47.
[8a] Maya Angelou. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” (1969).
 The Rev. Tim Schenck, Episcopal priest and rector with parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusettes. “What’s Up With The Pink Candle?” on December 9, 2011. https://frtim.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/whats-up-with-the-pink-candle/
 1 Thessalonians 5:16
 Philippians 4:4…and more from Rev. Tim Schenck (ibid.) “The Third Sunday in Advent [is known] as Gaudete Sunday because the introit for the mass begins “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete” meaning “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say rejoice.”
Luke 46-55 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
John 1:6-8 and 19-28 here was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.