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 it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
LIKE THOSE WHO DREAM
This psalm has two hands, one that reaches into the past and one into the future, bringing both near to the present. The first half looks to the past: “When the Lord restored our fortunes.” The second half looks to the future: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord.” This shift in tense is significant for us as we celebrate Advent, which is a season of waiting, not only for the birth of Christ but also the day of his return. We live in the time in between these two arrivals, in the tension between memory and hope. Just like the psalmist, like Israel in exile, we remember the past of what God has done and look to the future of what God has promised to do. Desperation and joy can overlap as we cry out in the same breath “You restored us, please restore us!”
Our dreams for the future grow our of the past. They are not the phantoms of empty optimism, the projections of human progress. I think of the missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin, who famously said “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!” Our dreams are the paradoxical, astonishing promises of God who has proved himself faithful. God has shown us his dream, and we can dream again. We can have laughter and joy, even in strange times and places. For Christ has come, and Christ will come again.