Dreams, Nostalgia and Joy: Dec 17, 2023

December 20, 2023

B, Advent 3

    Today is unofficially known as Gaudete Sunday—which
is Latin for Joy—Joy Sunday. Upon hearing the readings, you probably noticed a
shift in tone from the last several weeks.
We also light the pink candle to signify this movement toward joy and I
get to wear my pink stole which my last church gave me because I kept
threatening to turn everything pink on the 3rd Sunday of
Advent.  I wasn’t actually going to do
that, but I liked to see the panic that flickered across their faces before I
admitted I was kidding.  Plus, I just
really like pink.
The readings are definitely more joyful this
  Not a single person gets sent into
outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  Nothing is consumed in fire and it doesn’t
appear that anyone is even yelling.
  But these
texts aren’t coming from a Hallmark Christmas movie, the references to joy are
a little more nuanced.
  While Psalm 126
uses the word joy 3 times and certainly carries elements of hope, that hope is
wrapped in lament.

When the Lord restored
the fortunes of Zion, then were we
like those who dream. Then was our
mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy. Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has
done great things for them.”  Notice
the use of the past tense. Then…then
were we like those who dream…then
was our mouth filled with laughter. It sounds almost nostalgic.  But it’s clearly more than that.

The church has always been great at talking about the
past.  The first church I served at was
100 years old.  They talked just as much
about the past as the 413 year old church I just came from.  And of all the wonderful stories that could
have been told…do you know what era I heard the most about—the 1960s.  This is partly because many of the members
still remembered the 1960’s.  But also
because that was when the churches (all churches) were bursting at the seams.
During the 1950s, church membership grew at a faster rate than the population
itself.  It was a rate of growth that was
unprecedented and never seen again.  But
for those who had been around during that time, that was the gold standard and
the question was always—how do we get back to that?

Nostalgia is not bad in and of itself.  In fact, while nostalgia can often be
associated with sadness or loneliness, nostalgia also acts as a defense against
unhappiness.  It can bring relief to a
negative mood.[1]  Yet sometimes, especially in churches, I fear
that nostalgia can hold us back.  It’s a
safe place, but our faith is supposed to challenge us…not merely comfort us.

There are examples in the Bible of nostalgia
holding people back.  After Moses led the
people out of slavery, they were in the wilderness and there was a lot of
complaining and even reminiscing about how great life was when they were
enslaved. In the Book of Numbers they said, “‘If only we had meat to eat!  We
remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the
melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is
dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’” There were
times when they would have returned if Moses has been willing.  Nostalgia confines us to what we know.  There is no room for dreaming with nostalgia.

That’s why I don’t think this Psalm is
about nostalgia.  It’s about hope.
When the Lord restored
the fortunes of Zion, then were we
like those who dream. Then was our
mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” They were
dreamers.  They were remembering a time
when they could dream, when their mouths were filled with laughter.  They weren’t remembering when they all had
nice houses and good food.  They weren’t
remembering when their places of worship were beautiful and full. 

The joy that the psalmist speaks of is a
joy remembered and a joy anticipated.[2] It’s a joy that doesn’t
come from human action, but God’s action. 
They know that joy will return because God is faithful.  This psalm portrays the expanse of human
experiences. Yes, there are tears, but some of those tears will reap joy. 

It’s more than just the idea, “Well sure,
you are sad now, but you will get over it.” 
No, it means that the tears we shed can water the dry and parched ground
that surrounds us.  Then joy will grow
from the tear saturated ground.  “Those
who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering
their sheaves.”  This Psalm isn’t
intending to minimalize the grief and pain people experience and imply that
every heart ache and pain will bring new joy. 
We know that is not true.  But
with God, we are on holy ground.  That
holy ground is littered with seeds of hope.

That’s why we can’t go backwards.  We honor the past.  We learn from it, but it can’t nourish us. We
have seeds that need tending now.  We
have dreams that we have forgotten. They hover on the cusp of our consciousness
just waiting to come out. 

I know that you at Christ Church had a
long transition. So many people have mentioned that to me.  That liminal place can be very challenging.  Some of you are still grieving the loss of
beloved clergy and some may still be wondering if I am the person who can lead
you.  I believe I am that person—the
person who can help you till this ground because God has called me to be with
you, and you, the people of Christ Church have called me as well.  God wants us all to dream again.  We need to help one another because it’s really
easy to get stuck in the weeds and forget that there is something beautiful and
holy beyond the weeds.

challenging to dream and believe that things can be different, even better.
Fortunately we are in a place that has a history of dreaming and defying the
status quo.  We are on holy ground.  May the joy of Gaudete Sunday nourish us and the ground we tread.  


[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2023/03/nostalgia-defense-unhappiness-happy-memories/673320/

James Mays. p. 399