Advent Psalm reading for December 14, 15, 16, & 17: Psalm 126.
The first reflection on Psalm 126 looked at the psalm’s context as a song of ascent. The second reflection examined similar themes in the liturgical reading from the first half of Habakkuk 3, and the third reflection further explored connections in the prophetic psalm. As we light the third Advent candle, symbolizing joy, we focus on the prophetic words of Isaiah 61, which echo the themes of joy and comfort in Psalm 126 despite the backdrop of grief and suffering.
The One in Which God Responds
It is the third Sunday of Advent, in which we light the third candle to represent joy—”Because of Christ, we can have the joy promised in God’s word.” This apt promise extends from Psalm 126, the song of ascents, which calls us to count on joy no matter our present grief or suffering. The accompanying reading from the prophets today is found in Isaiah 61. In previous Advent reflections on the Psalms and other liturgical poetry, we have seen many prayers and petitions for God to exact vengeance against the enemies who wreak havoc and destruction against the vulnerable. This is a very relatable sentiment, especially in war and conflict. However, God has not responded in any of these scriptures. Today, however, we hear a message from God through Isaiah 61, who has”been sent as a herald of joy to the humble.”
In contrast to previous scriptures where calls for vengeance were met with silence, Isaiah 61 presents a different kind of divine response, emphasizing healing, liberation, and comfort over retribution.”It is the third Sunday of Advent, in which we light the third candle to represent joy—”Because of Christ, we can have the joy that is promised in God’s word.” This apt promise extends from Psalm 126, the song of ascents, which calls us to count on joy no matter our present grief or suffering. The accompanying reading from the prophets today is found in Isaiah 61. In previous Advent reflections on the Psalms and other liturgical poetry, we have seen many prayers and petitions for God to exact vengeance against the enemies who wreak havoc and destruction against the vulnerable. This is a very relatable sentiment, especially in war and conflict. However, God has not responded in any of these scriptures. Today, however, we hear a message from God through Isaiah 61, who has “been sent as a herald of joy to the humble.” In contrast to previous scriptures where calls for vengeance were met with silence, Isaiah 61 presents a different kind of divine response that emphasizes healing, liberation, and comfort over retribution.
The spirit of my Sovereign GOD is upon me,
Because GOD has anointed me.
I have been sent as a herald of joy to the humble,
To bind up the wounded of heart,
To proclaim release to the captives,
Liberation to the imprisoned;
To proclaim a year of GOD’s favor
And a day of vindication by our God;
To comfort all who mourn—
Building, Planting, & Festivities
From the psalmist’s pleas for vengeance to Isaiah’s portrayal of God’s glory, we see a shift from human notions of vindication to a divine plan centered around grace, rebuilding, and the provision of joy. God does not respond to prayers for vengeance with vengeance but to bring peace, freedom, and strength to the vulnerable, to “comfort all who mourn.” God’s retribution brings joy to those who mourn and provides for those who have suffered loss. God’s victory looks like immeasurable peace. Whereas the psalmist asked for God’s reputation to be saved by exacting violent vengeance (cf. Psalm 79), the prophet tells us that God’s glory is preserved through God’s grace and provision of joy. As we delve deeper into Isaiah’s message, it becomes clear that God’s justice is not about destruction but restoration and compassion. This concept challenges our understanding of divine justice in times of conflict and violence.
To provide for the mourners in Zion—
To give them a turban instead of ashes,
The festive ointment instead of mourning,
A garment of splendor instead of a drooping spirit.
They shall be called terebinths of victory,
Planted by GOD for glory’s sake.
And they shall build the ancient ruins,
Raise up the desolations of old,
And renew the ruined cities,
The desolations of many ages.
God’s victory and glory are preserved through rebuilding and replanting. God does not come to destroy but to rebuild and renew what has been destroyed. Many people disregard the Old Testament as a collection of books about a vengeful God, but they are missing the point. It is humanity that seeks revenge, but God draws us toward compassion. God’s divine compassionate justice is worth preserving. For this reason, psalms, which begin with cries for violent retribution, end with lament and praise. It does not feel right to wait for joy, but I am more inclined to appreciate seasons of sorrow as I grow older. I learn as much of myself and God’s love and justice in sorrow as I do in joy, and maybe more so. Ultimately, I am thankful that instead of violence, God promises respite and peace; instead of retribution, God promises joy.
Compassionate Justice in a Time of Violence
In the Advent season, many are suffering in the wake of the loss of loved ones, deteriorating health, and seasonal depression, and this year, many are suffering violent physical war and attack in some parts of the world. These psalms and scriptures originate from the ancient world of the Middle East, where there seems to be unending conflict. I can imagine the voices of the vulnerable experiencing significant loss resonating with the psalmists’s appeal for vindication. And what a shock it might be to discover that divine compassion brings more comfort than violent vengeance. In our prayers for justice, may we also consider appealing for unfathomable peace and comfort in this season on behalf of those whose need is even greater than ours. May we be grateful for our comfort in life and stand in solidarity with those who suffer, knowing that this too shall pass. May our hearts be ever in a place of compassion so that we may be vessels of compassionate justice wherever we are.
As we reflect on the powerful messages of Psalm 126 and Isaiah 61 this season of Advent, we are called to embrace a perspective of divine justice that transcends human desires for vengeance. These scriptures remind us that true vindication and glory in God’s eyes are found in rebuilding, healing, and providing joy to those who mourn. As we navigate our experiences of loss, grief, or turmoil, let us find solace in the promise of God’s compassionate justice, which seeks to uplift rather than destroy. May our reflections lead us to a deeper understanding of God’s love and encourage us to be agents of peace and comfort in a world that often longs for retribution. This Advent, let us hold onto the hope that in God’s time, joy will come to those who have sown in tears and that our collective yearning for justice will be met with God’s unfailing compassion and peace.
Coming Up on Advent Psalm Reflection
This reflection concludes the liturgical focus on Psalm 126. Tomorrow is a new psalm for reflection.
This entire series and a link to the liturgical readings on the Advent Psalm Reflections page.
*The translations are JPS from Sefaria.org
Dr. Erica Mongé-Greer, holding a PhD in Divinity from the University of Aberdeen, is a distinguished researcher and educator specializing in Biblical Ethics, Mythopoeia, and Resistance Theory. Her work focuses on justice in ancient religious texts, notably reinterpreting Psalm 82’s ethics in the Hebrew Bible, with her findings currently under peer review.
In addition to her academic research, Dr. Mongé-Greer is an experienced University instructor, having taught various biblical studies courses. Her teaching philosophy integrates theoretical discussions with practical insights, promoting an inclusive and dynamic learning environment.
Her ongoing projects include a book on religious themes in the series Battlestar Galactica and further research in biblical ethics, showcasing her dedication to interdisciplinary studies that blend religion with contemporary issues.