If the previous Psalm expressed patience in exile, this one focuses on restoration When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.” The Psalmist looks back to God’s great acts of salvation in the past – just as the Old Testament festivals were annual reminders of God’s deliverance, commemorating events like the Exodus. 

And this faithfulness of God to his people was not just a private truth, known only in the community. Instead, God’s deliverance was a public truth, to which the nations around Israel had to pay attention. Then it was said among the nations, The Lord has done great things for them.’” This is a common theme in the Psalms and the Old Testament more broadly: that God’s action in saving his people also reveals him to all.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that we find this idea reflected in the New Testament, in Simeon’s words on seeing the baby Jesus in the Temple: My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sigh of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:30 – 32). Like God’s deliverance in the Old Testament, the presence of Christ is not our private spiritual experience, but is to be a revelation to all nations. 

And the nations see Christ in the transformative effect he has in the lives of his people – in how he has saved us and in how he goes on sanctifying us. We are to be salt and light, to let our light shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, see also 1 Peter 2:12). This is a truth to reflect on as the election campaign continues: how do we show our nation the difference God has made to us? What kind of Christ are we presenting to people?

But then we get the realism which endears the Psalms to so many. Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.” The Psalm doesn’t just celebrate, but recognises our constant need. This is what the hope of the people of God looks like – one that remembers God’s acts of deliverance, and anticipates the same God doing this in the future. 

As the Psalm goes on, Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” We are not forced to choose between joy at what God has done for us and pain at where we may be today; both have their place in our prayer, and are a part of our witness to what Jesus has done in our lives.

This looking back and looking forward is where we find ourselves as Christians in Advent. Like the Psalmist we too look back to a great act of deliverance: in our case the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. And at the same time we look forward, for as the author of Hebrews writes: he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28).