For the North End Community Ministry / food pantry visit or call (616) 454-1097.

We meet for worship at 214 Spencer Street NE. Directions.
Service begins Sundays at 10:00AM.


This Sunday is the third Sunday in Advent. On the first Sunday we focused on hope, the confident waiting for the Lord his people experienced before he came, and the confident waiting for his return we still experience. On the second Sunday we focused on peace, the presence of God’s sense of well-being active in our lives as we wait in faith. This week we focus on joy. While the other three candles are purple, this candle is pink.

Purple signifies repentance and longing. For long centuries God’s people waited. Advent should remind us of the stillness of waiting and the purple candles reflect this more somber mood. The Joy Candle, however, is pink, for pink is symbolic of rejoicing. We wait, and we wait for a long time, yet this waiting is one in which joy cannot be suppressed. As Christmas Day draws ever closer, the love and peace and hope cannot help but “leak” out of us in joy.

True joy is nearly impossible to mask or to hide. Whether a baby squealing in delight at Mama’s snuggles or suddenly finding a lost wedding ring or passing that exam quite unexpectedly, joy overtakes your whole person. It fills every nook and cranny in your soul. Joy truly fills your entire self—mind, body, and soul.

What is remarkable about this characteristic of joy, however, is it nearly always exists in the midst of sorrow. Rarely is joy the only thing we experience. It is almost always preceded by great sorrow, and often is present in the midst of sorrow. “Pure” joy can happen, but it’s rather rare. This is because we live in an in-between time, a time that is “already and not yet”. We already experience God’s promises but they are not yet in their fullness. Consider Judah’s joy at returning to the land after a long exile.

In Psalm 126 we have “a song of ascents”. These were worship songs the people would sing as they ascended the hill to the temple. The people had been removed from the land for centuries of sin and rebellion, yet God had not given up on his promises. After taking them into exile, he restored them to the land and they rebuilt the temple.


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 they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

Psalm 126:1–6 ESV

I’m struck by that first line. When the Lord restored their fortunes by putting them back in the land, “we were like those who dream”. That sounds strange to our ears, as if they were filled with wishful thinking. That’s not at all what that means. Dreams were believed to be divine revelation. The psalm is saying when the Lord acted to restore them to the land, they were hearing directly from him. God revealed himself in their restoration. He communicated clearly to them.

Notice the immediate response: laughter. Shouts of joy. They couldn’t contain it. The experience of joy filled their minds, their bodies, and their souls! Joy was the direct response to the great things the Lord had done. When confronted with the Lord’s goodness, the only response available was joy. When they saw his kindness and his faithfulness they reacted the only way they could: they celebrated.

The psalm pleads with the Lord “to restore our fortunes…like streams in the Negeb”. The Negeb is a desert, filled with dry river and stream beds. For that land to flow with milk and honey required regular rain. Only the Lord could cause the streams to flow. This is where the psalm gets truly profound. It says those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. Sowing in tears is equivalent to being in a dry and dusty riverbed, longing for the rains to come and satisfy the parched earth.

Here we see that joy is often preceded by sorrow. This is a farming metaphor. If you plant your field in tears, you will harvest your crop in joy. The psalmist recognizes the people still experience sorrow, hence the sowing in tears. The recognition is that joy will come, but before it comes tears will come.

Notice something significant. The psalm begins with the declaration the Lord has already acted. He has already caused them to return to the land—he has “restored the fortunes of Zion”, yet the psalm also pleads with him to restore their fortunes. He has already restored them; he has yet to restore them fully. He has already acted sufficiently for them to rejoice; they long for him to finish his work that they may rejoice fully.

The truth is that sowing in tears and reaping in joy are simultaneous. Both are an ongoing reality in the life of the believer. We labor in pain and difficulty and we harvest in joy and delight, often at the same time. Some days are both sunny and raining.

In this season of Advent we find ourselves waiting, longing for the Lord’s coming. We know he will come again and when he comes our time of waiting will be forever over, for we will have the fullness of our longing. We long for the day when our tears will be wiped away, when we no longer sow in tears, and we long for the fullness of our joy, for the coming of our Lord.

The day is coming when hope will be fulfilled. The day is coming when the world will be at peace. The day is coming when our joy will be complete. When the Lord returns he promises to recreate the world, to remove from it sickness and death, war and hostility, disaster and calamity forever. Everything we’ve ever longed for will be here.

Until that day, we celebrate the Lord’s restoration. We have the salvation Jesus came to bring us. We experience God with us. We experience the presence and activity of his Spirit as the prophets predicted long ago. We have the present reality of salvation. And yet. We do not have the fullness of our salvation. While we celebrate how the Lord has “restored our fortunes” we long for him to “restore our fortunes”. We live in that already/not-yet time in which we experience both sorrow and joy, tears and celebration.

It is the assurance we have that he will do what he promises to do that enables us to wait in joy, even in the midst of deep sorrow. Because the Lord came the first time and was fully and completely successful in what he came to do, we can endure whatever this life throws at us with joy, for we know how the story will end. While the chapter we currently experience may be filled with sorrow, we know the end of the story and the end of the story is Jesus.

The real reason we can have joy in the midst of sorrow is joy is never found in circumstances. Real joy is found in a person. True joy is found in Jesus. The whole point of Christmas is Jesus is Emmanuel—God with us. He is ever present with us, even in our sorrow. This means Jesus—our joy—is an ever-present reality for us.