Advent 3C: Zephaniah 3:14-20

14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
18 “I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
which is a burden and reproach for you.
19 At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
20 At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.
Zephaniah 3:14-20 [CEB}

We round the corner on the third week of Advent and the dancers are getting in formation. The orchestra is tuning up. There’s a bit of a last-minute rehearsal, checking costumes, reviewing the dance moves, and focusing on what is just about to happen.

There’s a change this week in the texts. It’s not just that we are one week closer to the Christmas celebration. It’s the timbre of the words – the Promises of God are closer to being fulfilled. It’s like being in a long queue for a midnight movie premier and seeing the staff come over to open the doors to the theatre… (cough, cough. Not that I did that for The Hobbit premier or anything…) 🙂 No, the words bring the glimpse of the future tantalizingly close. While the time of introspection and personal preparation is still important, there is a lightening of the mood, a chance to finish the party preparations.

In traditional Church teaching, the third Sunday is Gaudete Sunday and the vestments (if your church uses them) change from penitential purple to a joyous pink. The third candle, the pink one, is lit on the Advent wreath. The word “Gaudete” comes from the verses I’ll reflect on later this week and are from Philippians 4: “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). (So YES – it matters that we light the pink candle this week and not another purple one. Ahem.)

Zephaniah’s words bring joyous promises – of being returned from exile, finding God’s favor, and the thrill of worshipping again in God’s presence. For those who are suffering persecution today, these words are encouraging. For those who are facing life-limiting illness, they remind us of the Hope of heaven. For those who are weighed down with burdens of grief and depression, there is a light shining, dim but promising, in the distance.

In days like these, where we watch the news, saddened with grief over deaths that never should have been, the muted strains of celebration are simply non-existent. We can’t hear them over the cries of pain, of parents, teachers, neighbors, friends, and relatives mourning. In the depths of our hearts, we cling to God’s promises and remind ourselves of Christ’s words to us:

“I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 [ESV]

The promised joy of the Christ Child is linked to the promised return of Christ the King. Before our very eyes we will see God bring justice, peace, and an end to suffering. In the time of school shootings and senseless civil war, this is good news, indeed.

Today I take a moment to find the glory of God in the world around me, and the faces of people I love…

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