16 Dec 2018
We hear today from some pretty heavy hitters: John the Baptizer, Paul, Isaiah, and then….. Zephaniah. But it is fitting and a good and joyful thing that we hear from all of these folks on Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete in domino semper! Rejoice in the Lord always!!
Now if you had read the first chapters of Zephaniah, which I am sure you all did in preparation for this third Sunday of Advent, the thought of rejoicing would bring you up very short!! Zephaniah has just spent the first chapter condemning most everyone in the world that he knew: the entire earth will be destroyed, people and animals; Judah and Jerusalem are in big trouble for the way they abuse God by following the Baals and by the way the wealthy and socially advantaged abuse the poor. The day of the Lord is coming he says, with a vengeance. Some of the most frightening oracles in the Bible are in those first verses. Foreign nations are condemned for the way they behave internally and externally. Jerusalem is put on notice. This is not a time out; this is wholesale destruction. So where is the joy in that?? Why on earth should we rejoice??
I will make humanity suffer; they will walk like the blind because they sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their intestines like manure. 18 Moreover, their silver and their gold won’t be able to deliver them on the day of the Lord’s fury. His jealousy will devour the entire land with fire; he will make an end, a truly horrible one, for all the inhabitants of the land.
Get the picture? I suspect Zephaniah may have been a person that when another person saw him, they crossed to the other side of the road to avoid what he had to say. I bet he didn’t have many friends. I would not be looking forward to a visit from this prophet at all. I am surprised he did not end up in a well like Jeremiah or being sawn in two like Isaiah.
How should we feel when we hear these earlier words of the prophet? I suspect most of us feel our lives are comfortable. For us what is do is ordinary and normal; it is the way we see the world. If we lived in Nzara our view of normal would be different as it would be if we lived in the mountains of El Salvador. Even if we lived in western Europe we would see normal much differently than we see it in this place and in this time. I find it hard to relate to the issue of justice when my own world is fine, when I feel like I am not being unjust. But what I cannot be and what you cannot be is too comfortable. God does not like it when we get too comfortable. What is the saying? God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.
Watch what I am about to do to all your oppressors at that time. I will deliver the lame; I will gather the outcast. I will change their shame into praise and fame throughout the earth.
Does not Zephaniah call out to us that God is in our midst? God comes to us and is with us. Do you feel alone? Are you having a blue Christmas? Then look to the words of God’s presence among God’s people. You are never alone; the one true God is at your side and in the midst of your day. All you need to do is look. It also means that transformation is possible because God is here. Right now, in our midst.
God is active, seeking out those who need the Holy One. God wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us, as individuals and as a body. Isaiah says we will draw water from the wells of salvation. God is offering us a relationship. It is open to anyone and everyone who chooses to faith and joy and, of course, love.
God seeks justice and asks that we, with the spark of the divine that resides in each and every one of us, serve that cause. Over and over the prophets speak of mercy, love, and justice. Today all of our readings shout out those themes. John calls us to repentance by asking us to ask forgiveness and then, guess what, to practice justice. Isaiah tells us to trust in God and only God as the source of our salvation and then there is no need to fear. How can you then not praise God who has brought you to the waters that will quench your thirst forever?
If Advent is a time of waiting and expectation, we should be on the lookout for all the ways we can live an honest and just existence.
Unless you are one of those who don’t commit injustice or lie. But if you say that you are indeed lying. We all fail at times to do justice and love one another. And some folks seem to fail more often than they succeed. But still God is persistent, very persistent. Paul says it so very, very well: We are to be gentle and by doing so we avoid falling into anger, revenge, hatred, bitterness. Avoid road rage! Above all we need to be tolerant; God is not asking for certitude. If you believe God is near, God is coming there is no reason to fear and you can live without anxiety, for God will take on our worries and our sorrows. Evil and death do not and will not have the final word. The come the words that we hear today, the words of rejoicing and exultation so wonderfully put in this medieval carol:
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus Ex Maria virgine, gaudete
Gaudete. Rejoice because God is in our midst, God is coming and we need not be afraid.