shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you* in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
18 as on a day of festival.*
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
19 I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the
20 At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord. - Zephaniah 3:14-20
It seems that every time you turn around today, there is nothing but disaster and anxiety, sometimes aided and emphasized by those who are very much in the public eye. Floods, bombings, airstrikes, terrorist attacks, volcanic eruptions, you name it, it's probably been in the news in the fairly recent past. It seems to be an advent season full of things to test our complacency and contemplation.
The Israelites had certainly undergone a few of these trials plus being removed from their homeland and forced to live far away. They were there long enough to feel the separation greatly, and probably really wanted to go home, most of them anyway. Their captivity was the result of their own greed and failure to live as God's people. A number of prophets had been charged by God with the job of reminding the people why they were there and to give them hope that God would act on their behalf and take them home again.
This passage in Zephaniah seems to be a song of deliverance, something that may have been said or sung as a part of a service of thanksgiving. It reminded the people that God had never left them and, indeed, had taken their part and brought them to a happier conclusion than they could have managed on their own. There was a reminder that God was in their midst and that God was rejoicing over them almost as if it were a festival.
Today we are constantly reminded in our churches that God is still in our midst. Too often we think of God as a powerful white-haired, white robed, bearded man sitting on a throne somewhere out in the cosmos somewhere. There is a belief among some that God is like a divine puppet master, one who pull strings and we respond to the pulling. Others believe that God wound up the universe at creation and left it to go its own way with a few interruptions or interceptions. We are reminded again and again in Scripture that God is with us, not far away somewhere, but right in our midst although whether we would recognize God or not is a pertinent question.
So what does God look like and how would we recognize the God in our midst? I don't know that there is an answer to that, but it is suggested that we look for God in each and every individual we see and with whom we interact because all our children of God and of God's making. It isn't necessarily the rich person sitting in the front pew of the church every Sunday, or the one we see walking down the street in fine clothes or driving a luxurious car. It's probably more likely that God is down among the homeless, the mentally ill, the people who are considered the dregs of society, the outcasts. I wonder what would happen if God revealed Godself as a homeless veteran or a mentally ill bag lady? Would we still allow God to live hand to mouth and without a roof over God's head?
Zephaniah's joyful song says that God will destroy the enemy and leave peace and lack of fear behind. The exiles will be brought home and they will be welcomed with restored fortunes. That vision seems very difficult to imagine these days, when God might be wearing a hajib, a turban, or eagle feathers. It may not be God with a white face and blonde hair, and it may not be someone we would identify with a beard. It may be that God is a small African boy watching his parents be tortured and killed in front of him. It may be a small girl in Thailand being sold as a sex slave by parents who need the money more than they need the child. It may be an abandoned elderly person, in a warehouse of other elders who seemingly have no relatives and no one to care for or about them.
Through all the trials and tribulations, God is with us. In war and peace, health and illness, richness and abject poverty, God is in our midst. Maybe it's time for us to act as if God truly were in our midst, and look see how our own deliverance could make a difference in this world.
There is a saying that Jesus is coming soon and boy, is he pissed. We like the Israelites have ignored our jobs. The Lord is in our midst, and we are not even trying to find or even acknowledge that presence. We can rejoice during Advent, but we also have to remember that we have work to do. God is depending on us.