Zephaniah 1:1 dates this prophetic book during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, from 640 to 609 bce. King Josiah brought about important religious reforms in Judah. (You can read about Josiah’s reign in 2 Kings 22–23.) However, most of Zephaniah’s prophecy concerns judgment against Judah and its neighbors. After several chapters of doom and gloom in which the prophet actually suggests that the best thing God could do is “sweep away humans and animals” and cut “off humanity from the face of the earth” (1:3), the clouds seemingly part to allow light to break through: “Rejoice and exult with all your heart!” The New Revised Standard Version refers to today’s scripture as “A Song of Joy.” The prophet encourages his audience to rejoice because God has rescued them from their adversaries and they can now look forward to a future without judgment and oppression. Zephaniah describes that future time using the phrase “on that day,” a common theme in these chapters. The message of the text is clear: Salvation is near. God comes to redeem.
Recently I saw a story on television that illustrated the concept of joy in the midst of trouble. The story was about a boy born with autism. His mother was determined to, as she put it, “not change him, but bring out the best in him.” Perhaps the most helpful thing she did was to buy him a bird. That boy, now a teenager, said that the bird was a perfect pet because it couldn’t talk and neither could he. Currently this boy, who has just graduated from high school, has been awarded a Rhodes scholarship and is on his way to study at Oxford. His mother offers a shining example of finding joy in a difficult situation.
Loving God, we thank you for the joy we find during the times of turmoil and trouble. Make us aware of this joy. Amen.
As I reviewed the scripture passages for this week, a hymn titled “Rejoice, Give Thanks and Sing” kept going through my mind. The writers of this week’s texts advise us to do all these things. At this time of year, these responses often seem to come naturally for many of us. The prophet Zephaniah exhorts his audience to sing aloud and rejoice. The prophet Isaiah calls on the people of Judah to “give thanks to the Lord.” In the letter to the Philippians, Paul advises his audience to “rejoice in the Lord always.” The tone of the Luke passage for this week is more somber; through the words of John the Baptist, Luke challenges his audience to maintain right relationships with God and humanity. Taken together, these passages provide a number of life lessons.
• Read Isaiah 12:2-6. Think about the times of uncertainty in your life. What did you fear? Who or what gave you comfort during these times?
• Read Zephaniah 3:14-20. When have you found joy in the midst of trouble? Think back on that time in your life, and give thanks for God’s presence.
• Read Luke 3:7-18. Where in your life are you being nudged to do the right thing? How will you respond?
• Read Philippians 4:4-7. At what times is God most present in your life? When do you find yourself searching for God?
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