In these two short verses, the prophet Zephaniah accomplishes a major task: He moves from disaster to celebration. Many of the Hebrew prophetic books close with a message of hope and comfort, and this book is no exception. God will vanquish the oppressors, restore the reputation of the people among the nations, restore their fortunes, gather them together, and bring them home. What a joyful conclusion and what an appropriate message for us to hear in Advent! Notice that God speaks in the first person in these verses and speaks directly to the people. God’s nearness surely supports an incarnational message for us.
Reading these verses brings back a poignant memory for me. About a year ago, my brother and I lost our mom after her health steadily declined for a number of years. After her death we decided to celebrate her life at the facility where she lived by singing her favorite hymns and songs, telling stories about her life and contributions, and offering prayers—and God was in our midst. That helped us move from heartache to celebration. Among her friends and those who cared for her, we were able to make the transition from disaster to celebration, and we sent her home.
Some scholars believe these two verses are a later addition to Zephaniah’s prophecy because of their post-exilic overtones (such as gathering of the exiles and returning to their land of origin). Nevertheless, they provide a fitting conclusion to this song of joy and serve us well in our Advent waiting. We too anticipate God’s presence and salvation.
Ever-present God, we pray that you help us learn how to move from disaster to celebration during the trying times in our lives. 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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