Last week our readings were all about waiting—waiting for the baby Savior Jesus to come as we near the celebration of his lowly Christmas time birth. A real King is coming, and we are to wait with expectance of something grand beyond our comprehension.
This week our readings tell us to rejoice in this waiting, to sing praises and to know that our Messiah is coming soon. (At least in our annual celebration of this event!)
Who is Zephaniah? Our Old Testament reading is the last 6 verses of his 3 chapters short book. I did not look it up, but this is probably the only time we read Zephaniah in our Lectionary.
For a very little lesson on the layout of the Bible, here goes:
1) The Bible has Old and New Testaments--39 books in the Old, 27 in the New.
2) The Old Testament is the Hebrew canon of Jewish texts, whereas the New Testament (written in Greek) covers the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the start of the early Christian Church.
3) The first five Old Testament books are the Torah or the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses).
4) The next 22 books have a combination of—
a. history of the Jewish people along with some big time prophets—Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Ezra, Daniel and Nehemiah.
b. Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ruth, and Esther
5) The final 12 books are the Minor Prophets, written likely between the 8th century BC to around the time the first exile of the Jews in 587 BC, and on to about the 4th century BC.
6) Zephaniah is the ninth book in this minor prophet series, and is considered to be about the time of entering into and then coming out of the first exile. Zephaniah is possibly a contemporary of Isaiah. Zephaniah means, “Yahweh had hidden/protected”.
The book mostly describes Yahweh's judgment on the people of the Kingdom of Judah. The threefold repetition of "I will sweep away" emphasizes the totality of the destruction, but then in only the 6 verses we read today it concludes in an announcement of hope and joy, as Yahweh "bursts forth in joyful divine celebration" over his people.
Our canticle today is from Isaiah 12, and is more about trust and praising God. There is not much more clear calling to praise than this, “Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
And, the theme continues in our second reading from Philippians 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” It even adds more to make us happy in this rejoicing, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The last verse is often used to end our worship service as a sending off into the world, knowing that God is with you in all you do, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
And then we get our Gospel reading from Luke—clang, thud, mic drop! John the Baptist blasts away at those who would come to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” John tells them that their inheritance through Abraham won’t save them if they do not do as God commands them—"bear good fruit worthy of repentance”. The crowd asks him what can they do, and he tells them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” He even tells the tax collectors, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” And soldiers he tells, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” John continues by clarifying to the people that he is NOT the Messiah, but is leading the way for the One who is, and in ominous terms, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” And the reading finishes with, “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”
Wow, so this is Good news? I guess it depends on what the state of the culture and society is at the time. And, frankly, it was not so great. Roman occupation, corrupt and greedy Jewish leaders, and the masses of people suffering and hoping for change. Is that much different than today? I think not much. Lust for power, greed, the “want/have it all” few pitted against the “have nots”, and the scapegoating of certain people as the faux cause of the masses’ problems have led us to question if God is even here for us or not.
In this season of Advent what is have is hope for our future, while not just sitting and waiting for it to somehow happen. What John tells the people then is valid now too—feed and clothe the people, do not allow the government to be corrupt and serving just the few, and for justice for all instead of justice for some. And these are all things we can help to bring about. Instead of feeling abandoned and discouraged, maybe this isn’t about waiting, but participate in real actions to bring the changes we want in order to bring about the real Good News that John proclaimed. And as always, praise God as we do it!