Text for the Week: A Season for Joy

Scripture: Zephaniah 3:14-20

14 Rejoice, Daughter Zion! Shout, Israel!
        Rejoice and exult with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem.
15 The Lord has removed your judgment;
        he has turned away your enemy.
The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;
        you will no longer fear evil.
16 On that day, it will be said to Jerusalem:
        Don’t fear, Zion.
        Don’t let your hands fall.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory.
        He will create calm with his love;
        he will rejoice over you with singing.

18         I will remove from you those worried about the appointed feasts.
        They have been a burden for her, a reproach.
19 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.
20 At that time, I will bring all of you back,
        at the time when I gather you.
        I will give you fame and praise among all the neighboring peoples
            when I restore your possessions and you can see them—says the Lord.

Theme- We are to rejoice in God’s salvation

Questions

  1. What does it look like for God to rejoice and why I God rejoicing in this passage when God is the one acting and Israel is passive?
  2. Verse 18 seems to read like God is removing the people who grieve from the community, how should this verse be understood, how can we be considerate of those who grieve?
  3. How do Christians rejoice when life seems hard, and the world seems most opposed to us?

Helpful Information

Related passages: Is. 52z;7-10, Zech. 9:9, Lk. 24:52,

V18 seems to indicate when it comes time to rejoice God will remove anyone from the congregation who refuses to rejoice.

The structure of the passage moves from positive command (do) for Israel to description of God then a negative command (do not) back to a description of how God will act.

The call to rejoice is based on who God is, king and warrior and what God has done, removed guilt shame and judgment.

Reflection

 One of the differences between the Christian approach to Advent and the American “Christmas season” is attitude. For Americans the “Christmas season” is about being festive and merry, continually spreading cheer up to the day you get your presents. Despite this festive nature (or perhaps because of it) this season is also marked by a sharp uptick in depression and other mental health issues. Advent though was always meant to be more contemplative; it is a time of preparation including sorting out the complexities of our life. There are times of grief and sorrow built into the Advent season as well as the third Sunday a time of joy. Every year I hear someone ask about the pink candle on the advent wreath and I remind that person it is because it represents joy. Where every other Sunday in Advent might be positive or negative based on how you experience the world and your level of preparedness for Jesus, the third Sunday is a call to rejoice no matter the situation. The third Sunday of Advent is a time to forget ourselves and our world and focus on what the world will be when Jesus returns, and God fully establishes the Divine kingdom.

I am well aware that there are times that people do not feel like celebrating because of the difficulties they face in life, but the call to joy is a call to look beyond ourselves and focus on the larger picture. Zephaniah points to this reality, for the first two and a half chapters of his book he discusses the sin of Judah, the inevitable coming destruction, and here at the end of the book he switches gears and calls on the people to rejoice. yes, the prophet is looking forward to a time after with the destruction in which the people will rejoice, but he is also calling on the people of Judah at that time to rejoice. The call for rejoicing is set in the future and in God’s future events but it is meant for the people of Zephaniah’s day to join in it’s over Joyce it. It is by rejoicing despite the suffering that the people of Judah and Jerusalem will identify themselves with God and their desire to participate in God’s salvation. “The experience of deliverance and the anticipation of salvation provide the most significant occasions for rejoicing among the people of God in the OT.”[1] Even though Judah has not seen the salvation of God Zephaniah wants them to identify themselves with the people who will be saved. But Zephaniah’s hearers were not called to rejoice simply to placate an unworthy God, we see that God desires to rejoice over the salvation of the people. Zephaniah shows us that God will save those people who are the victims of injustice and will rejoice in doing so. Rejoicing that is one of the markers that distinguishes those who desire to share in God’s justice from those who are apostate.

Is that they are able to step outside of their own discomfort and hurt, even if only temporarily, to rejoice in the salvation that God plans to bring. These individuals recognize that they are the recipients of God’s love and grace, and that status transcends the temporary hurt. At the midpoint of this advent season, we recognize but there is much to rejoice about, God this is bringing justice and salvation and we are the recipients of these good things. We celebrate Jesus’s birth as the pledge of great things to come. But we look forward to Jesús’s second coming and rejoice in the completion of our salvation any institution of God’s righteousness in this world.  the ability to rejoice this advent goes beyond the fevered pitch of the American Christmas season and reveals our ability to look beyond ourselves at what God is doing in the world. Rejoicing displays our commitment to following God into a future salvation despite our current circumstances.


[1] Clinton E. Arnold, “Joy,” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 1022.

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