Scriptures: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4–7; Luke 7:18-28
The focus for this week of advent is joy and John the Baptist. To anyone who listened to John’s preaching, this combination can seem odd. How does one who preached things like, “you brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7) share the day with joy? Especially difficult I am sure for John was the fact that he now sat in King Herod’s prison awaiting an uncertain future. How can one experience joy in the midst of such anxious times? Add to this the Old Testament lesson’s equally contrary situation as the prophet Zephaniah talks of rejoicing and singing in the same chapter as pronouncements of God’s impending judgment against Jerusalem and the nations?
To reconcile this disparity, we need to find the common theme of these two lessons and the one from Philippians for the day. In all three God is pronounced as ‘in your midst’ twice in Zephaniah, ‘the Lord is near’ in Philippians, and in a bit different way by the acts that Jesus performed, that the ‘kingdom of God is at hand’ for a doubting John the Baptist. In fact, God is shown to be the great ‘agent of change’ clearly in the words of the prophet Zephaniah where he says, “I (God) will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.”
Our true joy is not found in the ease of our circumstances or in the good things that happen in life. We all know of the tragedies of the news, our families and our friends. Life does not move along in a constant state of ‘happy times’ but rather it seems sometimes as from trial to trial. Our doubts and fears are no different than John’s as he awaited his fated beheading, or Israel’s journey into exile. The only reason for joy and rejoicing come from knowing that the God who traveled with His people into Babylon, is the same God who came into the flesh at that first Christmas and who promised to ‘be with us to the end of the age’.
In this third week of advent, it is my prayer that while you’re in line waiting, while you’re on those slippery roads travelling, while you perhaps ponder your first Christmas alone, that you can know for sure that God goes with you to change all the doubts and fears you have to joy!