Zeph. 3: 14--20
The NRSV titles this section "A Song of Joy", and indeed it is a Psalm of pure exultation: the LORD has taken away the judgments against you, (15) the LORD, your God, is in your midst, (17, 15) [the LORD] will renew you in his love; (17) I will bring you home (20).
This text makes it quite easy for Christians to understand Advent as a time of looking forward to the birth of Jesus. Easy, that is, until they encounter v.19. In all honesty now, how many pastors and members of white Christian churches can personally relate to these terms: your oppressors, the lame, the outcast, their [your] shame?
Even after enduring over fifty years of hatred, vilification and rejection by American society and Church-- even I find it difficult to consider myself an outcast within a nation of oppressors because, a to a large extent, I have also enjoyed the benefits and freedom of being a member of white America. If it is only relative to one aspect of my being that I can feel oppressed, rejected and shamed, then what contact can the majority of those in white America's pulpits and pews have had with such horrors? Who is your oppressor, pastor? Who has lamed you, elder? Who has cast you out, deacon? Who has shamed you, worshipper?
If no-one has, then what promise does God's Word hold for you? Might it rather be a Word of Admonition for you at Advent?
Like Zephaniah, Isaiah prophesies that God will be in your midst (6), God with us, Emanuel. God will no longer be confined (in our minds) to the heavens or the top of Mt. Moriah or Mt. Sinai. But in your midst, even in your and my midst: Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1: 27)
In a way, it seems awkward, even foolish, to be waiting for, expecting, what has already happened, what is present reality (if we would only recognize it!). We do not need a season of Advent, but a season of Acknowledgement. We should expand Advent into the Advent-ure of life lived in the Shekinah of God: with God present to and in us. Now. We do not have to wait for Christmas.
What is the reason that Paul writes Rejoice (4) and repeats it? Because the Lord is near. (5) The Lord is near; the Lord is here! Emanuel, God with us! With you, and with me! Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice (4)!
John's preaching (7--14) thrusts us-- rather roughly, after the opening readings-- into the vision of dies illa, that day, the final Advent of tribulation and judgement. One big question: will performing all of John's prescriptions-- even every one scrupulously-- prepare us adequately for that day? Is John preaching the right message? He announces an Advent (16--17), but it does not sound at all like that of Zephaniah and Isaiah. Would Paul rejoice at John's words?
CAUTION! John is not wrong! "That day", dies irae, is coming! Advent is certain! Gabriel's horn will resound, and all the world will hear it together. What you and I do today and tomorrow does make a difference!
But can we trust in a lifetime of faultlessly following John's teaching to save us, to carry us through that day of trial and judgement? Or do we need to fall back on Zephaniah? The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, (3: 15). At that time [on "that day"] I will bring you home, ...says the LORD. (3: 20) Now those are promises over which we can rejoice, an Event for which we should celebrate Advent!
(comments to Phil at ENAPXH@aol.com )