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The Third Sunday in Advent
Joy | The Shepherds
Joy is a great thing, one of the best parts of human life. And yet completely unexpected joy, the realization that deeply held hopes will be or have been fulfilled, is especially awesome and freeing. It’s not just waking up to find presents under a tree, it’s like waking up and discovering that you do have a tree and gifts underneath it. Joy is the realization that life is a gift, which we haven’t earned, deserved – or even really asked for. It’s what set the shepherds in motion to see what happened in the manger that night – and sent them exuberantly into the world to share what they’d witnessed. Joy is our response in faith to the discovery of the love of God that we know in Christ – a love that overcomes all things, heals all things, undoes all things, frees all things.
The passage from Zephaniah: light in the darkness
Zephaniah probably isn’t on your most commonly read books of the bible list. The suggestion in 1:1, the introduction to the book is that Zephaniah was the great-grandson of the Judean King Hezekiah (715-687 BC). He’s recorded as being one of the few “good” kings who did what was right in the sight of Yahweh (2 Kings 18:3). Between Hezekiah and Zephaniah came the 50 long year rule of the evil king Manasseh with a resulting decay of faithfulness and morality among the people (2 Kings 21:1-16). Things had become so bad, the world seemingly so rotten to the core that faithful people like Zephaniah could only lament the terrible reality of the world, and conclude that God had no option but to destroy all of creation (Zephaniah 1:2-9). He prophesies during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BC) who would eventually set things right (2 Kings 22-23).
Our passage is expresses the joy of God’s redemption of Judah – even in the wake of evil and injustice left behind by Manasseh. It’s the glimpse of dawn on the horizon just when everything seems lost to darkness. God’s coming isn’t just the end of the bad, it’s a reversal of fortune – the oppressed will be judged, the lame rescued, the forgotten gathered up, the lost brought home. Fear is replace with strength and confidence. God’s heart is to gather the people to him, to bring them home. I can’t help but think of the story of the Two Sons, or the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:11-32. It’s a signal that in the midst of human darkness the light of God shines – a remarkable miracle that cannot be understood (John 1:1-5).
The passage from Isaiah: waiting for God inevitably involves faith
Our passage today concludes chapters 1 through 12 of Isaiah. It represents the response invited by the whole book of Isaiah, addressed to people in waiting. Isaiah lived and prophesied during the Exile – when the nation of Israel had been defeated by Babylon, and most of the powerful, wealthy and intelligentsia had been deported as slaves to live in Babylon (current day Iraq). Waiting for God involves patience, but also faith that God rules the world even when it doesn’t seem like it (which is what happened during the Exile and what we often feel like today.) Those who wait for God are not be be passive observers but active witnesses.
The passage from Luke: God’s ways are not our ways
Today’s passage introduces Mary, who becomes the mother of Jesus, or as the orthodox Christians call her the theotokos – the mother of God. She was most likely a very young girl, in her early teens. We get sidetracked over whether she was a virgin or not in terms of her pregnancy. Yet that was a given in her world. Young girls were virgins because they weren’t yet married, which is what they all would do before they were in the mid to late teens. What’s more important in the text is why she was chosen. You would think God would chose some powerful, with a good pedigree. He chooses a young girl, unmarried, poor, not from the right side of the tracks. Why? We only have to look at her response of faith, trust and confidence. She believes that nothing is impossible for God, and by extension that whatever God says or promises will indeed come to pass – even when it seems unlikely or impossible. She is the one who births, or represents God to her world – giving birth to Jesus – as we today are invited to also be theotokoses, re-presenting God for our world.
Questions for wondering and exploring:
1. What troubles you and/or encourages you in these text? Why? How?
2. How does faith bring you joy? How do you pay it forward? If it doesn’t why doesn’t it?