The prophet Zephaniah exhorts us to “Sing joyfully, be glad and exult” with all of our hearts. He writes in the context of the worst kind of spiritual and political corruption by the very leaders who are supposed to care for the poor and the oppressed of Judah. Isaiah writes in the midst of suffering, as the people experience the devastation of the Babylonian exile. Paul is writing from prison. But each in their own way tells us to rejoice. Why? Zephaniah says it best: God “… will rejoice over you with gladness…he will sing joyfully because of you.” (Zep 3:17-18). Because of you. Because of me. Wow! The source, the overflowing fountain of joy pouring into the world. The words of the second reading are the hallmark of Guadete Sunday: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say again: rejoice.” A call for a universal chorus of joy. Continue reading
This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Advent in Year C of the lectionary cycle. It is also known as Guadete Sunday. While the theme of Advent is a focus on the coming of Jesus in three ways: his first, his present, and his final Advent, the readings for Gaudete Sunday deal with rejoicing in the Lord – Christian joy – as well as the mission of John the Baptist and his connection with Advent. The theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness. While happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.” Continue reading
We often forget that the season of Advent speaks to the betwixt and between of the Birth of Jesus and his Second Coming. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that our first reading is from the firebrand, no-holds-barred prophet Zephaniah. He makes no bones about it. Judgment is coming upon Jerusalem. The Lord will be cleaning house: “And you shall no longer exalt yourself on my holy mountain. But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly.” (Zeph 3:11-12) All seems a little unfair, don’t you think? For Jerusalem to be sure, but us too. Not exactly joyful here just a new days after Gaudete Sunday.
Who doesn’t know the opening words of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in which He gives us the Beatitudes – “Blessed are the poor…” I sometimes think that the powers-that-be should not have it in the Sunday cycle of readings. The text is so dense with meaning, so rich in teaching, and has been addressed by people far more capable than me. When this reading rolls around most years, I feel the onset of writer’s block, brain freeze, and the slow rise of that “oh-my-gosh-what-could-I-possibly-have-to-say-this-time.” This is when temptation is the greatest to borrow something from online or to dip into the files of sermons from years past. But then my guardian angel tells me to suck it up and get to work. Oh well… maybe inspiration will come to those who need it…. Continue reading
The prophets Zephaniah and John the Baptist are not the two most joyful characters in all of Scripture, yet we hear from them both today. They are paired with the great Advent refrain from the Letter to the Philippians: “Gaudete in Domino semper,” – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” This is Gaudete Sunday. Everything about today’s readings call to the people of God to get excited, be demonstrative, and above all be joyful, celebrate, and rejoice. Even the dour, prophet of doom, Zephaniah can’t restrain himself and tells us “Shout for joy…Sing joyfully… Be glad and exult with all your heart!” The book of Zephaniah is only three chapters long, filled with death, doom, fire, flood, pestilence and plague – yet even he tells us to shout for joy! Continue reading