Zephaniah, a contemporary of Jeremiah, preaches reform. Relying on the Old Testament concept that events are direct divine punishment for sins of the nation and people, he calls the people back to Yahweh. The conclusion of the book is a hymn of joy (Zep 3:14-18) and serves as the introductory reading for Gaudete Sunday. “On that day” would seem to be a day in the future. God will deliver the people of Jerusalem. The people shall rejoice. They will shout for joy. God will be in their midst. They will have nothing to fear.
God will renew the people in God’s love. The “mighty savior” will be none other than Jesus the Christ—God incarnate among us. Love incarnate dwells in us and among us. We have been restored. We shall cry out for gladness and joy. We will leap like the deer bounding across the meadow.
We, like the Jerusalemites, are in exile. The war on terror has alienated us from ourselves and from others. We live in a constant state of fear and some government leaders have tried to capitalize on keeping us in fear so we will follow their ways and not God’s ways. The war has alienated us from our true status as sons and daughters of the nonviolent God. We live in a culture of death because we live in a culture of militarized violence. Over half of our national budget goes to defense expenditures while 17 million children suffer the misery of hunger. A recent report indicates that the war is taking a toll on the children of deployed soldiers not to mention the PTSD among returning soldiers. The war on terror alienates us from others as witnessed by the us-them thinking that is so rampant in this country. The war on terror alienates us from the rest of the world and creates more terrorists who are willing to bring us down. Finally, the war on terror “forces” us to live the lie. WMDs that never existed were used to manipulate opinion in favor of invading Iraq. We are in another quagmire as we commit 30 thousand more troops to Afghanistan.
Like the Jerusalemites of Zephaniah’s day, we long for the day that is coming. We long for the return of Jesus our mighty savior. We long for full restoration of the Kin-dom where there will be no more tears and weeping. We long for the day when we can rejoice and leap for joy. Advent assures us that that day is coming. It is here now as we strive to bring about the nonviolent Kin-dom of God. On that day we will have no anxiety of fear for God will be fully present to us. Paul (Phil 4:4-7) urges us to use prayer and petition with thanksgiving to make our requests known to God.
We long for a world without borders. We can see a world in which all of God’s children live in peace and harmony. We pine for a day when militarized violence will not be the standard for resolving differences and disagreements. We hope for a day when Gospel values will replace the values of corporate greed. Yes, we await the day that is coming; however, we do not wait a “pew potatoes.” We cannot be “guilty bystanders,” to borrow a term from Merton. If we see evil and do not try to confront it, we are guilty bystanders. We are complicit in that evil.
John and Jesus were not guilty bystanders. John the Baptizer (Lk 3:10-18) saw a better world. He encouraged people with tow cloaks to share with people who had none. He encouraged tax collectors not to collect exorbitant taxes. He told soldiers not to be greedy—not to extort people, not to falsely accuse people and to be satisfied with their wages.
But John was also quick to tell them that another was coming. One greater than John was coming to separate the wheat from the straw.
Jesus will challenge people to live by nonviolent Gospel values. Jesus will challenge people to recognize that we are all brothers and sisters created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus will challenge people to look across borders to discover our common humanity under God. Jesus will invite us to live in care for and harmony with God’s creation as it continues to unfold.
Merton teaches that the individual self is a myth. The false self is the sled that always seeks its own good. On the corner of Fourth and Walnut in the Louisville shopping district, Merton realized that he was not separate from others. He was one with all the people he saw there. Our lives are defined by our relationships with others. Our lives are defined by Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you.” Our lives are beacons in the night when we “love our enemies” and “pray for those who persecute us.”
It is time to hope. It is time to rejoice. It is time to dance the cosmic dance. It is time to leap for joy! Our God is present. Our God is with us. God is coming “soon and very soon.” Our God is making all things new. God is renewing us in God’s love. “Rejoice always. Again I say ‘Rejoice!’” God is near.