Reading Ramblings – December 13, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday in Advent – December 13, 2015

Texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 85; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 7:18-35

Context:  We wait for our Lord’s return by focusing on his first arrival.  We are assured of his victory over Satan, sin, and death in his death and resurrection.  But we live in the awkward in-between.  We proclaim his victory yet Satan all too often seems to dominate our day.  Is our faith foolish?  Is our hope insecure?  No.  Our hope is secure, and we are called to trust in the God who promises restoration to his creation in spite of the drama and trauma that may seem to fill our lives in any given day.

Zephaniah 3:14-20: The short book of Zepheniah packs a lot of punch. The first chapter is a stinging promise of the Lord’s wrath against his unfaithful people and their prized possession, Jerusalem. The second chapter is a promise of vengeance against the peoples and nations that would gloat over such destruction, the enemies of Judah. Chapter three continues the proclamation of judgement against all peoples.

But then something odd happens halfway through the third chapter. All of this judgment and retribution has a purpose – the conversion of the nations (vs.9ff). God’s punishment has a purpose in refining not just his people but all nations to acknowledge him as God. Pride and arrogance will be replaced by humility and obedience. It is only at this point that our reading enters, that joy can be proclaimed to God’s people. Only by God’s refining power and judgment will his people be made ready to truly receive him, to have him gather them together and dwell in their midst. This passage is a passage of hope, but that hope resides solely in the God who will punish evil thoroughly in order to truly free his people for himself.

Psalm 85: The words of the psalmist are very appropriate for a people who suffer under the wrath of God. The psalmist recounts God’s grace in times past, how in the past He relented from his wrath and anger, wrath and anger justified by the sinfulness of his people. We might think of the Judges cycle as an example of this. We petition God for his mercy, knowing that it is his nature to be merciful and forgiving, and that his judgment and wrath are fleeting, necessary only because of our continued sinfulness. As such, this psalm is a plea for God’s mercy, but also a statement of faith that at some point, we will be freed from our sinfulness, so that God can respond to us purely in love and mercy.

Philippians 4:4-7: Our anticipation of our Lord’s coming is a good thing, because his arrival is a good thing. Sometimes we are inclined to not ask for the Lord to coming, prefering to wait until more have come to saving faith in him. But we need to trust his timing, knowing that it will be perfect. We are to rejoice at the prospect of his return, and the prospect of his return should impact how we wait. We wait in perfect trust of his timing and the reality of his return, so that we are not easily shaken by the issues of today and our interactions with others. Everything, all the struggles of this day, are to be brought to the Lord who holds all things in his hands. As we do this, we discover peace. Real peace. Not peace that is the result of a favorable outcome to a conflict, or a neatly solved issue, but peace in knowing that the God who created all things is returning, and when He does, all things will be sorted out properly.

This is not some sort of call to putting out good vibes or having a good attitude. It is a reminder to followers of Christ that we are awaiting his return, and that this is to guide and inform our lives of waiting. We don’t maintain a good attitude as though nothing is wrong and everything is wonderful, but we receive the peace of God that undergirds us in all situations and emotional states. It is the bedrock of our lives whether we are experiencing happiness or sorrow. It is grounded not in some pollyannish rose-colored glasses, but in the faithfulness of God who fulfills his promises.

Luke 7:18-35: Opting for the extended reading today, we have an honest picture of a devout follower of God trying to make sense of things. Is Jesus the messiah or not? Despite John’s remarkable ministry, despite baptizing Jesus and seeing the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus (John 1:32-34), John is having second thoughts and doubts. Why? Because he’s in jail. The arrival of the messiah, which should be an occasion for celebration and joy, is not for John. He sits in prison and has to send disciples to query Jesus.

Jesus responds with a list of things that he is doing, a list culled from the prophet Isaiah, but a list that is conspicuously incomplete – it says nothing about the prisoner. John is waiting for the prisoners – himself – to be released, another sign of the messiah’s presence. But Jesus omits that – knowing that John will detect the omission. Instead, Jesus calls for faithfulness, and promises blessing to the one who is not offended by him.

John might have reason to feel offended. He might have reason to be bitter that he, the forerunner, the new Elijah, should not enjoy the benefits of the very messiah that he prepared the people for. Yet he is enjoined to not be offended, to not turn away. To remain hopeful. To remain faithful.

We are sometimes tempted to complain that God doesn’t answer all of our prayers. At least not the way we’d like him to, or in the timeframe we’d like him to. But imagine having personally seen God, being related to him as John was genetically related to Jesus – and having him refuse to grant you the desire of your heart. Can you imagine how painful it would have been for John to receive this response back from his disciples? Perhaps we can.

Yet, despite not having our prayers answered as we would like, we are still called to faithfulness. We are called to not be offended by God’s way of running things, and by his willingness to respond the way we want him to. We are called to trust God even when the answer to our prayers is No.

We trust because God has fulfilled his promise to us in Jesus. He has provided us with the reconciliation, the rescue, the restoration that was first promised to Eve in the aftermath of rebellion. I know that all of my prayers have already been answered in Christ, and that whatever good thing I could possible pray for will one day be given. I don’t dictate the timing, and I don’t trust myself to pray according to the will of God but I strive to, guided by his Word.

This is the peace that Paul speaks of in Philippians, a peace that is not shaken like a reed in the wind, and not as transient as someone in a position of authority or wealth or privilege. The world (and media in particular these days!) seems to demand that we dance and cry at the click of a button. The emotions of the day are often dictated by the level of horror appearing on our news feeds or headlines in the morning paper. Tragedy is real and ever-present in this broken world. Yet I am still called to trust in God, and to take peace in his authority. Chaos may appear to carry the day, but God is still God and in control. He has promised good news and restoration to all of his creation in Zephaniah. My job is to c continue to trust in this promise as I wait for it to be fulfilled.

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