Zeph. 3:14-18 NRSV Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
When we think of waiting in expectation we naturally turn to the prophets of the Hebrew bible. Perhaps in no other place do we find the people of God so earnestly engaged in the struggle to wait expectantly. The prophets were the poets of ancient Israel and though they were heartbroken to declare it they were the ones who first articulated the grim reality that the way the people of Israel were living would inevitably mean exile from God.
At first they simply tried to raise the alarm, (Jer. 2:4-5 NRSV) “Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the LORD: ‘What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?’” Soon it was clear, however, that the headlong pursuit of self-serving wealth and neighbor-denying attitudes were going to end in calamity: (Zephaniah 1:12 NRSV) “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do harm.’ Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.”
For generations the people of God lived in the chaos of exile - separated from one another, separated from the land of their ancestors, and separated from the Temple where God could be worshipped properly. Some even began to fear that there was a chasm fixed between God and the people, which could not and would never be overcome.
How glad they must have been, then, for the poetry of Zephaniah 3:14-18 – a new song about the redemption being wrought by God. God would restore the fortunes of God’s people. God would gladly receive the returning exiles, God would rejoice in them and renew them in God’s love and exult over them in a song of thanksgiving! God initiates a new beginning for the people of God and invites them to join in the song.
No matter what we have been. No matter how great our sin. No matter if others around us cannot see it. There is always reason to wait expectantly for God to make right what is wrong in our lives. As the apostle Paul would later say it, “… I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Gracious God, you have shown again and again how great is your power to redeem. May your grace wash over us in our many varied conditions and work your merciful will to make right all that is wrong within us. And in turn, may we be your servants, ambassadors or your reconciling love in a hurting and broken world. We ask this in the name of the one who came, dwelled among us full of grace and truth, and who poured himself out in sacrifice for the world. Amen.