Let us pray: Holy and awesome God, your love for us is unmatched by anything or anyone else in all of creation. We confess, that as we draw nearer to the Christmas season, we find less time to stop and listen for your voice and activity in the midst of our day. We are restless with thoughts of the lists of things we need to do. We pray that you will continue to seek us, continue to call out to us so that we might respond with joy to sound of you speaking our names. O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever noticed that the moment you need to concentrate the most is the exact same moment that another person will interrupt you? My mom will regale anyone who listens with tales of how when she was on the phone long distance (back in the days when “anytime, anywhere in the U.S minutes did not yet exist”) how my brother and I would pick that exact precise time to begin to argue and fight with each other or to approach my mom with a question or a request that we were quite capable of resolving without any assistance. The same is true for my kids and my pets for that matter. Everyone will be minding their own business, and the exact moment I decide to call my mother or go to the basement to check the laundry is the same moment, the dogs want out with such urgency that they begin to wine or they find every item except a chew toy to chew. Our kids go from quietly playing independently to annoying one another to the point where one child will end up kicking, hitting, or even sitting on the other. No matter what we are doing and how we are interrupted, the response is the same. “Would you please stop interrupting me? Can’t you see I am busy; can’t you see I am trying to accomplish something?”
In the days before Jesus was born, prophets played the role of people who interrupted the lives of the people of Israel. “Prophets say what no one wants to hear, what no one wants to believe. Prophets point in directions no one wants to look. They hear God when everybody else has concluded that God is silent. They see God where nobody else would guess that God is present. Prophets feel God. They feel God’s compassion for us, God’s anger with us, and God’s joy in us. Prophets dream God’s dream and give us a wake-up call; prophets hope hopes and announce a new future; they will God’s will and live God’s will against all odds. Prophets sing God’s song, and prophets interrupt life with a change of tune” (Deborah Block, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1).
The book of Zephaniah opens with a warning, “Be silent before the LORD God” (1:7 [NRSV])! Then the prophet lays out God’s judgement on Judah and Jerusalem. The prophet continues in the next chapter exhorting the shameless nation of Jerusalem to gather before the judgment of God (2:1). The prophet then pleads with the nation to seek the LORD that God might shelter them from the wrath (2:3). Jerusalem chooses not to listen to the voices of the prophets and the priests’ voices have been profaned. Even still, the LORD is present and in his righteousness, he does no wrong (3:5). God, through the prophet, invites Jerusalem to wait for the day when the LORD will arise as a witness; for a time in which all may call upon the name of the LORD; for a time when the humble and lowly will seek refuge in the name of the LORD. Then, the prophet bursts out into a song on behalf of God!
“Why do we listen to [the interrupting voices of] the prophets during Advent?” pastor Deborah Block asks, “Because,” she continues, “centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ, [these prophets] were messengers of essential good news: “Do not fear…The LORD, your God, is in your midst.”
“Do not fear!” This is not a plea; this is a declaration. “Do not fear, Zechariah.” “Do not fear, Mary,” the gospel writer of Luke says. In just over a week, this same gospel writer will declare again, “Do not be afraid… I am bringing you good news of great joy.” And, on the third day, after Jesus had been crucified, another gospel writer declares, “Do not be afraid…He is not here, for he has been raised.”
In these days of preparing for Christmas, preparing to host guests, preparing to break bread with one another, preparing for school to be out for winter break, preparing for what life brings as we transition from stage to the next, preparing for what lies ahead with the next doctor’s visit, preparing for the other shoe to fall in a life in which we feel like we are already stretched too thin, we hear the interruption of Zephaniah reminding us that we do not have to be afraid because God is in the midst and the enemies of good are not winning. We do not have to be afraid because we are not weak or powerless or useless in the kingdom of God. We do not have to be afraid because God is in every political conspiracy and every natural disaster. We do not have to be afraid because God’s love is present and intended for each one of us, not because we are pure, spotless, and free from fault, but because God’s love is immeasurable and God, through Christ, takes our brokenness and redeems each and every one of us, day after day, hour by hour, minute by minute.
We are not a people who typically enjoy being interrupted, but Zephaniah reminds us that God interrupts our daily comings and goings and offers us a glimpse of a future that frees us from our fears and calls us to rejoice. To God be the Glory! Amen.