For The Someday Book

How Dare We Speak of Joy

Posted on: December 14, 2012

This is a first draft of my sermon for this Sunday, December 16. I don’t usually post things early, but I thought it might help other colleagues who are also seeking a path to speak of Advent’s promised joy in the face of such tragedy. Please feel free to borrow, quote and adapt, just please credit where appropriate. It still needs editing, and I will probably tinker with it throughout the day. I will post a final revised version on my sermon blog on Sunday. 

The scripture reading for the day is Zephaniah 3:14-20.

8855_10151138633161787_1774694977_n

This Third Sunday of Advent is supposed to be a day about joy.

“Rejoice, daughter Zion! Shout, Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem!” proclaims the scripture from the prophet Zephaniah.

And yet, shouting and rejoicing seem grossly out of place this Sunday, in the wake of the slaughter of children, a national tragedy. How dare we rejoice in the face of such horror? How dare we talk about joy in the face of such grief and devastation? It’s inappropriate, unseemly, insensitive, untimely. This is not the day. Now is not the time. How dare we?

And yet, it wasn’t the time for Zephaniah either. But he does. How dare he?

Zephaniah, or whoever wrote the book in his name that comes at the end of the Hebrew Bible, mostly likely lived more than 600 years before the birth of Christ, during the reign of the king Manasseh. Manasseh was a client king for the conquering Assyrians, and widely regarded as one of the most wicked and evil rulers Israel ever knew. According to the book of 2 Kings, Manasseh defiled the holy temple with false gods, trusted wizards and fortune tellers instead of priests and prophets, persecuted those who followed Yahweh’s law. In a bit of history hauntingly parallel to our own, he even practiced of child sacrifice, including the murder of his own son. 2 Kings tells us that “Manasseh spilled so much innocent blood that he filled up every corner of Jerusalem with it.” (2 Kings 21:16) Evil. Violent. Tragic. Appalling.

How could Zephaniah preach joy in the face of such evil?

Well, he didn’t start out with joy, for one thing. We only read the joy part today—the last six verses of this tiny little scroll. Zephaniah begins at the beginning—decrying the tragedy, death and destruction that he sees all around him. Speaking as God’s voice, Zephaniah declares punishment for all the evildoers. He describes “a day of fury, a day of distress and anxiety, a day of desolation and devastation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and deep darkness, a day for blowing the trumpet and alarm.” (2:15) I don’t know about you, but that describes my day on Friday with startling accuracy.

Zephaniah doesn’t try to make sense of it all, or explain it, or even figure out who to blame for it—he just names the situation for what it is—horror and suffering and tragedy. A world where children die violently—in ancient Jerusalem and modern Palestine; in Newtown, Connecticut and Portland, Oregon; in Chenpeng Village in Central China and the town of Aleppo in Syria. A world in which violence has become commonplace and lawlessness the law of the land. A world where it’s easier for a troubled young man to acquire a gun and a fake id than it is to find the mental health assistance he needs. Zephaniah names it all. And he names the feelings it provokes—anger and pain and sorrow and desolation and despair. Then he tells us that God is angry and hurt and mourning along with us. That work—calling out the suffering and telling us God shares it—takes up almost the entire tiny book of Zephaniah.

In just the last few verses, slowly, gently, Zephaniah dares invoke joy. The turning point comes when, again speaking for God, he says, “Wait for me. Wait for the day when I rise up.” Not now. Not yet. Not joy realized, but joy promised. Not joy fulfilled, but joy awaiting. Zephaniah does not declare that everything is alright, or even that it will be alright again soon. Nothing about dead children is ever alright, whether two days or 2600 years ago, whether caused by a mass shooting or an abusive king, or war, or famine, or bullying, or addiction, or suicide, or cancer, or anything else. He does not tell us to get over it, move on, or be happy. The prophet speaks of joy because he wants us to know that in spite of it all, God still reigns. How dare he speak of joy in the face of such tragedy? How dare he not.

How dare any preacher or prophet let us think for one moment that God’s promised joy risks being snuffed out by any evil this world could ever display.

God speaks to us through Zephaniah: “The day is coming when you will no longer fear evil. I am in your midst, and I will create calm with my love. I will deliver the lame. I will gather the outcast. I will change your shame into praise. I will bring all of you back, and you can see them before your eyes.”

3rd Advent

These darkest days are just when we need the light of this little pink candle most of all. We don’t need this candle’s light when the sun is shining, the tree is twinkling and everyone is happy and bright. We need it now. Today. In the midst of despair. Not because the day of joy is here, but because we need to know it’s still coming. Otherwise, how could we ever go on?

And so, I join with Zephaniah and dare speak to you this day of joy. Just because we aren’t ready to hear it or feel it or receive it does not mean that God’s joy is not still there, waiting for us even as we wait for it. God still moves toward Bethlehem, even if there is room in the inn.  “Rejoice, daughter Zion, rejoice and exult with all your heart. I am in your midst, and I will create calm with my love.” “Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Advertisements

17 Responses to "How Dare We Speak of Joy"

Thank you.

“First” draft? I don’t think you have much left to do. It’s already so real and human, so reorienting after a day of massive disorientation. Thanks.

It was admittedly a hard-wrought draft. Nothing flowed easily here. There’s not too much to do, but I already see some things to tweak here and there.

What a long day of writing, what a gap between this morning’s light-hearted piece and this one.

You continue to speak with a prophetic voice. Blessings as you bring comfort to those whom God as called you to serve, and thank you for blessing us with your words.

So much here that can encourage preachers today, too, and I know your congregation will find the joy to be anticipated. Thank you.

Jennifer, Thanks god for you! This just what my heart needed today. God bless you and your ministry.

Great post, thanks

This is exactly right for today I m going to do good happy things today bake cookies and spend time with grand kids we could sit and worry our selves to death but we have a savior that loves and cares for us we have to put all our hope and faith in him

Thank you for sharing your sermon with us as I and so many others are searching for something to hang on to in this difficult time.

Thank you for sharing this sermon that speaks to me. I helps me understand my emotions regarding this senseless act.

Thank you for posting your sermon Karen. Beautiful words and comforting to know there is something to look forward too!! God Bless!

Beautiful. Thank you. What a deeply textured sermon.

I thank God for the ways in which God has already worked through you.

That’s just wonderful. Thank you.

[…] [[from Jennifer Mills-Knutzen]]  Nothing about dead children is ever all right… Yet even in the face of horrid tragedy and exile, prophets still speak of hope and joy. They do not tell us to get over it, move on, or be happy.  Instead they affirm joy because…in spite of it all, God still reigns. How dare we speak of joy in the face of such tragedy? How dare we not. […]

THANK GOD that HE IS GOD and in HIM we live and move and breathe each day and thank GOD for you for sharing this which helps me to remember we are to PRAISE HIM IN THE STORM and celebrate JESUS and all the promise held in HIS birth, death and resurrection to all who will believe and receive HIM into their hearts…AMEN

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

Helpful Hint

If you only want to read regular posts, click the menu for Just Reflections. If you only want to read book reviews, click the menu for Just Book Reviews.

RevGalBlogPals

NetGalley

Member & Certified Reviewer

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,628 other followers

%d bloggers like this: