When my sister in law and brother were expecting their first child, eight years ago, the whole family was beside themselves with joy. Jackson was the first grandchild in both families. Needless to say, he was spoiled terribly. But that joy superseded all the struggles in life and worries about the world for our family. I remember being all a buzz for the last four months planning the baby shower, buying anything I thought a little boy might like, crocheting special blankets, and buying the perfect baptismal gift: a board book version of the Bible, which he brought in the car with him until it completely fell apart.
But once he was born and we could go see him, I remember that feeling as I held this tiny squishy little baby in my arms. It was as if for one moment the whole world was made right. God had given to us a gift in that new little life. Our family got to experience a joy that it had not felt in a great many years; the joy of this young life that changed so many lives that day. This is what our scriptures from Zephaniah are about today. They speak about the joy and promise of the coming Savior.
It was a promise that the people of Israel would not have to live their lives in fear. They could live each day with that same hope, joy and promise of something more that we all feel with the coming of new life. Zephaniah preached in 640 BC at the very beginning of the reign of a new King for Israel. King Josiah was just eight years old when he took control of Israel. He faced great corruption from within the political and religious elite. Israel was going down a dangerous path in a time period where threats outside their country were all around and now they had a child king which very rarely panned out in the ancient world. People were beginning to feel the fear and uncertainty of what their worlds would like if this child were to become a puppet king ruled by corrupt advisers.
Yet amidst this uncertainty there is Zephaniah walking around saying “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart O Jerusalem … You shall fear disaster no more”. You shall fear disaster no more. In ancient Israel that meant safety from invading forces, safety from being deported by force to places like Babylon, safety from the havoc of invading armies, safety of their children from being turned into servants and slaves, that safety gives a sense of peace to the mind. When you live in constant fear it becomes deadening, it affects your life and makes happiness and hope hard to find and hold on to.
With the terrorist attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, California many Americans might be feeling that same sense of panic, that same anxiety about the future, and for some a lack of hope. What better time for a new chapter begin? What better time than to have the hope of something different, something better on the horizon? The boy king of Israel provided this inspiration and hope to his small kingdom in the ancient middle east. Zephaniah reminded his people of that. When all despair happens from that can come new life, new beginnings amidst the destruction. New life that ignites passion, hope, joy and love in the hearts of others. Hope can urge us forward to work for God for a better world, a better tomorrow. John the Baptist preached and prophesied at a time in history that very much mirrored that of Zephaniah. He preached the return of joy to the lands much like Zephaniah inspired his people to hope once more in his time. John brought hope to a people who wanted something more meaningful out of life. They needed someone to remind them that though their lives were complicate, difficult and at times full of pain that God had not forgotten them. God was with them promising to send them salvation, sending them relief.
When I pick up the paper, watch the news or watch the debates, I find myself feeling that same type of anxiety and worry about the state of our world. I too ask the question those ancient Israelites did, what does God have in store for us? Paul wrote to a group of Christians with those same anxieties facing persecution, as Paul was facing martyrdom at the hands of the Romans. Instead of giving up hope, or giving into the fear, Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near”. Today more than any time, I hear these words and they inspire hope. The Lord is near. He is near to my heart, inspiration to my soul, and my hope for tomorrow. We are being exhorted, called, to not allow for the events of this world to detract from the promise of this season, that Christ will bring about a better world. There is hope for a better tomorrow for generations to come and we are to continue to live our lives with gentleness. This means with compassion and care for one another, working to bring about Christ’s promised peace. We are being reminded today during this advent season, that we are still called to work for Christ even midst devastating tragedy. We are called to live our joy in Christ, that joy that changed our lives when we first discovered it even in those moments when we struggle to find it ourselves. So we might be beacons of hope to the world for a better tomorrow. So we can show the world that our hearts, our souls cannot be taken over by the darkness in this world.
 Zephaniah 3: 14-15, NRSV.
 Philippians 4: 4-5, NRSV.
(Based on Zephaniah 3: 14-20 and Philippians 4: 4-7)