THIRD FRIDAY OF ADVENT
SCRIPTURE: ZEPHANIAH 3:14-18
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you,
he has turned away your enemies;
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
He will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.
Shout for joy O daughter Zion!
When is the last time you felt real, deep authentic joy and wanted to shout it to the world? When I was younger, I used to be free and silly. It seems harder to come by these days. Between the burdens that accompany adult responsibilities, mistakes made over 50 years and an overwhelming and paralyzing chaos in the world, being joyful is a challenge. This past fall I marveled at the my castmates in Becky’s New Car. They were relaxed, laughed easy, joked readily and able to live in the moment. It made me reflect on joy and happiness. Often, I dwell on what is wrong: what needs to be fixed; and miss the joy and beauty that is around me. I long for the moment when I can do my touchdown dance and be content, happy, peaceful and shout for joy. Yet life can be a brutal grind where people inflict pain on one another or become victims of circumstance. This is, of course, short sighted. My personal reflection on being joyful allowed me to identify a number of strategies to try and become a more joyous person.
You have been chosen by God.
The reading in Zephaniah is addressed to the people of Jerusalem. God refers to them as daughter Zion, daughter Jerusalem. Not only do we belong to God, but God rejoices and delights in who we are. Zephaniah says, he will rejoice over you with gladness and sing joyfully because of you. Imagine your favorite musician or band dedicating their entire concert to you and the joy YOU bring THEM! (Bono, I see you!) This is how God loves and appreciates us. Each one of us is a prized possession. God celebrates us right now as we are. The biggest spiritual illness is the notion that we are not worthy. It is easy to play the “If only” game. The game happens when we hear an internal voice saying, “If only I had a house like person A, then I would be good.” Or “If only I was smarter then, I would be a worthwhile human being.” It is likely most of us have a go to “If only” phrase. True joy is rooted in knowing our authentic self. We are created and chosen by God. We are good, worthy and loved. Pause, right now and listen to the concert God is performing for you.
You are forgiven
Being good, worthy and loved is not the same as being blameless. Each one of us is a sinner. These two realities stand side by side. God rejoices in us, claims us and yet we stand in need of God’s mercy, forgiveness and redemption. Pelagius, a priest from long ago, believed that we could earn our redemption. This is dangerous because it is a belief that we are saved by being perfect. God is no longer needed. Joy is being humble enough to own our imperfections and accept God’s forgiveness. Zephaniah tells us, “The Lord has removed the judgment against you.” We are free. The burden has been lifted, your debts are paid off. Now we need to offer this forgiveness to those who have harmed us. The holidays are a stressful time in large part because of lingering resentments, disillusionment and disappointments. Let it go! Remove your judgment of others as God’s judgment has been removed from you. Finally, lift the judgment you place on yourself and shout for joy!
Gratitude Over Entitlement
My wife, Maribeth cries easily. Sometimes she cries at commercials; almost always at the last story on the news- you know the one that is uplifting and shows us the true meaning of life; and always at important family moments. Sharing this information about her in this reflection will embarrass her, but the world needs more people like her. People who recognize the value and specialness of every moment. One year ago, I took her to the ER. She was limp, fevered and barely there. Very quickly she was diagnosed with influenza, pneumonia and sepsis. For 11 days she was on the strongest IV antibiotics they had. There were moments she was delusional. It was the flu. Why wasn’t she getting better? When she finally came home, she would tire walking from the living room to the kitchen. This was a strong person who had run a marathon. It was another two weeks before she could go back to work. According to the CDC, Maribeth had an illness that killed 80,000 people during the 2017-18 flu season. It was the most people who died from the flu since the CDC began keeping statistics. Life is difficult. We lose jobs, relationships break a part, illnesses occur, jealousy abounds, money can be scarce, families argue, and the list goes on. It is not a coincidence that Maribeth is emotional and sees the value of every single moment. Our life is a gift. It is not a right. We are not entitled to an easy life. Joy comes with an attitude that is grateful for every breath.
Emmanuel: God with Us
Seeing life as a gift is just part of what will help us be joyful. This advent we focus on searching for the presence of Christ in our life. While we may want to become despondent when life is brutal the theology of the incarnation is that God becomes one of us. As John writes in his Gospel, he pitched a tent and dwelt among us. Experiencing joy isn’t when everything is smooth; it is realizing that God is in the mess, the burden, the grind, the chaos, “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior;” We are not alone, we are not defeated; life is transformed into something sacred because of the presence of the Holy One.
Therefore, shout for joy O daughter Zion!
What prevents you from shouting for joy?
Which ingredient for joy speaks to you the most?
Knowing you are chosen by God
How will you implement it in your life?
What is your prayer today?
Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1, a service learning ministry focusing on giving witness to Jesus through action and finding Christ in all we serve.