Hope When Hope Is Scarce: Reflections on Zephaniah 3:14-20

So when the prophet bursts into glorious song in 3:14, bidding all to "sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and shout with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem," it is very easy to forget quickly all those angry words of YHWH that have come before the happy song, those words of demand and expectation of right worship and right practice called for from YHWH. With 3:15 we all hope for the day when "YHWH has turned the judgments away, has taken the enemies off," the day when the real "king of Israel, YHWH, is in your midst," when you "shall no longer fear disaster."

And the song concludes with these grand words: "At that time I will bring you back, when I gather you. I will make you a name, praised among all the nations of the earth, as I restore your fortunes right before your eyes, says YHWH" (3:20). When we pray the Lord's Prayer each week, that is what we ask for. "Thy kingdom come," we say, and what we mean is that we want YHWH to rule in our lives and on the earth. But, and here is a very large caveat indeed, we do not live in a world ruled by YHWH. And this Advent we still do not live in a world ruled by YHWH. We yearn for that world, we pray for that world, we are promised that world, but that world is only promised; it is still a nonexistent world.

Advent promises the birth to end all births, but the promise of 2,000 years remains only a promise. We all still live in the world of Zephaniah 1-3:7, a world of greed and war and lack of true religious faith and practice.

But still, we have the promise, we cling to the promise. And we pray, "O Lord, make the promise come true and bring your holy reign to us today." Old Zephaniah was both realist and dreamer. May we become like him this Advent.

12/9/2012 5:00:00 AM
John Holbert
About John Holbert
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.