Words of Hope

Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday in Advent.
I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Advent comes at the darkest part of the year. For many, this time of year is dark, not only in terms of sunlight but also in personal terms. To hear the words of hope offered by John the Baptist and the prophet Zephaniah is to hear that the darkness that envelopes ones life is only temporary.

Zephaniah is writing at one of the darkest periods of Israel’s history. The northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed over 100 years before Zephaniah began writing his prophecy. The southern kingdom of Judah had suffered under the wickedness of Manasseh and Amon. To the people, the evils of their reigns made doom appear certain. Though Josiah led a revival that affected all of Judah, it only delayed the invasion of Babylon in the mid 6th century B.C.E.

Zephaniah first proclaimed the day of doom and did so in the darkest of terms. But, in the passage that we read for today (1), he offers a blessing for future glory that is as bright a picture as the doom he foretold was dark. This prophecy offered words of hope for those who truly know God. Zephaniah promises us that even God will sing in these new days of hope.

But for this to happen, the people must turn back to God. Those who listen to his call for repentance and respond, the good news will wipe out every piece of bad news. These are the same words that John the Baptist uses in his call for repentance.
Repentance is more than saying one is sorry; to repent is to change one’s life, to renounce the past and begin anew. In today’s New Testament reading (2), the people ask John what they should do. These are not questions about repentance but rather questions about their new life. Repentance means nothing if your life remains the same. Our preparation for Christ’s coming in this world is seen by the manner in which we treat others. If we choose to ignore others, then our act of repentance was meaningless.

In his letter to the Philippians for today (3), Paul challenges them not to worry about what is happening in this world but, rather, trust in God and give Him thanks. This is because there has been some sort of disagreement between two members of the church and the disagreement is threatening to disrupt the attitude of love that had been a distinctive part of the church. We are not told what the disagreement is about, though we are told who the participants are.

I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement, also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. (4)

How we treat others will always be the way others know that we have changed our lives and made the decision to follow Christ. When Jesus was with His disciples and followers following His resurrection, He told them that the signs of His presence were around them. When they asked how, Jesus pointed to the sick, the needy, the hungry, the naked, the oppressed, and those who society would rather ignore. It is how we treat others that will tell the world that Christ is in our lives. To treat those whom society would rather throw away is to say to all that hope is present in this world.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul points out that it is important that we focus on our relationship with God, especially in times of strife and stress. God will hold to the covenant; it is up to us to do so as well. When Zephaniah spoke of the doom that was to come, it was because the people had forgotten their relationship with God. In calling for the people to repent and begin anew, John is also speaking of the relationship that one has with God.

As these days become shorter and darkness seems to readily enfold everything around us, we hear words of hope. We hear Zephaniah speak of the lost coming home, the lame walking, and the outcast welcomed. We hear John telling us that the Messiah is coming. We hear God singing and we hear the words of hope.

We also hear that we cannot simply wait for hope to become a reality. We must take the words of hope and write them on our heart. We must take the words of hope and use them to change our lives. And in these changes, by our words, our thoughts, and deeds, we offer hope to those around us so they will also know that even though the days are dark, there is a light of hope coming to this world.

We hear the words of hope today. We leave with those words of hope so that others may hear them as well.

(1) Zephaniah 3: 14 – 20
(2) Luke 3: 7 – 18
(3) Philippians 4: 4 – 7
(4) Philippians 4: 1

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