Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.
The events of this past week have given us reason to sing. Not the hills are alive kind of singing while frolicking through alpine meadows with birds singing on your shoulder kind, but the gut-wrenching, God, why the fuck is this happening kind that we find in the psalms. The kind of singing and lament that expresses sorrow and asks God for blessing or intervention. The kind that asks, How long, Lord?
So this passage from Zephaniah that begins with, “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” seems a bit misplaced. Inappropriate, even. How can we sing when the list of hells on earth continues to grow?
Again, not your cheery advent reading. Though if you stick with the Hebrew texts, they typically aren’t. In the book of Zephaniah, we find a common tale: rulers abuse their power and people, false gods are worshipped, violence and faithlessness have permeated the city and the people wonder, Where is YHWH?
Sound familiar? Zephaniah could very well be talking about us in 2012. The rulers before Zephaniah’s time had created unjust social and political policies, leaving Judah crying for a prophet who would call the people to make changes. They are so desperate they will turn to anything and anyone who will come and save them.
We, too, cry for change. But we seem to have found that in the misplaced gods of our personal ideology, of consumerism, the pursuit of the American dream [founded on solid Christian teachings, of course] and the belief that we deserve what’s rightfully ours [if we could only agree on what exactly that is].
We, my friends, are sitting in what the Hebrew texts would call, the pit. Call it a grey area, a place of indifference, of powerlessness, of disorientation, of separation.
But this is not where we’re called to stay.
Old Testament scholar and theologian, Walter Brueggemann has this to say about the ways the Psalms, in their lamenting and rejoicing and questioning, move us out of these dark spaces to a place beyond:
Such occurrences in our lives can, with the help of the Psalms, be given concrete expression, and we can begin the process of moving past them—perhaps even to a song of celebration and thanksgiving. These Psalms attest to us that the life of faith does not protect us from the pit. Rather, the power of God brings us out of the pit to new life which is not the same as pre-pit existence. When one is in the pit, one cannot believe or imagine that good can come again. For that reason, the Psalmist finally focuses not on the pit but on the One who rules there and everywhere. It is the reality of God which makes clear that the pit is not the place “where you ought to be.”
So where ought we be? How do we move to a place where we can sing aloud and rejoice and exult with all our hearts when all we see is despair?
We are not where we ought to be, but we know where we’re going. We have glimpses of what it will look and feel like when the kin-dom of God–a time and place where all persons flourish in right relationship with each other, with creation, and God–is here. When all that we do and all that were are is oriented towards justice and love. That is the promise of advent. That is the promise in Christ.
So today, sing. Because you have reason to. We have reason to. For God is good. Always.
Take a moment to listen to ‘Reason to Sing’ below, by All Sons & Daughters.
A reflection by Sophia.
Sophia Agtarap serves as Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church with United Methodist Communications, and is a candidate for deacon in the United Methodist Church through the Pacific Northwest Conference. She spends lots of time musing and crafting stories of and for the church over a good cup of coffee. Sophia tweets @SophiaKris. She also blogs at wanderingnotlost.com