Daniel 7.9-10,13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1.4b-8; John 18.33-37
John’s words to us today don’t necessarily sound like good news, especially when we hear words about wrath, axes, unquenchable fire. But really, it is! A lot of the language that sounds extreme, with images of judgement and wrath, are there to express urgency and seriousness of purpose, not to terrify the reader. When we hear “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham”, we are told that in Jesus’ ministry, we will hear the good news that all are welcome, no matter their ethnicity or background. When we hear John’s exhortations for people to do their jobs honestly this is GOOD NEWS for those who have been taken advantage of by tax collectors and their soldiers. When we hear of the Holy Spirit and fire coming, we are reminded of Pentecost, a day when the GOOD NEWS of Jesus was shared in a multitude of languages.
We hear that John is spreading good news. We hear in our other readings calls to praise and celebration. We are told to rejoice in God! And yet, the news of the last few weeks has not made us feel like rejoicing. It seems that lately the world seems desperate for good news. The corruption and dishonesty we hear John the Baptist preaching against is everywhere we go. The unfounded prejudice and hatred toward our brothers and sisters who happen to be Muslim is breaking God’s heart. The regularity of violence, from mass shootings to primetime tv is breaking us down. The hate crimes, the poverty, the bullying, the broken relationships, the floods, the landslides, it is all just too much. We know God wants it to stop, we know we need to work to stop it, but we are exhausted, frustrated, close to despair.
Where we are now is in fact the context of our readings from scripture today.
The words we hear from Zephaniah today are the very end of this book of Scripture, and the words preceding the ones we heard were quite different. Before Zephaniah encourages us to sing aloud because our fears of disaster are over, before he preaches about coming home and renewal and restored fortunes. Before that there are angry words, words condemning priests who have been worshipping or allowing worship of other gods, words against officials pandering to foreign tastes, words against the wealthy who are only for their needs and not the poor. Jerusalem had become a defiled and oppressive city.
We hear a bit of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, an overall joyful letter. From a man who was persecuted, thrown in jail. Paul and the congregations he founded and worked with often had their struggles, internally and externally. This is a word about the joy the can come in the midst of difficult circumstances.
And the book of Isaiah, one of the most complex books we have within our Scripture. It speaks of the Prince of Peace, it encourages us today to sing and shout praises to God, that we should trust. But preceding it’s message of hope and freedom are harsh words of judgement. The prophet Isaiah calls all of Israel and all of us to task - we are to practice justice toward one another.
And so we come to worship - to look forward to and wait for the hope that is to come - Jesus. And we are met with all of these texts the encourage us, direct us, beg us to rejoice. All from prophets and people who, like us, were desperate for good news. Like us, their lives were not perfect or easy. Like us, the world around at times seemed overwhelmingly full of things that make our hearts break and the world a lost cause.
These texts encourage us, direct us, beg us to rejoice, and it’s not about ignoring the evil. It’s not about pretending that it’s not there or giving up because it seems overwhelming. We rejoice because God is always working for good, sometimes through us, and sometimes in spite of us. We rejoice alongside the work of justice. We rejoice alongside the lament.
There are plenty of reasons to despair. But because our story is also God’s story, we have plenty of reasons to rejoice.
So today, let us take time to share things that make us rejoice.
Thank you for sharing, and as we move ever toward the coming of baby Jesus and the coming of God’s kingdom, let us always remember, even though we are a brood of vipers, we are also God’s children - adopted into the family of God, the story of God. And that story means that while we must face difficult things, lament, and work for justice, we are also able to rejoice in the lord always - again I say rejoice!