Go Navy! Beat Army! This weekend is the Army-Navy football game, one of the greatest rivalries in college football. If Navy wins there will be much celebrating in Annapolis. There aren’t many places in our culture outside of sports where it’s considered socially acceptable to sing and shout and revel. When was the last time you cut loose and celebrated loudly, vocally, publicly? Honestly, I can’t remember. And yet that’s what the prophet Zephaniah told the citizens of Jerusalem to do in Zeph. 3:14-20. Although Zephaniah was a prophet of doom and gloom who preached about the coming wrath of God, the book of his prophecy ends with an exhortation to be joyful: Sing! Shout! Rejoice!
Why celebrate? The prophet mentions two things God has already done for Jerusalem, one thing he is doing, and many things he will do in the future. God delivered his people spiritually and politically, despite their corrupt ways (3:1-7). He removed their judgment, wiping the slate clean, and turned their enemies away (15).
Not only had God removed their sins and turned back their enemies, but he says, “the LORD, the king of Israel is with you” (15). Now as then, God’s presence in our lives is a cause for rejoicing. The rest of the passage looks forward and tells what God will do for his people “on that day” (16). This dual focus on what God has already done and what he will do for his people makes this text so fitting for Advent, which is about both the incarnation and second coming. Our joy comes from both the assurance of what God has done and the promise of what he will do. We don’t have to wait for God to right every wrong and heal every hurt before we praise him. And we don’t have to see all of the prophecies fulfilled for us to have hope.
I can’t say I’m in the habit of exuberant celebration, even at this happy time of year. But it’s not just me. Apparently God’s people in Jerusalem needed to be reminded by Zephaniah to rejoice as well. That’s easier said than done when times are tough. My mother-in-law is battling cancer. My friend is separated and headed for divorce. My cousin is unemployed. How do you celebrate and rejoice under such difficult circumstances? It isn’t easy. I don’t expect the Midshipmen to come back upbeat if Navy doesn’t win. (They will win.) Most of us aren’t capable of celebrating during times of loss.
If simultaneous joy and sorrow just isn’t something we are able to manage, then at least we have the hope that they can be sequential. “Weeping may endure for a night,” the psalmist says, “but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
If you’re going through a dark night, just hold on. It will soon be morning.