Rejoicing springs from a deep well of gratitude, yet it cannot be forced. The Third Sunday of Advent is all about receiving the joy God offers.
The prophet Zephaniah ben Cushi, writing in the late 7th century, sounds the theme of the coming Day of the Lord, which would bring both judgment and salvation. In studying the passage, I noticed something new. While the prophet exhorts Israel to “rejoice and exult with all your heart,” (3:14), the accent of the text is more on the disposition of God as one who “will rejoice over you with gladness . . . and “will renew you in [God’s own] love,” and “will exult over you with loud singing” (v. 17). Clearly, God delights in the redemption to be wrought.
Placed at the conclusion of a section on promised salvation, Isaiah 12:2-6 echoes this palpable joy of the Holy One. By being in the midst of the people of covenant, they are able to trust, which makes possible rejoicing song. A lovely image is found within this liturgical framework: “With joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” What could be more joyful in an arid land than abundant watering?
A few years ago, the Passport camping organization, dreamed of “watering Malawi.” Through the fundraising efforts of adolescents and their leaders, workers were able to dig new wells to provide for those vulnerable to disease for lack of access to clean water. The tangible results of this ministry have prompted rejoicing by youth—and dare I say, by God.
The epistle extends this theme: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). When Paul uses the phrase, “in the Lord,” he is reminding his readers that being grounded in God makes possible right attitude and right behavior. In addition to his exhortation to rejoice, the apostle enjoins the Philippian community to demonstrate generosity toward others (epieikes). Rejoicing and generosity surely go together; while there is a forgetfulness of self in generous giving, we can remember the glow of the occasion in retrospect.
Finally, the Gospel lesson narrates John’s bracing proclamation to those seeking him out for baptism (Luke 3:7-18). For the desert preacher, repentance looks like this: share food and clothing; be just in business dealings; live simply and be satisfied with your wages. There is no call for rejoicing, only actions that prepare for the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. Yet, Luke calls this searing sermon “good news.” God will beckon rejoicing when we “bear fruits worthy of repentance,” and do not presume it comes without preparation. God will rejoice then, too.
Molly T. Marshall
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