Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgements 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.
[Zephaniah 3: 14-18]
In this passage, which is a song of joy, the prophet instructs Israel to SING ALOUD, REJOICE, and EXULT with all her heart! After several preceding passages describe judgment and punishment, this song of joy pronounces the Lord takes away the judgments against Israel, removes disaster, and turns away enemies (v. 15). In other words, God saves Israel. For the Israelites, God is in and among them, not a distant and detached power. Surely, this is reason enough to rejoice.
God is commonly misunderstood as just a higher power who rules over us from heaven above, watching and observing. However, the phrase “the Lord is in your midst,” repeated twice in this passage, emphasizes God’s presence with us. The Lord is not a bystander in our lives. The Lord does not watch us and let us suffer alone when we are at our worst. Our God “renews us with his love” (v. 17). Our God gives us courage and power when we can find none in ourselves. And, our great God brings happiness when all we can see is sorrow.
As we await the coming of Christ during this Advent season, are we not much like the Israelites in the Zephaniah passage? With Christ’s coming, we anticipate the assurance of salvation, peace, and life everlasting. And, we receive this promise not from a distant power but from the Christ Child—Emmanuel—God Incarnate, who came to dwell among us so that we might experience God’s overwhelming love and grace.