Third Sunday in Advent – December 17, 2006 – Blessed Sacrament
The prophet Zephaniah lived some seven centuries before Christ and prophesied in the midst of political and military struggles between rival empires. His message, an assurance of an ultimate vindication of Israel by God, has been taken over and used in this liturgy as a prophecy of what we will celebrate soon at Christmas: “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, and you have no more cause to fear.”
His prophecy has a striking image. We are used to the prophet or the psalm calling on Israel to shout for joy, to sing joyfully because of what God has done. But here the prophet tells us that the Lord God himself “will rejoice over you with gladness; … he will sing joyfully because of you as one sings at festivals.” God himself rejoices because of us, sings his joy because of us.
What a lovely image! Of God singing for joy! Is that our image of God? Is this what immediately comes to mind when we think of God? That he is singing with joy the way people sing at weddings? Or does perhaps some other image come first to mind: God as judge, as lawgiver, as severe, as remote, as indifferent?
But isn’t this joyful God the one whom Jesus preached? When the shepherd finds his lost sheep and the woman finds her lost coin, each of them invites friends and neighbors to rejoice because what was lost has been found. When the father regains his lost son, he throws a feast and insists that his older son come in and share his joy. And the point of the parables Jesus makes explicit: “There will be more joy in heaven–this means “in God”–there will be more joy in God over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.”
Very early in his “Confessions,” Saint Augustine has a paragraph in which he sets out some of God’s attributes: You are most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, most merciful and most just, etc., attributes that are familiar to us. But then in their midst, he has a phrase that leaps off the page at one: “quaerens cum nihil desit tibi–you are searching, though lacking nothing.” The phrase wonderfully captures the Christian notion of God. God did not create because he lacked something; he created so that others might enjoy his life. He did not redeem us because we were necessary to him; he redeemed us because he wished to take joy in us. He seeks us even when we are not seeking him.
What is true of us altogether is true of us singly: God rejoices over all of us, over each of us. Last week we could take comfort from the prophet’s assurance that we are remembered by God. This week we can take away the image of God rejoicing over us, singing with joy because of us. If you are ever tempted to think of God as distant, remote, indifferent, recall the image and even try to sing along!