Mom and dad going crazy over their little children is so common these days that we cannot imagine otherwise, but not too long ago, parents were not so expressive about their affection toward their children. We are familiar with the saying “children should be seen, not heard.”
We know that God loves us incredibly. We can imagine God’s great, gentle love, but it is a little harder to imagine that God could go wild over His children. Does God ever lose self-control in delight because of His children?
Today Zephaniah the prophet says, “Yes!” Believe it or not, God does go wild over the people whom God has redeemed. The prophet says: 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.
This is the most famous passage from this little book of Zephaniah;we find these words of Zephaniah chapter 3, on websites, in devotional booklets, and on greeting cards. The LORD, your God, is in your midst . . . God will exult over you with loud singing.
This is a greatly festive sentence that portrays the exultation of God who sings with loud singing. The Hebrew for loud singing is more like making a ringing cry. The Hebrew word that describes God’s exultation is the same one that we have in the song of Havanah gillah. Just imagine God going around while singing Havanah gillah! That will go viral on YouTube!
Such a celebration has not been a big part of church. How often have we had a hilarious church meeting? Some churches have a collection of photos of their ministers that fill up the wall. In those photos, none of them smiles. Today church websites have a photo of their pastor with a smiley face. Still, when you look at photos of worship, hardly anyone smiles, let alone laughing!
Does God smile in the Bible? In the book of Psalms, God laughs at the nations that rise against God’s anointed (Psalm 2) or at the wicked (Psalm 37), but these are not laughter of jubilation, but laughter of derision.
Did Jesus ever smile? One popular commentator points to the story about Jesus holding little children in his arms. Jesus must have smiled for a moment like that.
In the liturgical tradition of the church, today the third Sunday of Advent is historically known as the Gaudete Sunday (Gaudete meaning “Rejoice!”). Today we rejoice, for the end of this Advent season will come. We will soon be at the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. For a day like this, it is fitting to reflect upon this passage from Zephaniah: The LORD, your God, is in your midst . . . God will exult over you with loud singing.
Even then, the observance of the Gaudete Sunday that I have seen is not terribly high-sounding or full of laughter. We do sing, “Rejoice!” We rejoice, but someone saw us singing the song and said, “They sing ‘Rejoice,’ but they seem to show no emotion.” What happened to the gladness that should come with the song of joy? What happened to the joy of salvation that brought us together in the first place?
The LORD, your God, is in your midst . . . will exult over you with loud singing.
In the parts of Zephaniah leading up to our OT lesson, the prophet only tells us how corrupt the society was. The people deserved condemnation and destruction, but when we come to Zephaniah 3, we find God signing and exulting for no apparent reason. What made God so cheerful? There was absolutely no reason.
Then I realized that was perhaps the point the prophet was making. There was absolutely no reason God should love the people or the nations or the earth, but God did anyway.
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. That was God’s grace. God saved them when they had absolutely nothing in their heart or life that lay a claim to God’s favor. There is nothing in us that can save us, but when we were sinners, God came and saved us from the bondage of sin and death.
© Reverend Jin Han 2012