by Rev. Joseph Connolly
“Sing aloud! Shout for joy / O fair Zion; / shout, O Israel and be glad! / Rejoice and exult with all your heart, / O fair Jerusalem!” — Zephaniah 3:14.
I need to start with three disclaimers. First, I do not normally make any comments on a Music Sunday. Our musicians always preach far better than that for which my limited abilities allow, as was true today. Second, I am loathe to inflict a lengthy hardship on anyone with what I add, so I shall be brief.
Third, why say anything today? The observant among you will notice my sermon titles the first two Sundays in Advent have matched the Christian virtues celebrated, hope and peace. Each of those titles were followed with a question mark— Hope? — Peace?
The title today is Love followed by a question mark. I am sure you can guess what the title will be next week. I was loathe to break up the set.
Now, as you heard when the reading from Zephaniah was introduced, some of the gloomiest passages in the Hebrew Scriptures appear in this writing. Then, without warning, the night dissipates, the day breaks in when these words are uttered. Which poses the question, why is the prophet suddenly jubilant? (Slight pause.)
I want to suggest the prophet realizes one thing. God is in love with humanity. Let me repeat that: God is in love with humanity. And this is why the prophet is ecstatic. Hence, this reading is used in Advent because Christians realize that the Incarnation, the birth of the Christ, this in-breaking of God, reenforces the love of God for us and the love of God is present in ways far beyond our understanding.
The late poet Madeleine L’Engle explains this sentiment well. This is her poem First Coming. (Slight pause.)
“This One did not wait till the world was ready, / till humans and nations were at peace, / but came when the Heavens were unsteady, / and prisoners cried out for release.”
“Nor did this One wait for the perfect time, / but came when the need was deep and great / and dined with sinners in all their grime, / turned water into wine.”
“This One did not wait till hearts were pure. / But in joy came to a tarnished world of sin, of doubt, / to a world— like ours— of anguished shame / this One came, and this / Light would not go out.”
“This One came to a world which did not mesh, / to heal its tangles, shield its scorn, / in the mystery of the Word made Flesh / the Maker of the stars was born.”
“We cannot wait till the world is sane / to raise our songs with joyful voice, / for to share our grief, to touch our pain, / This One came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!” (Slight pause.)
As I suggested, both our musicians and also Madeleine L’Engle address the Word better than I. And it seems to me it does boil down to this: God loves us— all humanity… God loves all humanity in our frailty— what an amazing gift. Amen.
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York.
BENEDICTION: Let us go in hope and in joy and in peace, for we find love in the One who has made covenant with us. And, indeed, God reigns. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ rule among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.