I was struck the other day when it first happened that on the television the recent school shooting in Michigan was the third story on the news. Have we just gotten used to children killing each other in school so we want to hear about the latest COVID variant first? I do not know what goes into the editorial decisions about what are lead and what are second stories in network newsroom, but it seemed significant to me.
Zephaniah, a prophet we hear from twice in the three-year lectionary series, wants us to imagine something this Sunday which I think preachers need to remember. He says that God the King is in our midst, and we will never again fear evil. I am sure that sense of security feels far away from the students and their families at Oxford High in Michigan. I am not sure they will ever feel safe in school. A gunman has robbed them of that. But that sense of insecurity does not only affect them. My own neighborhood has gotten a little seedy. We are more careful about locking doors these days. Now another COVID variant is lurking on the horizon. Will Omicron be worse than Delta? They say we will have to wait a month to know.
Is Zephaniah just out of touch? I don’t think so. In fact, I think he is right on message for Advent. His people faced a dire situation as well. The glory of Israel had long passed and now they were a much-diminished state, facing down the spear point of the mighty Babylonian empire. Things did not look good for little Judah. But Zephaniah exhorts his people to rejoice because God is at work, doing His Godly work of clearing away the enemies, establishing righteousness and calming with his love. He will bring all the oppressors to justice and His people will dwell in safety and without fear. That is faith – a confidence in something not seen. That is Advent – looking forward to what God has promised us. Your Advent joy in these dark days is a witness to that promise. Light your candles. Flick on the lights outside your house. Raise a glass of eggnog and share a bit of cheer. You are not faking it. You are counting on Him.