December 12, 2021

December 12, 2021

December 12, 2021

Stephen Hopkins
Kendricks Creek UMC
Appalachian District

Zephaniah 3:14-20 (NIV)

14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
    shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
    Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
    he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
    never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
    they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
    do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”
18 “I will remove from you
    all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
    which is a burden and reproach for you.
19 At that time I will deal
    with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
    I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
    in every land where they have suffered shame.
20 At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
    among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes[a]
    before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.

A Joyful God

I stood at the edge of the cliff and looked over.  Roughly 60 feet below, the rope dangled.  The man on belay seemed really, really small.  I had never rappelled before and stood waiting for the signal to begin my descent.  I had been educated on the harness and the ropes and the physics of how it all worked.  I had been assured that it was perfectly safe. Thousands of people had done this before.  But in that moment, my body had not come to believe what my mind had been instructed. There was no part of me that wanted to be at the top of that cliff. 
I was a few weeks into Cadet Basic Training at the US Military Academy.  I missed home.  I missed sleep.  And in this moment, I missed being on the ground.
When the instructor gave me the all clear, I inched my way to the edge of the cliff.  “Any day now,” he gently chided me.  I remember positioning myself (finally) with my feet against the cliff and my backside dangling over the open air as I gripped the rope with every ounce of strength in my hands. Seeing the abject terror in my eyes, the instructor asked me, “What’s your favorite song? Sing that. It’ll help.”
I stared blankly, my mind racing with thoughts of my certain and impending death.  “Songs? What are those? Never heard of ‘em!”
“Come on, what’s your favorite song? You tellin’ me you don’t have one?!” he urged with a little more vehemence.
Actually, I hadn’t told him anything.  I gulped.  Of all the songs that had ever been played, would you guess which one came to my mind at that exact moment?
“Stairway to Heaven,” I whimpered. 
As you can imagine, those weren’t the most encouraging lyrics in that exact moment.  But this instructor was onto something.  It’s hard to be afraid when you’re singing.  Singing, in and of itself, is an act of joy.
Joy is a tricky thing.  We often equate it with happiness, but it’s much more than that.  As Dallas Willard defines it, joy is a “pervasive sense of well-being”.  No matter our circumstances, we can live with joy because, no matter our circumstances, God is with us. 
In this beautiful passage in Zephaniah, God commands his people to sing.  Their singing, their rejoicing, will drive out their fear.  But why? And how? “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.  He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
We love because God loved us first.  We can rejoice because God rejoices in us first.  Our God is joyous and he takes great delight in you.
Whatever you may be facing in this season, even if you feel like you’re dangling on the edge of an existential cliff, hear the word of the Lord being sung over you: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32, NIV) 


Father, teach us to be a people of joy, regardless of our circumstances. Restore our hearts to their true home.  Jesus, as our Good Shepherd, gather all of us to yourself. May we hear and heed your song of joy.  Spirit, lead us into lovingly and joyfully seeing and serving all those around us today.  Amen.