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September 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-18: God Dances for You!
Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
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.
On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
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.”
(Zephaniah 3:14-17 NIV)

“Sing…! Shout aloud…! Be glad and rejoice…!” This passage gives us at least three reasons to rejoice: “The Lord has taken away your punishments…”, “The Lord is with you”, and “in his love he will no longer rebuke you.”

The tone of this message is surprising, in the context of a book that begins with the words “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the LORD.” The book is filled with threats against the nations and against the people of Israel, threats that culminate in the description of a Day of the Lord when everything will be destroyed.

It is quite daring for Zephaniah to imagine and to announce the destruction of the great powers of his day. On the other hand, he makes use of the very real dangers threatening Israel to criticize strongly the idolatry and injustice of many of the people. He wants them to realize that their false priorities and their lack of attentiveness to others keep them from living, even if he will soon discover that threats do not always help people to change their ways.

When we see the dangers—real or imaginary—that lie before us, we do not usually interpret them as threats through which God wants to warn us. But sometimes we can be aware of the negative consequences of our attitudes, and ask ourselves if we have made—or are making—good choices. So when, at the end of the book, the prophet declares that the condemnations are withdrawn, that can give us the hope not only that, with God, the contingency of our decisions can find meaning, but in addition that the chain of causality of this world is not necessarily fatal. God’s outlook goes beyond the doubts and determinisms in which we think we are trapped.

“The Lord is with you.” He is present as a space of freedom at the heart of our lives and it is in him that the use of this freedom finds its true meaning. In the midst of our hesitations and dead ends, God opens a way to new beginnings.

“In his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing,” even, in some translations, “he will dance”—not because we have always made the right choices, but because he is present in our lives by his Spirit. In a certain sense, he loves himself by loving us and bringing us into his love.

God communicates his life to us, in and despite our imperfect or even faulty choices and orientations. That is also the message of the resurrection: God creates life in the midst of what does not serve life, or even what opposes it. God breaks through what seems inevitable and gives meaning to our contingencies; God is with us in what is most transparent as well as what is most worrisome in our lives, opening roads which are always new in and towards his joy.

- Am I sometimes fearful and uncertain about my choices? Does my faith in God help me to go beyond this situation? How?

- Have I ever had the experience that new ways forward have opened up for me? How can the experience of people in the Bible encourage me in this respect?

  

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