Our preparation for the coming of the Lord at Christmas continues with our reflection on the book of the Prophet Zephaniah. This prophet featured from about 640 to 609 or even more. His prophecy was in reaction to Israel’s sins which were forbidden by the righteous king, Josiah in his deuteronomic reforms in 622 BC.
In reaction to the immoralities of the time, Zephaniah proclaims the day of the Lord, which would be that of judgment, and condemnation, bringing doom to all those, who had worshipped false gods in Judah and Jerusalem. That day would proceed to destroy the nations that had threatened and corrupted Israel. For the prophet, there would be a restoration for those who repent of their sins, resulting to great rejoicing, because God is among his people, pouring out his love upon them (Zephaniah 3:1-20).
He invites daughter Zion and the whole Israel to shout for joy, and to sing joyfully, because the Lord has removed the judgement against her, and has turned away her enemies. They should have nothing to fear, because the Lord her God is in her midst, a mighty savior, who will rejoice over her with gladness, and renew her in his love. He will sing joyfully because of her, as one sings at festivals (Zephaniah 3:14-18).
These prophetic words, promise complete salvation and restoration to Jerusalem, and the return of the exiled Jews to the holy city. The prophecy ends on a note of hope for the future. This is what we look forward to as we await the coming of the Lord in the mystery of the incarnation.
The people were filled with great expectation for the coming and realization of the bringer of this enormous restoration, salvation and joy in their lives. When John the Baptist came, baptizing, in anticipation of the coming one, many were coming to him to be baptized, he addressed them as brood of vipers, asking who warned them to flee from the coming wrath. He asked them to produce good fruits as evidence of their repentance; and should not be saying that they have Abraham as their father. With assurance that every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into fire, everyone was coming forward, enquiring what to do (Luke 3:10-14).
In the people’s expectations, thinking whether John might be the Messiah, he made it clear that he is baptizing with water, but the one mightier than him is coming, whose sandals’ thongs, he was not worthy to loosen. He is the one who will baptize them with Holy Spirit and fire. With his winnowing fan in his hands, he will clear his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his barn, while he will burn the chaff in unquenchable fire (Luke 3:15-18). To experience the great joy and rejoicing proclaimed today, we have to repent of our sins, and wait for the coming of the Lord, in the spirit and teaching of John the Baptist. That is why he calls us into the desert experience, the place of Israel’s formation as God’s covenanted people.
And so, he invites us to return to God, through baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
In this way, the Lord is nearer to us than before. On this note, St. Paul proclaims to us today to rejoice in the Lord always. The Lord himself is near. We should dismiss all anxiety from our minds. We should present our needs to God in every form of prayer, and in petitions full of gratitude. So that, God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard in Jesus Christ, over our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:4-7).
May God in his mercy, give us the Spirit and grace, to be numbered among those, who encounter him in his Son’s coming at Christmas and experience the great joy of his coming. Amen.
Rev. Fr. Michael Onyekwere, SDV, PhD