December 10, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Zephaniah 3:17-18 (NRSV)
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
On the other side of darkness, Zephaniah promises, there is light. On the other side of judgment, there is mercy. On the other side of oppression, there is liberation.
Years ago, I sang in a choir which performed an anthem based in part on Zephaniah 3:17. “And the Father will dance over you in song,” the anthem began; “He will take delight in whom he loves.” At the time, I found the anthem a little bit funny because, as you’ll hear in the “Act” section of the devotional, there is a moment when the choir sings “Is that a choir I hear/ Singing the praises of God?/ No, the Lord God himself is exulting o’er you in song.” There was a great emphasis in the music on the “no” – no, that is not a choir. “But we are a choir,” I said. “We wouldn’t be singing this if we weren’t a choir.”
Despite the humor of the lyrics, the anthem-like passage from Zephaniah which inspired it—moves me deeply. I first heard it at a time in my life when I was deeply troubled by many things, and when I wondered whether God could truly love me. This passage assured me that he did, and that he loves us all. God does not simply tolerate us; he exults over us and rejoices over us.
If you started at the beginning of Zephaniah, you would not expect such a joyful passage. All we know about Zephaniah is found in 1:1, where he is called “Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah” and said to be writing “in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.” From the very beginning of the book until Zephaniah 3:7, he pronounces prophecy after prophecy of the day of the Lord’s wrath which is coming, and he describes all the terrible things which are going to happen to different nations—culminating in a prophecy against Jerusalem in Zephaniah 3:1-7. Dark stuff—the sort of passages we often associate with Advent in the lectionary. Everything is very, very bad, and the only hope is in the Lord’s returning.
And then, in 3:8-13, a great turn happens in the book. The Lord, it is prophesied, will come back and execute judgment (3:8) and remove the proud and haughty who are causing all the trouble (3:11). Then he will create a redeemed community that will humbly praise him (3:9-10, 12-13). The prospect is so beautiful that the prophet breaks into the jubilant song which closes the book. On the other side of darkness, Zephaniah promises, there is light. On the other side of judgment, there is mercy. On the other side of oppression, there is liberation. As people often remarked in my childhood when somebody made an excellent Gospel point, that’ll preach.
Is that a choir I hear? Well, yes, in fact. It is singing the praises of the God who loves us. And God is singing over us as well. In fact, everyone is singing and dancing. Evil has been destroyed, and sin and death will never have the last word.
From what do you need to be freed?
For what sins do you need to be forgiven?
How does it feel to know the Father loves you so much he will dance and sing over you?
Listen to this pandemic-era performance of “And the Father Will Dance” as performed by the choir at the Presbyterian Church of Los Gatos. It’s ok if you want to laugh when they shout “no,” but also allow the message to sink into your soul: the Father loves and will redeem and exult in you.
P.S. Last time I wrote a devotional for you, I accidentally included the wrong link to the version of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” recorded at the church where that song was first performed over 100 years ago. You may enjoy listening to that in prayer as well.
Lord, I am so amazed that you love me, that you exult in me, that you delight in me. May I always seek to love and exult and delight in you. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Advent Reflection: The Song I Most Want to Hear
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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