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Friday, December 11, 2015

Today’s Reading | Zephaniah 3:14–18  

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 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. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. (NRSV)

I have been thinking a lot lately about my upcoming thirtieth birthday. Any milestone birthday brings with it the chance to reflect on life thus far and assess how it looks compared to expectations. A friend who turned thirty last year described how the weight of entering a new stage of life left him as soon as he let go of the expectations he had had for his life at this point. I agreed. “My life at this point looks nothing like I thought it would when I was younger,” I told him. “But it’s more amazing than I would have been able to imagine back then.”

Expectations can give us something to reach for and look forward to as we move through life, but they can also keep us from recognizing the spectacular gifts that life’s surprises sometimes give to us. This passage from Zephaniah previews the coming of a messiah, but I’m struck how it—like many other Hebrew scriptures—describes a very different kind of savior than the one who arrives on Christmas. The juxtaposition of who Jesus was expected to be and who he actually was challenges us to reconsider what “savior” even means.

Though this passage describes the coming of a “warrior,” we get a Prince of Peace. And though that may not be what we expect when we hold onto hope that God will deliver us from the brokenness of this world, Jesus is more amazing than we could have imagined. In a world where violence seems unceasing, we can take comfort that the salvation offered in Christ isn’t more of the same, but is the totally unexpected strength of radical peace and love. As we move toward Christmas through the season of Advent expectation, let us keep our hearts open to the ways that life, grace, and Jesus may surprise us.

God of grace and mercy, we thank you for your Son, who comes not how we expect, but better than we can imagine. Open us to receive the surprise of grace, and help us bear it to a world that can hardly imagine peace. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident, Fourth Presbyterian Church

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