I’ve always been a “glass half empty” kind of guy. When life hands me lemonade, I’m disappointed at not having the lemons. My wife sometimes calls me Squidward.
And for our Advent blog, I’m stuck with joy. That’s just great.
Looking at this week’s Gospel reading, it appears that John the Baptist might also have been a “glass half empty” guy.
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Wrath and unquenchable fire…this is the good news? That’s my kind of guy.
For Zephaniah, the glass was more than half empty. His book of prophecy begins with a bleak and hopeless outlook: “’I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,’ says the Lord.” And it only gets more bleak as Zephaniah fills in the details.
The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.
It’s hard to imagine anyone could be joyful on a day like that.
But this week’s reading from Zephaniah 3:14-20 points to another side of the Day of the Lord.
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. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.
Needless to say, those days are not here yet. Disasters and oppression have not disappeared. Although Christians believe Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah promised by God, we are in a sense still waiting for him to set things right.
But we can trust that one day God will set things right. We can have confidence not that we are now living in the best of all possible worlds, but that God will eventually overcome all evil and bring healing and wholeness to a world that has been marred by sin since the days of the first humans.
Neither Zephaniah nor John the Baptist were inclined to sugar-coat the message of God’s judgment. But at the same time, they both recognized that the day of judgment would also be a day of joy.
For Christians, joy does not stem from having a positive outlook on life, from looking at everything through rose-colored glasses. The source of our joy is our trust that God will complete the work he set in motion when a baby was born in a barnyard so long ago.
The glass may be half empty now, but one day it will be overflowing.
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