We often forget that the season of Advent speaks to the betwixt and between of the Birth of Jesus and his Second Coming. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that our first reading is from the firebrand, no-holds-barred prophet Zephaniah. He makes no bones about it. Judgment is coming upon Jerusalem. The Lord will be cleaning house: “And you shall no longer exalt yourself on my holy mountain. But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly.” (Zeph 3:11-12)
All seems a little unfair, don’t you think? I offer that provocation while I also offer some background.
Zephaniah prophesied during the early reign of King Josiah – a godly man upon who pleased the Lord. Unfortunately for Josiah, he followed in the most ungodly reign of his grandfather Manasseh who specialize in idolatry and a whole host of practices that did not please the Lord. Zephaniah was there when the priests of the Temple found something that apparently had been stored away, hidden perhaps, but in any case, unused and neglected: the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah. In other words, the story of God as told in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – was unknown to the people.
Let’s see…an evil king Manasseh who ignored God, practiced idolatry, hid the Bible, and made no effort to lead the covenant people to God… and his 8-year-old grandson inherits the throne of David. Seems a little unfair, don’t you think?
Glad that is not us!
It is not like we have any idols in our lives; things that so obsess us we spend all our energy on that pursuit with little left over for prayer. It is not as though the Bible is hidden away in our houses, unused and neglected. Right?
Granted you’re probably not on par with Manasseh, but how about King Josiah? He pulled the people of Jerusalem into one place and read the out loud to them the whole Torah. And then made sure it was read and re-read. He cleansed the Temple, restored worship and prayer, and committed himself to God.
Even if we are not Manasseh, Advent or no, the prophets are ever there to remind us to be Josiah.