Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgements 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.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
One movie that Liz and I love to watch every year during this time is Love Actually, a story that follows several people and families as they find themselves in a variety of stages of love. It begins with Hugh Grant narrating as we see scenes of people at the airport greeting loved ones they have missed. It is filled with hugs and tears and running and jumping in greeting. Hugh Grant says, “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere.” (Curtis, R. (Director). (2003). Love Actually [Film]. StudioCanal.) It always makes me tear up to see everyone coming home and finding their loved ones. I was reminded of this scene when I first read this passage from the prophet Zephaniah. God, through Zephaniah, says to God’s beloved, “At that time I will bring you home…” This idea of coming home or being brought home permeates throughout the Advent season.
Israel has been far away from home for a long time as Zephaniah is writing to them. They have been in Babylonian captivity for many decades and are feeling the despair settle in all around them. Many have forgotten what home was even like. And Zephaniah is telling them to rejoice. This might feel disingenuous and hurtful. How can they rejoice in the midst of pain and separation?
John the Baptist from our first reading preaches a similar message to a people whose homeland is occupied by the Roman Empire. And while John starts harshly for the way they have given into the Roman Empire, shouting, “You brood of vipers!” If you continue to listen to John’s message, he is actually talking about the God who is coming to bring us home. God is talking about how we prepare and live in this home, by sharing what we have with those in need. Share your clothes and food. Do not extort anyone. John is saying that in God’s world there is a home for all! A home where the inequities of our world are removed, where hills that block us from one another are lowered, and where all have their needs met in collective flourishing.
These two scriptures come to us on the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday we call Gaudette Sunday, which is simply Latin for rejoice. We lit the pink candle this morning as a sign of joy in the midst of this penitential season of Advent. Zephaniah is saying rejoice because God is bringing us home. John is saying in this home we share what we have so that all feel at home. Home is supposed to be a place of safety, of comfort, of support, and of encouragement. I know that many of us have homes and families that create these spaces for us but I am also acutely aware that not everyone has a safe home or family to return to. Where is their joy this season? How do they rejoice with Zephaniah?
I have been thinking a lot about the cold weather shelter and the folx sleeping at the Alabama Street Encampment. It was supposed to be a short term band aid while the city and county figured out better long term solutions to helping our unhoused neighbors. Instead it has turned into a place to hide away the people seen as problems and pretend they do not exist. It has been almost two years and still our elected officials have not found a path forward. There are many people who feel like Israel, abandoned by God and far from home, and there are many who long for John the Baptist’s words to come true where there is home for all and safety and comfort are offered to all instead of some. And they live right next to us, they are our neighbors, even if they are hidden from our sight.
But, we, as Christians, know about home. We know about joy. Because in God our family grows to include all so that no one is left outside in the cold. We know the joy of working toward healing as we start to prepare our hearts and minds for new neighbors next door as Housing Opportunities of SW WA prepare the land for affordable housing. How will we bless this space and the folx in need of housing? What other things are needed to turn a house into a home? We will have many opportunities to continue to engage our neighbors in need of home as we share the home that God has created with all.
This Gaudette Sunday, this Advent season, we proclaim that God is bringing us home. God is filled with joy at this meeting. Like arriving to see loved ones in the airport after extended absences, God delights in making us feel safe and loved. This is not a distant God who leaves us alone but rather a God that runs from their family porch swing to wrap us in their loving arms, a God who enters the world as a baby just to be with us and live with us, a God who is bringing us all home. Today, we speak of joy, we shout for joy! We are a people redeemed and restored. We are a people given an everlasting home and we celebrate with God to make space for all of God’s children to find this home. Let us go and make it so.