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  • Writer's pictureRev. Nick Reed

A Joyful Song

Isaiah 12:1-6 and Zephaniah 3:14-20

Our two readings today from the Old Testament are songs of joy and songs of hope. As we read them it is important to remember the difficulties, the pain, and the devastation that surrounded these two joyful songs. In the days of Isaiah and Zephaniah the nation of Judah has made poor choices that selfishly put themselves before God. Their poor choices were trusting other nations and other people of power before trusting God. Because of their poor choices and poor allegiances God’s people are in the midst of devastation and exile.

As you read Isaiah and Zephaniah’s books you read their own theology that the devastation facing Judah is God’s judgement for these poor choices. However they do not let their prophetic voice end in despair. Our readings today offer up words and songs of hope to people in pain and and people are in fear of what is to come next.

Fear is something that can consume our minds. The text from Zephaniah paints a picture of the things we might fear in this world. We fear disaster. We fear that we are too weak. We fear that our hands are weak and powerless, and we will not have enough. We fear shame and reproach. We fear those who have power and control over us. We fear brokenness and heartache. We fear that God may not be in our midst.

During advent the prophets are just as significant to us as the messengers of the Gospel. In trying times they proclaim to God’s people what no one wants to hear, and proclaim to God’s people things no one wants to believe. On behalf of God’s people they have their pulse on God’s own feelings. They feel God’s compassion for us, and God’s joy for us. Prophets express God’s anger and frustration with God’s people, and give us wake up calls. Prophets dream God’s dreams, and they proclaim our hopes for the days ahead.

In advent while we wait for Christ’s coming we listen to Old Testament prophets because long before Jesus Christ was born, prophets were the ones telling the Good News to a broken and fearful world that were experiencing pain and heartache. They were God’s first messengers to declare to God’s people over and over again…“Do not fear.”

They did this through their prophetic songs and prophetic poetry. We hear these songs a lot during the season of advent, so today I’d like to call them advent songs. Through their advent songs of waiting they are singing God’s song of hope and promise. God’s song tells us why we should not fear. God’s song is one that brings you hope when hope seems fading. God’s song is one that provides peace in the midst of chaos. God’s song is one that proclaims a love that will never abandon us.

Today’s two readings are two of God’s advent songs that tell us the Good News when the world might want us to think otherwise. Isaiah proclaims in verse 2 and 3, “Surely God is my salvation: I will trust, and not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might: God has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

I just love that imagery and these words of prophetic poetry, “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” In his commentary on Isaiah Reformed Theologian John Calvin offers this insight to what this Good News that God is offering us water from the wells of salvation. He writes “Everything necessary for supporting life flows to us from the undeserved goodness of God. And since we are empty and destitute of everything good, he appropriately compares the mercy of God to a fountain, which satisfies those who are thirsty and dry, refreshes those who are parched with heat, and revives those who are worn out with fatigue.”

Advent songs like these tell us the Good News that God’s claiming love is present with us in the now, and assures us that God’s claiming love of salvation through Christ will always be present in our future. These prophetic advent songs also proclaim to us how we should respond to such wondrous love through Christ. We sing aloud! We rejoice and exult with all our heart! We sing praises to the Lord! We do not fear and we live a life of joy!

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann calls the Isaiah reading today a Doxology. He reminds us that this Doxology “is an act of confident hope that things in time to come (we know not when) will be happily resolved.” He reminds us that this doxology “is an act of buoyant and determined hope that refuses to give in to debilitating circumstances.” This advent song and doxology lifts up thanksgiving to God for abundant grace through Christ.

We gather here and worship and remember that like those Old Testament prophets

Those who know me well, know I love to sing. There is something about a melody or tune put with words that can bring you such joy. You ask my family, for me humming a song or whistling a song can be a joyful thing, just as joyful as singing. Preparing for this sermon and focusing on how joy in God’s love for us through Christ is why we sing I have had a certain hymn humming through my head all week. Its hymn #821, “How Can I Keep From Singing”. Because I do not want to embarrass my family, I will spare you from my singing, but even though it is not a song we sing typically during advent, it is an advent song. Originally this text was titled “Always Rejoicing”. Here are some of the verses, “My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations. I hear the clear, though far off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can shake my in most calm while to the Rock I’m clinging. Since Christ the Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing.

Then there is this verse that reflects Isaiah’s imagery of drawing from the wells of salvation, “the peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing! All things are mine since I am his! How can I keep from singing?”

I love Sunday’s like today where we gather and sing and listen to others sing and play music. During the our time of virtual worship we could not sing together, but what a joy it was to hear talented musicians like Dr. Womack and others sing a song of hope. Not until a few weeks ago did we start singing as a congregation, and while it is different singing through a mask, I am so grateful we have moments to sing together the advent songs.

I came across some great reflections on why singing and music is a great gift for us in our faith journey. Rev. Mel Williams a retired pastor and musician who now the coordinator of End Poverty Durham had these powerful reflections on why we sing.

“I’ve reflected often about why singing captures us and won’t let us go. What I’ve concluded is that singing inspires hope. In these times of tumult and strife, where do I find hope? I think that when a poetic text is set to a lovely melody, that combination becomes irresistible and motivational…Singing becomes a spiritual practice: it wakes us up and gives us a surge of life and hope.”

May we join those first messengers of Good News, and sing our own advent songs of joy about God’s faithfulness. May our the songs of our life share the glorious Good News of God’s everlasting love. May our advent songs of joyful praise help wake up the world and give a broken and fearful world a surge of life and hope that God’s love through Christ will never abandon us. Together let’s keep singing our joyful songs of praise! Alleluia Amen!

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