The theme of all of our readings this morning can be summarized in the first song of Isaiah, the phrase, "I will trust and not be afraid." In the face of the horrible tragedy that happened in Connecticut a few days ago, this is difficult to do. How can we trust in God and not be afraid? When evil like this happens, we focus on it and try to solve it as if God was nowhere to be found. We demand God get out of our lives, our country, and then we demand to know where God is when the tragedy happens.
We try to rationalize things in our minds. I talked with a woman who said, "God wanted a bouquet of children, and so he called them home." Not only was this rationalization disturbing, but it is also biblically wrong. Our God is not Zeus. In addition to the rationalizations, we come up with worthless solutions that will never succeed, because we've lost focus on the creator. Without God, the fear of evil is all we have. It's our only motivator. It's tangible. We can see the evil happen, and the solutions we provide can be seen, too. All of this politicizing and posturing helps us to keep forgetting about God and to keep him far away from the solution.
Fear of evil and death are unhealthy fears. The only healthy fear is fear of God himself. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and without that healthy fear, we are running around in circles. How do we restore the healthy fear of God and put our unhealthy fears of evil and death back in the proper places?
I think the solution lies in a small phrase in Zephaniah 3:17. The phrase in the NRSV reads, "he will renew you in his love." The actual translation directly from the Hebrew is closer to "He rests in His love." Notice that there is no "you" in there. There's another man-o-centric change we made to the text. What we are talking about is that God rests in his own love.
When we think about the phrase this way, it changes the meaning of "love" for us. For us, love always means something that we bestow on each other. I give you my love. You give me your love. God gives us His love. The implication is, though, that the love can be taken away, too. I will take away my love. I know people who grew up loved by their parents but in fear that the same love would be taken away at any minute. We use the clause, "in love," but we still think of something given and taken away.
Love is not like that, but even as adults, we can't get our minds around what love really is. We cannot stop thinking of it as an object that can be given and taken away at will. But here, in this little phrase, "He rests in His love," we have a different view of love. God is that of which no greater thing can be thought. We cannot conceive of anything bigger than God, and when we do, we must go one bigger to get to God. Think of the universe, now go one bigger and that's God. God is the largest thing in existence. Now, read the phrase again: "He rests in His love." Do you see it? God's love is even bigger than God is! We know from the first letter of John that God is love, but in this phrase from Zephaniah, we can see the love of God extending in all directions in space and time, from BEFORE the creation of anything to eternity. God's love is so vast that we cannot help but find ourselves immersed in it. Remember, He created us and He sustains us. We are immersed in his love at all times.
Now, these bursts of evil and death, the things we fear as mortals, these things are not vast and expansive like the love that God himself rests in. Evil and death are staccato. They are little bits of debris that drop into the sea of God's love and distract us from reality. In our natural states we seek out these bits of evil and death and we cling to them like flotation devices. The problem is that we are in advent, and God will scoop those bits of debris out of the water with a big pool net at the judgment day. We do not want to be clinging to these pieces of debris. We want to let go and float off into the vast sea of God's love.
Let us pray that God will pry our fingers from these broken pieces of evil and death. As is says in our Philippians passage, "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." God, grant us the peace which surpasses all understanding. Let us rest in your love with you. Deliver us from evil. Let us trust in you and not be afraid.