A daily reflection drawing from Advent Bible passages – to help us grow as we live out our faith in the everyday moments of life.
Welcome to the Advent Collective, day 14.
I can still remember my first day at university. My parents dropped me off, we unpacked the car, visited some local shops to make sure I’d got enough food, and then the moment came when they had to go and we had to say goodbye.
My mum cried; I played it cool; my dad was really concerned that he’d be able to find the payphone number in my student house so they’d be able to call us when they got back. After they went, I sat in my room and sobbed.
Since going to university aged 19, and latterly with my family, we’ve moved 7 times to different cities, and in some cases, back again. In fact I’ve worked out that I’ve lived in 12 different houses. So sometimes I find myself asking the question: where exactly is home?
At the very beginning of the book of Zephaniah, the prophet talks of the ‘day of the Lord’ and it makes for some pretty stark reading. It talks of a day of judgement, of Israel being held to account for a faithlessness. It talks of God’s covenant being broken. His promises weren’t believed by Israel, and there was a judgement coming, that they would stand before a holy God and give account.
It’s like a prophetic heart cry for Israel to return home to God – not to go her own ways, not to ignore God, but to see that true life, true beauty of life, is to be found in God alone.
Towards the end of the book of Zephaniah, the mood changes. The day of the Lord is talking about celebration and dancing and jubilation – for example, Zephaniah 3:14 says this: “Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O Israel!” Zephaniah is calling on God’s people to declare passionately in song of God’s goodness.
In verse 17 it says “The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save.” It’s like when he rescues Israel from Egypt; this time, he’ll do it again, but through Jesus. God’s people will be able to return home, back to God.
In fact I encourage you to read verses 14 to 20, because they are some of the most intimate, beautiful, loving words in Scripture. For example, it says in verse 17, “he will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” Thats a wonderful image of God’s closeness to us. It’s the perfect image almost of being home in God’s presence.
The whole final chapter of Zephaniah describes a time when we will be able to ask and soak in God’s glorious presence, because God will fulfil his promises, and make it possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In verse 20 it says “I will gather you at that time, I will bring you home”. Some say it points to Israel’s restoration, but most say it points to a picture that the apostle John paints in the book of Revelation.
So, where is home?
The gospel writer Luke captures it like this in the infamous prodigal son story: the story describes the younger brother leaving his family home to go and try to make a new home for himself on his own terms. It represents a picture of humanity trying repeatedly to do the same thing. Ever since we left the Garden of Eden back in Genesis – we read about that earlier, a couple of weeks ago.
It says that the younger son comes to his senses – he runs out of money – and Luke describes a glorious homecoming when the father embraces the lost son. The scripture points out that that’s the true home. That moment when we encounter forgiveness and surrender our lives to God.
That’s why Zephaniah’s final words capture the second of the great Advent themes, Jesus’ second coming – there’s a description of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 21-22.
That perfect home, where there will be no Covid-19. No racism, no injustice – all the things that have dominated 2020 – no persecution. No corruption. No more cancer. The list goes on. The place where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and we will be able to inhabit a resurrection body and live in such a closeness with God because there will be no sin to spoil it.
That’s our home – that’s our future. And like in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, we’re to try and help as many people as we can around us to find their way to Jesus, so they can know that that is, too, their home.
Holy Spirit, will you come right now. We pray the prayer the church has prayed throughout the age: come, Holy Spirit of God. Fill us with life to all its abundance. In Jesus’ name, amen.