By Paul Koch –
I wonder if we can hear it. I wonder if even in this place, in a sanctuary separated out from the rest of our world on this Sunday morning, I wonder if we can really hear it. Do we hear our God, the Creator of all things, do we hear Him singing? And He’s not singing just any old ditty. No, He’s singing a song of joy and love, and He is singing it over his people… Perhaps not. Perhaps to sing over us seems a bit far-fetched. In fact, to confess that we hear it might label us as some sort of fringe fanatical Christians who’ve handled one too many poisonous snakes. God might very well weep over us, He may even laugh from time to time, but sing for joy? That seems a bit much.
In the year 64 AD there was a great fire in the city of Rome. The fire burned uncontrollably for six days and devastated the city. It was widely rumored that Emperor Nero himself set the fire, doing it so that he might rebuild Rome to his liking without having to go through the slow work of the senate. The common saying is “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Perhaps we might even think of our God as a type of madman like Nero. Devastation surrounds us, and there He is detached, away in His palace singing songs while the world burns. I mean who could judge Him if this is the case? Surely He has given His warning. Surely He has offered guidance and instruction to prevent the fire.
If our God is a madman signing for joy at our suffering it would make sense. It’s not a nice thought, but it isn’t unreasonable. But what we find in the pages of Zephaniah’s ancient prophecy is something different, something unreasonable. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” He will quiet you by his love, He will exult over you with loud singing – so can you hear it?
Of course, it is hard to hear with so much other noise going on. It’s hard to hear when there was a successful terrorist attack not much more than a hundred miles away from us. Fear and violence grips our world as we stagger once again before this enemy that despises all that we cherish and love about our country. How can we possibly hear the singing of God when we hear the threats of our enemies and when we see struggles and violence in the cities across our country? How do we hear much of anything except the politicians who jockey for position yelling over one another about how they will ensure the safety, the very way of life, for the American people?
And even when we manage to get away from that noise, even when we are not inundated by the thundering violence of our world, it still isn’t all that easy to hear. After all, just because we don’t get consumed in the worries of the global threat of terrorism or violence between police and citizens in Chicago doesn’t mean we are worry free. No, we move from day to day with our own troubles. This time of year the church phone rings a little more often with people really feeling the pinch of financial instability. So many are living one bad injury or loss of hours at work from homelessness. Though they are trying to be responsible, trying to be faithful stewards, they can’t help but want to give that gift they couldn’t give all year, to provide that token of love, to see that smile on the face of their child. But when they do, the financial pressures come crashing down like a stack of cards. It is hard to hear the singing of God when you don’t know how you are going to pay your bills, when you feel like a prisoner with no hope for escape.
To add to the noise of our lives, the difficulty to hear the singing of our God, we know full well that our troubles don’t end with finances. There are family troubles that can create such noise that we get lost in it all. Strained relationships between parents and children, long held resentments or deafening guilt; it all builds up to make it hard to hear anything else. There are hurts and pains in our lives that we cannot easily silence. Divorce, loss of loved ones, the feeling that we are all alone, that no one is on our side, that they don’t understand, all of this makes it hard to hear.
But still, I wonder, can you hear it? Sure it may be foolish to ask at this point, especially since we have doubts that He is even singing in the first place. Even if we can turn down the volume on the troubles of this world, even if we shut off the news and get outside away from our financial worries, away from our family stresses, even if we gather in the sanctuary of the Lord and really listen, even then it is hard to imagine that He would sing for joy over us. Not that we don’t want him to. It’s just that, well, we don’t look like those worthy of a singing and joyful God. We have lived as if God did not matter and as if we mattered the most. We have not honored our Lord’s name as we should; our worship and prayers have faltered. We have not let His love have its way with us, and so our love for others has failed. There are those whom we have hurt, and those whom we have failed to help. Our thoughts and desires are soiled with sin. Why, then, would our God ever sing for joy over us?
Zephaniah tells us about our singing God at the end of a prophesy of destruction. Judgment comes to Judah, judgment comes to Judah’s enemies, judgment comes to Jerusalem, and judgment comes to the nations. In poetic detail we are told through the words of the prophet why judgment is coming and why the day of the Lord will be a great and terrible day. The wrath of God is pictured as a coming storm without any light. And yet it is here, here in the midst of His judgment upon sin, His condemnation upon a people that have turned from their God that we hear of our God’s singing.
In fact, His singing is a promise of restoration. His singing is not simply a response to the condition of His people. His singing changes them, changes their situation, changes the whole outcome. So the prophet says, “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” The Lord who promises to quiet us with his love, the Lord that promises to exult over His children with loud signing, is a Lord that comes into our midst.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” The Lord who did not abandon Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord that brought the nations back from the brink, the Lord that promised His song of joy, is the Lord who dwells in our midst. As we await the fulfillment of our Lord’s coming, we long for a day when all the other noise is quieted. We pray for an end to the violence, the terrorism, the financial stresses of life, the broken relationships and heartaches. We have a God who rejoices over us in gladness and who sings of His continued joy; for in you He sees His sons and daughters, His saints that He longs to embrace.
But still, can we hear it? Can we hear the signing of our God? Well I think we can, but it is a strange song. It is a song our ears aren’t accustomed to hearing. It is not the song of a madman turning a blind eye to our suffering but the song of a God that sees it all, every sin, every trial, every tear. The song begins as a lullaby spoken in the poring of water saying, “All that is yours is now mine, and all of my righteousness is yours.” We hear it when we gather around a table and God joyfully sings, “Take and eat… take and drink, for these gifts are yours for the forgiveness of all your sin.” And then in the most surprising of ways, we begin to hear the song of God’s joy mingled with the voices and languages of our brothers and sisters. We can hear God sing for joy even now as He proclaims, “I forgive you all of your sins, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Now it may not be a tune we are used to hearing. It may not always as loud and clear as we would like. But His song is here for you, and it is beautiful!