Zep 3:1-2, 9-13; Ps 34:2-3, 6-7, 17-18, 19, 23; Mt 21:28-32
Praise is never threatening. It is the bringing out into the open the genuine cry of the heart that is full of gratitude and delight. We bless the LORD at every moment; His praise is ever in our mouths. When the lowly, the depressed, the cynical, hear us they are not always glad. Sometimes they are envious. Sometimes they are critical. Sometimes they are doubtful. Whatever the reaction of those around us—we cannot not rejoice. How can we hold back the radiant joy that leaps forth from a heart that has been broken and a spirit that has been crushed? Indeed, we have been lowly, depressed, and sometimes even cynical. In the midst of such distress we have humbly approached the only one who cares for the poor. The Lord of Comfort for the poor has heard our cry, our silent sobs, our painful pleas. Indeed, he has redeemed the lives of his servants; no one who takes refuge in him incurs guilt. One of our Advent Prophets reveals the judgment of the LORD on those who rub salt into the wounds of his people; they shall no longer oppress his beloved poor. The words of the prophets are fulfilled in the ministry of the Lord Jesus who offers himself as the friend of sinners. We who confess our sin are lifted up in the rejoicing of all who already glimpse his Advent.
The Prophet Zephaniah speaks the word of woe to the city, rebellious and polluted, to the tyrannical city. His once holy city hears not his voice of woe or correction. She has not trusted the words of the prophets; she does not draw near to God in humble repentance. So the LORD changes the hearts and purifies the lips of all the peoples. Those who did not know his covenant have come to know his Name. They readily call upon the LORD and they serve him with great accord. The foreigners and the unclean are welcome to bring gifts and make offerings at the altar of the LORD of Hosts. No longer are they burdened with guilt; no longer are they ashamed of their sins. All who exalt themselves upon the mountain of the LORD are removed; the rebellious and the braggarts in his Holy City are removed. Indeed, the LORD embraces the humble and the poor. All those who take refuge in his mercy become a remnant of Israel. These do no wrong and speak no lies; their mouths speak only the truth of God’s faithfulness and kindness. These lowly and humble ones shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them. Such is the Advent Vision of the Prophet Zephaniah. This Word of the LORD gives us a reason to hope and rejoice as we await the coming feast of the Birth of Christ.
Saint Matthew gives us a vision of the fulfillment of the Old Testament Prophets. The Lord Jesus confronts the chief priests and elders of the people. He offers them a parable that catches them up in the mystery of his compassion that reveals the Father’s love and tender mercy. These guardians of public morality and ritual purity are caught up in the story of the two sons. The son who is willing to change his mind and do his father’s will is obviously the obedient son, even if at first he rebelled against his father’s will. Such a change of heart is not part of the expectation of the chief priests and the elders. All they have for rebellious sons is condemnation and isolation. Even the preaching of the most recent prophet, John the Baptist, does not break open the hearts of the self-righteous. They did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did believe John. Even when the leaders saw such repentance they still did not learn the ways of tender mercy. Now, the Lord Jesus offers them another opportunity. Now, they can become like the first son. During this season of Advent, the liturgy makes this invitation available to us. Now we have the opportunity of a lifetime. The tender love and severe mercy of Christ summons us rebellious and hard-hearted sons and daughters to repentance and renewal. The words of woe of Zephaniah and of John give way to the good news of grace and forgiveness. Even the most rebellious among us, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are welcome home. All are welcome to the table of transforming love. All are welcome to become a new creation in this year’s celebration of the birth of Mercy Incarnate, the birth of our Savior Jesus the Christ. This year’s celebration of Christmas can be for us the birth for which we have longed all our lives.