Imagine getting a letter signed by the Queen, the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, The President of the Assembly of the Uniting Church, the Moderator and, for good measure, the captain of the Australian Cricket team. The letter lists all the things you’ve done wrong in your life and highlights the penalty you need to pay to make it right. Such a letter listing the amount of dollars you’ve been fined or the time you’ll spend in prison will put a serious crimp on your day. Then imagine the next paragraph saying that all your transgressions have been cancelled. You’d want to celebrate wouldn’t you? Then imagine that all the signatories of the letter turned up to celebrate with you. (OK maybe that’s not your ideal guest list for a party!)
It’s that sort of scenario that our reading from Zephaniah covers today. Zephaniah is writing to the people of Judah, telling them that because of all the things they’ve done wrong, they’ll have to pay a heavy price. Understandably they will fear the day that God turns up as it will mean they have to face their sentence. But then Zephaniah reveals that God has cancelled their sentence and when God turns up among them, God will join in with their celebration. God shares their joy as people living together, freed from sin, was God’s plan all along.
If you meet anyone who tells you they’ve never done anything wrong, brace yourself; you’ve met Jesus. For the rest of us, we’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t, we all carry the burden of this with us. We know that there is justice in the kingdom of God and so we know we all have to pay a penalty for what we have done. So, to be told that it’s all cancelled is a real reason for joy. God promised Judah through Zephaniah that their sins were forgiven, and this was a reason to celebrate. God promises us through Jesus that our sins are forgiven, and this is our reason to celebrate. The birth of Jesus shows us God is serious about us finding our joy. We look forward to the day when God is fully with us, celebrating alongside us, because this was God’s plan all along.