First Sunday of Advent: Soon Enough
Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.” —The prophet Zephaniah (3:14-17)
“Well, it can’t come soon enough for me!” —Miss Shirley, 2017
Miss Shirley has been a part of our racially and socioeconomically diverse faith community for three years now.
In that time she’s lived the rollercoaster of her trauma openly before us. She didn’t choose to do this. As a pastor-friend of mine likes to say, “some of us have more funds to cover our dysfunction.” Shirley doesn’t have enough funds to insure her daily survival, let alone to hide her broken heart.
Seventy-three-year-old Shirley walks this road of subsistence with a severely emotionally disabled, forty-year-old daughter. Recently, our congregation supported Shirley as she made the heart-wrenching decision to commit her only child to an institution, for the safety of all involved. We sat and listened to her regret and heartache and many days of waffling indecision.
One Sunday morning after the hard decision about her daughter’s future had become reality, Shirley sat next to me during the sermon. The preacher on this Sunday explained the nature of God’s Kingdom and the truth that it’s both here and still coming, still being revealed. We hold on to the promise that God’s Kingdom will come in its fullness, the preacher explained, noting that our complete healing is a part of that promise.
“Well, it can’t come soon enough for me,” Shirley whispered from the seat next to me.
Her closed eyes and slumped shoulders hid the fact that she was actually listening. Her expressed desire for relief—and for her daughter’s healing—sooner than later told me that she had actually “heard.”
The passage from Zephaniah 3 describes the world Miss Shirley, and the rest of us, are waiting to see. Some of us march in the street in hopes of seeing this world made true. Some of us hunker down with our ideologies or our belongings, thinking that somehow, defending our corner of the world is the only way to get a taste of what is promised to us in Zephaniah. Like Miss Shirley, some of us travel, clothed in our grief, unsure if this coming Kingdom will ever arrive.
Into the limitations of our experience and imagination, the prophet Zephaniah describes God as the judge who has forgiven us, the warrior who fights for us, and the king who sings over us in joy. Long days of waiting and even times of grief are a part of the journey of those who trust in the coming fullness of God’s Kingdom. We struggle to live faithfully in a world that doesn’t acknowledge the renewal that’s slowly wending its way through all of creation. In Jesus, we both hear and see this Kingdom becoming reality.
After the service that Sunday, Miss Shirley joined us for lunch like she always does. Congregants made it a point to check in with her, to listen, even to laugh with her. The relief Shirley is looking for hasn’t come in all of its fullness yet, but every Sunday she gets a little taste of the life promised in Zephaniah.
The losses in her life have been great, but God the warrior has sent her a church family united in Jesus.
This taste of the Kingdom life has given Miss Shirley an anticipation that she’s willing to share with others. A few weeks after the service where I understood that she had “heard,” she came to me concerned that a woman that she’d met on the street hadn’t shown up at the church yet. “I told her she should meet me here. I really told her, but she’s not here,” she explained with the concern of a mother waiting for a daughter to come home.
Shirley believes in the truth of God’s Kingdom mercy because of what she’s experienced among the people of the King. In receiving this gift, she lives and breathes the message that we’ve all been given to share:
Come with me. Relief is coming; healing is coming. Honestly, it can’t come soon enough for me. But it’s definitely coming. So you should come too.
Leeann Shaw Younger is Pastor of Cityview Covenant Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She served as CCO campus ministry staff from 1989-93, at Ashland University and Geneva College.