The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 12, 2021
Five years ago, a couple in love, Jeff and Rebecca Payne, had the wedding of their dreams. They reveled in the ceremony at church but they also looked forward to the reception afterward at a ballroom 20-minutes away down Ohio state route 35. They especially relished the prospect of having there their first dance together as husband and wife. So, as soon as the post-ceremony photoshoot ended, they happily hopped into the car to drive to the venue.
That quick drive, however, turned into a long stop when they got stuck in a traffic jam that clamped down scores of cars in gridlock. After sitting there an hour, most people had noticed Rebecca in her white wedding dress and Jeff in his tux. One person asked the newlyweds what they’d be doing if they weren’t trapped in traffic. When Jeff told them, a bystander suggested that they go ahead and have their first dance right there on the road. The couple jumped at the chance to waste no more time and start enjoying the party before they got to it. So they walked hand in hand into an open space between parked cars and put their arms around each other’s waist to begin their dance. Someone asked them to hold a second, inquired as to what they’d planned to dance to, found “their song” on Spotify, and broadcast it from his phone.
They danced with such gladness of heart that others got caught up in their defiant joy. Many grabbed a partner; and a dance party erupted on that asphalt ballroom floor. Though Jeff and Rebecca still had to exercise patience, they didn’t have to wait to enter the joy of their celebration. Their road dance gave them a foretaste of their reception dance, which gave them a foretaste of their “happily-ever-after” life together, which gave them a foretaste of their forever life together when, as members of the bride of Christ, they’d rejoice at the party of eternity.
Might God want us to learn from Jeff and Rebecca and like them grab gladness from God’s grace even in traffic jams or other frustrations of our plans, even in hard disappointment? Surely we who walk with God always have both something wonderful to enjoy now and something wonderful to anticipate, two different but potent gifts for uplifting our hearts before we get to the full celebration! St. Teresa of Avila was right to exuberantly exclaim, “All the way to heaven can be a little like heaven itself!”
[By the way, for those curious about the rest of the couple’s story: Soon Jeff’s dad showed up from the other side of the road, the couple leapt over the guardrail to get into his car, and they made their grand entrance into the ballroom, to raucous shouts of jubilation.]
Today’s scripture is taken from the ninth and final sermon recorded in the book of Zephaniah. The prophet’s full, formal name was Zephaniah ben Cushi, “Zephaniah” meaning in Hebrew “God protects” and “ben Cushi” meaning “son of Africa”. Speaking for God in the 6th century B.C., Zephaniah delivered the message that the troubles which had befallen the Israelites had ended and thus they should now “sing aloud” and “shout”, “rejoice and exult” with all their heart. For the Lord had “taken away the judgments against” them, would give them “victory” over their enemies and, best of all, would be with them to “renew” them in His love. Twice here Zephaniah declared the same happy truth word for word: “The Lord, your God, is in your midst.”
If God is in our midst and we are walking through life with Him, He gives us countless reasons to rejoice: peace in our minds, love in our hearts, power in our souls, and exhilarating meaning and purpose to our days. Furthermore, this gift-giving God becomes in Himself our chief reason to rejoice. For, as we continue to experience His companionship and generosity, we discover that this God, in whom we rejoice, rejoices in us “with gladness”, Zephaniah says. God “exults” over us “with loud singing”. He gets a kick out of us; He delights in us!
Moreover, this God who rejoices in us rejoices in our rejoicing over His gifts, and His rejoicing in our rejoicing intensifies our rejoicing. Think of a child opening a present from a beloved aunt and uncle, and being thrilled by it – but being all the more thrilled by it because it came from them and he sees how thrilled they are that he’s thrilled. Or think of two lovers sharing a good meal – and rejoicing all at once in the food, the other’s enjoying of it and the other’s just being there.
For us who have more revelations from God than the folks in Zephaniah’s day and who thus can develop a hope in heaven they could not, there’s an additional catalyst for the intensifying of our rejoicing in God’s gifts. It is this: Every blessing on earth suggests an even greater blessing in heaven! When we relish delicious food, it reminds us of the finer fare we will feast on in heaven; when we behold a gorgeous sunset, we experience it as a foretaste of the still higher beauty of the new heaven and earth to come; when we feel the sweet presence of the Lord in worship or private prayer, we get an inkling of what it will be like to see Him face to face.
It’s an awesome joy to realize that, no matter how good things may be now, the best is yet to come. That realization helps us to enjoy the party of heaven before we get there! Let us exult both in the gifts of the present and, by the anticipation of faith, in those of the future!