What are we to make of the words of the prophet Zephaniah in light of the history of our nation? At this time of Advent, what can we do? Zephaniah says that when we learn to trust God, change and purify our lips, and call upon the name of the Lord, God will remove the proud braggarts from our midst. In 1890, Mary Lease called for the removal of such people who deceived the public when she said, “our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags.” Now in 2011, young people are calling for the same reforms with new language. We can call for reforms, but have we taken refuge in the Lord? Zephaniah spoke of the day when we will take refuge in the Lord and no longer speak with deceitful tongues. I don’t think we can get rid of deceit without taking refuge in the Lord.
In my reflection of the timeless prophecy of Zephaniah, historical speeches in American history, and the news reports of our own times, I see a common theme. When injustices become oppressive, people speak out, but not always as the voice of God. Mary Lease was considered more of an agitator than a practical politician. Those who participate in the “Occupy Wall Street Movement” are also labeled as agitators. As Christians, we should not fear that label. We have a higher calling. We are called to trust the Lord as agents of change in speaking truth to power and injustices. But we do need to humble ourselves and identify with the lowly when we do this. We need to be examples of truth when calling others to stop speaking lies and correct what needs to be changed. That means our religious institutions need to be more intentional in identifying with the poor, the distressed, and the brokenhearted.
I have no political perspective to share on these issues. What I offer is my own faith reflection on our times. As was the case with the time of the birth of Christ, we live in a time of tyranny. It is a time in which many of the rich are proud braggarts who refuse to hear the voice of the poor. Nor will they accept any correction to the system that furthers the gap between them. These words are not my words, but the words of Zephaniah and they seem a good fit for our times. During this time of Advent, I trust in the good news that “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” And I pray that we will all respond to the call to go to work in the vineyard to rescue them.
I am reminded of a particularly powerful song at this time, written by Stephen Foster in 1856. You can find links to it performed by popular artists Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Mary Black, and Bruce Springsteen on u-tube. Two other performance sites by Nanci Griffith and Mavis Staples show photos of the American poor throughout its history. Mark Twain said, ‘history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Here is one such rhyme that is being performed at fund-raising concerts all over the country. I cite the words here for more reflection:
Hard Times Come Again No More
Let us pause in life’s pleasures, and think about its tears,
As we seek mirth and beauty, and music light and gay,
There’s a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
It’s a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
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