“And now watch with amazement as, before your very eyes…” and then a woman is sawed in half, or a rabbit is pulled out of a hat, or a needle passes through a balloon.
“Before your very eyes” is the dramatic way of saying “while you are watching,” which is what makes its usage in the Hebrew bible passage for this upcoming Sunday both powerful and confusing.
“I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes…” (Zephaniah 3:18b-20)
Could you imagine a more exhaustive catalogue of promises? Disaster removed. Oppression ended. Salvation for the sick. Homes for the homeless. Honor for the dishonored. Something for everyone. But when? God’s message is one future tense after another. “I will” stacked upon “I will,” and then the conclusion, “before your eyes.” While you are watching.
The church’s new year, the season of Advent, establishes the framework in which the entire year – our entire lives – is set: in the tension between the already and the not yet. For those who are awake, whose heads are lifted up, the signs are all around us that God is active in the world saving, freeing, healing, housing, and honoring the human condition.
But our satisfaction is incomplete. We also see members of our community wrestling with the distance between the good cheer of the season and their own deep sadness. We know that families in our neighborhood and around the world are greiving the loss of children, parents, friends. Even the beauty of the first snowfall is tarnished by the presence of those who stand in the brutal cold, hoping for a handout at the stoplights around the city, reminding us of poverty during a season of spending.
In the interim, in the gap between what is and what is becoming, we need hope. Hope in face of reality is more than parlor tricks, it is a form of trust that enlists us in the transformation of the world. It is the kind of magic that allows the world and everyone in it to change before our very eyes.