I think for many of us it is hard to picture God as celebrating and dancing and laughing. If you grew up in a tradition like I did, God was always portrayed to be a very serious God. Oh sure, every now and then a preacher would comment that God must have a sense of humor—but we tended to keep God transcendent, distant from us in a very uptight, “no nonsense” way.
At some point in high school, I heard a speaker talk to us about the God who rejoices over us. His point in the talk was just how special we are to God. But what stuck with me the most was the verse he used to drive home that point. The last part of Zephaniah 3:17 says “[God] will rejoice over you with singing” (NIV). The Hebrew word translated “rejoice” is ‘giyl’ which carries the connotation of a circle dance. So in the Hebrew context, the verse is saying that God does a circle dance of joy over us! Wow! To picture the Almighty Creator God dancing over us is both humbling and inspiring.
When I got to college and was part of the M.I.M.E. team, we had a guy on the team who grew up in an even more conservative tradition than I had. In fact, when Mike first saw us, he was very uncertain about the propriety of doing mime during a worship service. After seeing our Christmas piece one Sunday morning he remarked to me that he was amazed to see us worship God with mime. A year later, Mike was a member of our team! But he was still very rigid in his movements and very cautious about showing a God who celebrates.
That same year Steven Curtis Chapman came out with his “Speechless” CD. Thinking it would be funny for mimes to do a piece called “Speechless” we set about putting one together. The song is about us being speechless in wonder and amazement before our wonderful God. The song describes all the various things God has done for us, from making us to saving us and more! One of the lines was pulled from Zephaniah 3:17; “and to know You rejoice over us/ the God of this whole universe/ it’s a story that’s too great for words.”
As Mike, Mary and I struggled to come up with movements to put the words into living pictures, we came back to the circle dance image. Mike was the one portraying God throughout the piece. So when we got to those lines he literally did a small circle dance around Mary and I. The imagery was amazing. And for all the comments we ever got on the piece, I will always think that it was Mike’s reactions that stuck the most. Understanding the context of that verse and enacting it opened him up so much and brought him even closer to the God he loves, worships and serves. A God who celebrates!