Sermon 12.16.18 Advent 3

Zephaniah 3:14-17                                                                                                                                                                 Rev. Kenneth Frey
Advent 3                                                                                                                                                                                                 12/16/18
 
 
Zephaniah 3:14-17  Sing for joy, Daughter Zion; shout loudly, Israel!  Be glad and celebrate with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!  15 The Lord has removed your punishment; he has turned back your enemy. The King of Israel, the Lord, is among you; you need no longer fear harm.  16 On that day it will be said to Jerusalem:  “Do not fear; Zion, do not let your hands grow weak.  17 The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves.  He will rejoice over you with gladness.  He will be quiet in his love.  He will delight in you with singing.”
 
Can you out joy God?
1.  Living in a sinful culture
2.  Look what God has done for you
3.  Look at God’s attitude toward you
4.  How will you respond?
 
How many Christmas hymns, carols and songs do you think there are?  Our hymnal has 35 Christmas hymns and you could probably count some of the Advent hymns in there too.  Wikipedia lists 77 Christmas carols that are unique to the English language but then there are many other languages that have Christmas carols.  So there must be hundreds of Christmas carols.
How many of those Christmas carols talk about joy or rejoicing?  You may think of “Joy to the world” or “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” which has the refrain, “Rejoice! Rejoice!”  Christmas is a time of joy as we celebrate God’s gift to us of his own Son.  Zephaniah’s prophecy that we look at today calls on us to rejoice, but it also gives us some insight into God that is amazing.
I think it is safe to say that Zephaniah is not in the top ten of texts to which you rush in your times of devotional Bible reading.  Lodged between Haggai and Habakkuk – if it were called “Hephania” at least we would have a shot at finding it.  You wouldn’t know it by the text before us today that Zephaniah is one of the gloomiest of the minor prophets in the Old Testament.  It’s only three chapters long and two and a half of those chapters contain a brutal assault against Judah and the nations. 
Some had become complacent, more concerned about staying up with the latest fashions than keeping up with their faith.  Others were mixing idolatry with the worship of the Lord. Still others were blatant idolaters.  They worshipped monsters like Baal and Molech, even practicing the sacrifice of their own children to the idol. 
Things haven’t changed much since the time of Zephaniah.  We see religious apathy.  Attendance at worship is down across the country.  While many call themselves spiritual, few would say they are religious.  God’s Word is treated as irrelevant.  They pick and choose what they will accept from the Bible.  For example, while nearly every American believes in the existence of God, only four in ten choose to believe there is a real devil. 
With Zephaniah, we live in a culture that has no real use for God, a world that displays no longing for the truth, a world that has no desire to run the way of God’s commands, a world clearly under the control of the old evil foe.  With Zephaniah we are called on to announce God’s anger against such apathy and disregard for his truth.  That’s an intimidating prospect, especially when we realize that really we are no better than those around us, just as deserving of the judgment of God. 
When we focus on our own culture and our own sinful lives, we are not going to find much joy.   Advent is a season of joy because it turns us from ourselves to Christ and there we see how much God has done for us.
The Lord has removed your punishment; he has turned back your enemy. The King of Israel, the Lord, is among you; you need no longer fear harm. . . The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves.  He will rejoice over you with gladness.  He will be quiet in his love.  He will delight in you with singing.”  Calm is probably the last word that would characterize these few days before Christmas.  This is especially true for children.  I remember when I was a child – waiting for Christmas seemed to be an eternity.  And the close the holiday came, the more excited I would become.  Sometimes, moms and dad have to tell their thrilled children to settle down to be patient and calm. 
Even for adults, these days before Christmas are anything but calm.  The pressures of deadlines and last minute planning can cause a lot of stress.  Too often the season of Advent is not calm.  Our lives get wrapped up in the chaos of holiday traffic.  Calm?  Not much.
And it’s hard to calm an anxious heart.  If you’ve ever been aroused from sleep by a tender child, and commissioned to fight the monsters and ghouls who dwell in that netherworld of dark bedroom closets or underneath beds, you know just how hard it can be to calm an anxious heart.  As we struggle with a culture of idolatry and apathy, we need calm.  We need joy.  As we struggle with our own sinful nature that cares more about what we get for Christmas than whom Christmas is about, we need calm.   We need joy. 
The Lord has removed your punishment; he has turned back your enemy. The King of Israel, the Lord, is among you; you need no longer fear harm.    The King of Israel, the Lord came among us.  He made his dwelling among us as the Word made flesh, Immanuel, God with us.  He came in a manger to die on a cross. 
We have calm because the Lord has taken away your punishment.  When the Atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, it’s been said that everything in the immediate vicinity was instantly vaporized.  That’s the picture we have in our text.  With the “It is finished” from the cross our sins were completely vaporized.  The King of Israel, the Lord is among you and where he is there is no more sin.  We can be calm in his presence. 
He is still among us.  He comes to us in a very tangible way through the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  He presses himself into our hand and into our mouths that he may live in our hearts.  With the taste of bread and wine Jesus is saying, “I give myself to you.  I give you the heart of my Father who desperately wants you to be in heaven with us forever.  Take and eat.  Take and drink.”  Yes, Look what God has done for you.
But also look at God’s attitude toward you.  The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves.  He will rejoice over you with gladness.  He will be quiet in his love.  He will delight in you with singing.”  Zephaniah repeats the truth that God is with us.  But do you see what God is doing?  He’s not just hanging out with us.  He’s not like a school teacher hovering over our desk to make sure we’re doing our work.  No, God is with us because he takes great delight in us.  He rejoices over us with singing.  God sings!  We have heard that the angels rejoice over a sinner who repents, but Zephaniah tells us that God sings with joy over us. 
More than that.  I chose to use the Christian Standard Bible translation because it’s one of the few translations that doesn’t slide from translation to interpretation here.  Zephaniah said, He will be quiet in his love.  God is so filled with joy over you and he loves you so much, that he is speechless as he sees your faith and Christian lives.  Isn’t that quite a picture that Zephaniah paints for us?  God is so filled with love and joy over you that he is speechless.  Every helpful word, every prayer, every selfless act, every kindness – and God is speechless with love.
What about you?  Do you find that kind of joy in God?  Can you out joy God?   Sing for joy, Daughter Zion; shout loudly, Israel!  Be glad and celebrate with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!   What would Christmas be without music?  The familiar carols on Pandora.  The Christmas specials on TV.  The children’s Christmas Eve service.  Singing carols around the piano at family gatherings.  Christmas without music wouldn’t seem much like Christmas.
Music and joy go together and so through the prophet God invites us to rejoice with singing.  So let’s sing!  Let’s rejoice in the love of God.  Let’s praise him without fear.  Zephaniah told us, On that day it will be said to Jerusalem:  “Do not fear; Zion, do not let your hands grow weak.  God showed his joy in us by giving his Son for us.  Let’s show our joy in him by singing and shouting, living and giving ourselves for him.  The Apostle Paul said it well, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Two lovers are always happy when they are together no matter where they are.  And so Christians, we can never lose our joy because Christ is with us always.  The same Lord who was born in a manger and hung from a cross is with you, rejoicing in your faith, speechless with love.  Can you top that?    Can you out joy God?