Zephaniah 3:14 – December 13, 2015
Doom and gloom! “You brood of vipers!” and “Flee from the wrath to come!” Exactly what John the Baptist has been saying to the people of Israel for some time! And what about in this little, tiny book of the prophet Zephaniah? That is pretty much what he has been saying in the first two chapters, as well.
Why was Zephaniah so upset? In a commentary by Anne Stewart, she says “The oracles in the majority of the book announce cosmic destruction as divine judgment for the sins of [the nation of] Israel and, specifically, the priesthood. With vivid and at times disturbing language, the prophet envisions the arrival of the Day of the Lord, the time in which God will act to restore justice and to bring judgment on faithless, sinful nations.” 
But, what do we find in the third chapter of Zephaniah? A sudden turn-around. The people are told to rejoice! Not only rejoice, but rejoice with all of our hearts!
What gives here? What if God barged right into the middle of St. Luke’s Church, right here this Sunday morning? What if God came right into the middle of our daily lives with this message of rejoicing? What would happen then?
This is what Zephaniah says: “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away your punishment, God has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.”
Before, life was bad. Awful! Doom and gloom! Horrible stuff! Yes, we were sinful. Yes, we were far away from God. Just as Zephaniah said—just as John the Baptist said—the people here on earth have fallen away from God and have been disobedient. God proclaimed judgment on everyone, for sure!
But, what now? Great question!
One of my commentaries tells us: “Imagine Zechariah and the people of God celebrating, with God there in their very midst. All are singing and dancing in the streets, and God is singing loudest of all. There is rejoicing because the people have been forgiven. They were imprisoned in sin, but all are forgiven and their sentence is commuted. God is their salvation and is coming into their midst to save them.”
This isn’t just a pause in the storm of judgment, but instead a get-out-of-jail-free card. We all—that is, you, me, everyone—are freed from sin, permanently. Did you hear? God is our salvation! That not only is Good News. That is absolutely Great News!
The prophet Zephaniah tells the people to rejoice. The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally “Rejoicing Sunday.” Our third Advent candle lets us know we can rejoice. Several of our Scripture lessons for today tell us to remember to give thanks for God’s great gifts to us.
Our commentary tells us that Zephaniah speaks in past, present, and future tenses. In terms of the present, the right now—Jesus Christ is in our midst. He is here with us, right now, of that we can be sure. What about the future? The prophet also lets us know about Christ’s coming again, in the second coming. There will be a time still to come when we will have our final homecoming with God, the greatest celebration of all.
What about the past? Zephaniah’s words are fulfilled in the coming of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem. That will be what we celebrate a week from Friday, on Christmas Day. We can see that Jesus “does not watch from a distance, but enters into the life of the world. This God enters even into human flesh, in the mystery and wonder of the Incarnation.” 
This third Sunday in Advent, we speak of joy. We look forward to joy coming into the world. We speak of the joy of a people redeemed and restored! And, God responds. As our reading from Zephaniah tells us, God sings. God shouts. God rejoices! Alleluia!
We will sing all four verses of “Joy to the World” in just a minute. That’s # 125 in our hymnals. But before we sing the carol, I would like everyone to follow along in the hymn books as I point out these opening lines as follows, verse by verse:
Why can we sing “Joy to the World” right now?
- No matter how bad things might be at the moment, “The Lord is come”, i.e. God is with us.
- The Savior, not any old king or mean dictator or nasty bully is in charge, is in charge of the world. (Who is the savior? Jesus is!)
- Given that, we don’t have to get upset or snowed under in our sorrows or caught up in all the bad stuff that happens.
- And, like all good last verses, this last verse is the summary. We can rejoice and sing “Joy to the World!” because God rules the world with truth and grace.