Sermon; Series C; 3rd Sunday in Advent

Sermon – Advent 3 – December 16, 2018
Zephaniah 3:14-20 ‘God’s Joy in Your Salvation’
CT: God’s joy over our salvation becomes our joy through life.

Intro: The people of Israel fled Pharaoh’s army, escaping through the Red Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on them like a roaring wild beast bent on tearing as many of them as possible to pieces, but they were saved when the waters closed in on their enemies. They responded by rejoicing in song: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”
This past week I read a news article about a mother in Nova Scotia whose teenage daughter, influenced by a new friend left home. The new friend was a 40 year old woman with three sons! The mother was troubled by the few glimpses she got of her daughter; she even called the police, but was told unless her daughter came forward to say she was being exploited, nothing could be done.
Then her daughter just disappeared until a phone call from the Toronto police said her daughter was there working as a prostitute and had overdosed; she was alive and in the hospital. The daughter’s near death was a blessing in disguise; it brought them back together again and they worked through all that had happened and became a family again. But imagine the joy of a mother receiving her daughter back who was all but lost and gone.
Jesus told a similar story about a son who pushed his father and family away to live life his way, but after losing everything he returned home to find his father still looking for him and with great joy running out to greet him and hold him as his son. “This, my son, was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:24) These are stories of deliverance, restoration, and redemption.

Deliverance: And that’s the message of Zephaniah. In a world that continues to outdo itself in wickedness and finds new ways to brag about it, Zephaniah says: “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the LORD is near.” (Zephaniah 1:7a) Yes, there are ongoing visible consequences for sin, but God’s judgement against our sin will culminate in the great day of the LORD; a day of wrath and punishment. But if Zephaniah was nothing more than a running commentary on the timeless message of mankind’s propensity for evil, then it would simply be a dark unreadable book. But Zephaniah said that the great day of the LORD will also be a day of deliverance and rejoicing. Zephaniah points to Jesus; the reason for joy in the face of the darkness of this world.

Rejoice: Rejoicing is possible because God has taken away the judgement against you and me; He has cleared away your enemies. (He has thrown the horse and rider into the sea!) This is not just a reference to Israel’s ancient enemies, Assyria and Babylon; they met their Waterloo; the Day of the LORD came swiftly upon them. Zephaniah’s words speak to the greater enemies; your enemies; sin, death, and the devil that seek to destroy you, separate you from God by your own participation in the world; your own selfish desires.

Mighty to Save: “The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” These are not idle words; they are tangible and made real—touchable—in the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem. Jesus is God with us; in our midst! The sinless Son of God faced the Day of the LORD in your stead. He took the wrath and punishment your sins deserve into His own body on the cross. Indeed He bore the sins of the world that this very much in the world King Jesus might bestow on you the precious gift of faith, by which Zephaniah’s words of promise become yours. The judgement against you and me has been lifted. You are forgiven and Satan has been cast out of God’s presence because none of his accusations can stick; the blood of Jesus has purified you from all sin. And you have been baptized into Christ; made part of God’s family; given the gift of faith to believe what God has done for you so that evil has no power over you.
Sing aloud! Shout you people of God! Rejoice and exult with all your heart! This is the real story of your deliverance; the love of God that reunites you with your forever family in your forever home. Your joy flows out of the security that God has given you in the most lavish expression of love; His Son. Out of the joy of your redemption, Jesus willingly suffered and died for us that His “joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

God Sings: Zephaniah’s words about the darkness of our sin and its consequences are relevant to every age, but so is the stark contrast of his words from chapter 3. “The LORD your God is in your midst!” is the answer to John the Baptist’s question from prison. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22) The signs are there; God is in your midst. And the signs are here and now. Jesus is present where two or three are gathered in His name, but also physically present here, in the Supper; His Body and His Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
As one of the ladies for the Christian mom’s Bible study put it; “It’s overwhelming to think that God’s first response to my sin is not anger and punishment, but love.” Think of an infant screaming inconsolably and how quickly the child is quietened by a mother’s embrace and reassuring voice: “There, there. I’m here!” So too you, in face of every sin that would accuse you; in the face of every terror of this world, even when death threatens to take away your life, God will quiet you with His love. Your God is near and He is mighty to save! And more; He takes great delight in you; He rejoices over you with singing. (see NIV) God’s joy in your salvation is your joy in living in the certainty of His love for you.

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