This Advent the themes of the OT prophets have been tracing our path to the coming of the one promised so long ago. Jeremiah pointed to sins judged and justice executed especially in the work of the Messiah and the day of His coming. Malachi also spoke to the coming of the Christ as a day of purification and cleansing. Repentance and preparation have been the order of the days of Advent so far. And they will be right on through it all. But today our focus on the coming of the Messiah shifts to the promise of joy and the hope of salvation this means for God’s suffering people.
Zephaniah served as a prophet of God most high in the time of King Josiah. He told the people of Jerusalem about their crimes: they had failed to listen to God, accept his advice, trust in him or draw near to him. God had destroyed other nations as a warning to Jerusalem, but they had ignored it. So the prophet predicts doom for Judah. Doom for failing to follow God’s ways, and severe judgment on other nations, too. However, in the final chapter (today’s reading) Zephaniah provides a comfort and consolation for those inhabitants of Jerusalem who wait patiently for the Lord and serve God as a community.
19Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord.
Then, as now, there are no lack of enemies for God’s faithful. The devil the world and our own sinful flesh want nothing more than to see us fail and fall. With every passing day the brazen attacks grow, the rhetoric swells, and the will weakens. But, God says to we who are battered and bruised, No matter how hard your enemies press the attack, how much they rage against you, seek to destroy you be confident! The Lord is dealing with it. If only He could do it sooner, we hope. Come Lord Jesus, we pray! But that deliverance will come only after this time of trial we are told.
Thus even in the greatest statements of comfort, he still always hints that the cross will come and foes will oppose, but the power of the Spirit will be at hand. It will strengthen them from being broken by evils, from succumbing to them—in short, from fearing their enemies. You see, satan never ceases attacking the saints. No matter how much they may resist, yet at times weariness and the length of the struggle overcome them, as some of the fathers have said. After all, satan is always tireless; he is always pressing to completion what he has begun. Therefore God adds: Let not your hands grow weak. That is, “Persist! Don’t stop! Persevere, etc.”1
It is not easy living in the midst of a world ruled by the evil one, a world tearing itself apart. But God is your king and He is even now in your midst!
15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. 16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 17The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. 18I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
In your midst, is not just some spiritual or abstract thought. It is directly tied to “in that day” the day of the Lord’s own coming – the incarnation. In other words God in your midst is a literal, concrete, specific, definite and real promise! Really and truly brought to be in Jesus Christ. John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
For the second person of the Holy Trinity literally entered into our history. And the moment He stepped into this mortal coil the time for fear is over. As the angel hosts proclaimed in Luke 2 10 “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. God was born into our midst. God himself fulfilled the age old promise by living and dying in our world. In our midst. He walked our paths, ate our food, experienced all this life and its temptations. And he did it all so that in every place, and with every step, He could defeat the age-old enemies of humanity wherever they are found.
Just because we are no longer bound to fear does not mean that all those enemies are gone It just means they are now powerless in the face of Christ our King. It is just what Jesus told John in prison to comfort him … 22Go and tell John what you have seen and heard : the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. We still get sick, we have doubts, we grieve, we are persecuted and we die. Yet in and through it all there is still peace and hope and even joy. For in Christ – because of Christ – even then we win!
The sense is this: “You will feel joy. You will feel in your conscience that the Lord is kindly disposed toward you, that He surely is a kind Father to you in all things.” You see, the Lord is said to rejoice over us when He causes us to sense His favor. He has expressed the nature of the kingdom of Christ very aptly and emphatically. For thus it happens for the righteous that He allows them to be attacked, to be molested in various ways, and to be troubled by many evils, so that they be conformed to their King.2
14Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! Don’t rebuke yourself anymore. Don’t blame yourself anymore. God Loves you! This is the joy of Advent, not the joy of heaven now, but the joy of walking with our Good Shepherd through this valley of the shadow of death. The joy of never having to fear evil again. The joy of knowing that the rod and staff of our Resurrected King protect us. The joy of knowing that even in the midst of a world that seems to be at war with us, God is even now in your midst. 4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice … 5The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything.
1 Luther, M. (1999, c1975). Vol. 18: Luther’s works, vol. 18 : Minor Prophets I: Hosea-Malachi (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Zep 3:16). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
2 Ibid (Zep 3:17).