Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament, which was read earlier.
Are you depressed, feeling blue, stressed out or frustrated? Those are not words we use to describe a joyful time such as Christmas, yet some people feel this way at this time of year. Part of it comes from unrealistic expectations. Part of it comes from a misunderstanding of what this season is all about. Part of it comes from cramming too much activity into too little time.
Still, we come to church and hear God calling us to rejoice and be glad. That’s easy for Him to say! He’s up there in heaven, where everything’s safe and bright, unhurried, unhassled. Let Him come down here and see how it feels in this world. Then we’ll see who’s rejoicing and celebrating!
As we see in our text this morning, the prophet Zephaniah gives us God’s answer: God did come down here and God does celebrate and because of that, we can surely celebrate because the Lord came here and celebrates over us.
Today is the Third Sunday in Advent, what in Latin is called Gaudete, which means, “rejoice.” And that is what we do today and always, rejoice! But it would seem we have many reasons not to rejoice. We have sinned, and that is definitely not a reason to celebrate and rejoice. The people of Zephaniah’s time stood under the threat of judgment for their sinful rebellion. He begins this chapter by saying to the people, “Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD; she does not draw near to her God.” Zephaniah warns Jerusalem of God’s wrath and calls her to repent, that same warning we have received.
Heeding Zephaniah’s warning, we realize our own sinfulness and our ongoing failure to live up to the standards of God’s holy expectations. We are reminded of Jesus’ words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That is something we cannot be and so we are reminded that we are much like God’s rebellious people of old, able to do nothing to save ourselves.
We live in a sin-stained and sin-infested world, a fact that is not worth rejoicing over. Because of sin, we suffer physically, mentally, and spiritually. We face the effects of sin in the form of death, a death that manifests itself both physically and spiritually. We fight daily against evil. All one has to do is look at the world around them and see that Satan is still alive and well seeking to destroy God’s kingdom. There is no worth in rejoicing because all we are left to rejoice in is our sin.
God came here and causes us to celebrate. God does not treat us as our sins deserve. Rather, He cares for us as His own. Zephaniah writes, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” God calls the Israelites the “daughter of Zion” and “daughter of Jerusalem.” They are the dear ones to Him, for they are His beloved children. That trickles down the ages to us as well. We are the beloved children of God, and for that reason, we are able to rejoice and be glad.
The reason why is because He came here and took away the judgment against our sins. In love, God came in the flesh in the birth of His Son to live among us, to live “in your midst” to save us from sin and death. That happened as Christ grew in stature of man and became our sacrifice upon the cross. And for that fact, we are forgiven all our sins, and that fact alone is cause for us to rejoice this day and always.
Zephaniah makes a point that Jerusalem failed to understand because of their limited thinking: “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies.” Jerusalem was surround by enemies throughout her history, and because of that, they did not think that what Zephaniah declared was true. How has God cleared away Jerusalem’s enemies if they continued to attack Jerusalem time and time again? But what Zephaniah speaks of is beyond the temporal world. God defeats our enemies of sin, death, and the devil through the gift that He gives through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus knows our world’s enemies because He has been there and fought against them on our behalf. Therefore, we need fear no evil that would befall us because Christ has proven to be the Victor once and for all, causing us to rejoice.
Everything that Zephaniah writes of in our text is fulfilled in Christ, for Christ is the cause for us to rejoice. He gathers us unto Himself through His Word and Sacraments to forgive you your sins. He takes away all that keeps us separated from God and unites us to God the way God had intended from the beginning. That assurance is made for us by God through the words of His servant Zephaniah: “At 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.”
This is what the long-promised Messiah has done for us. He has gathered us unto Himself by the blood He pours out upon Calvary’s cross. He has gathered us unto Himself in the saving act of His death and resurrection.
We rejoice now for what Christ has come to do, just as we rejoice for what Christ has already done for us. We celebrate in anticipation of what we know is ours, a life that transcends this veil of tears in which we live in and grants to us a new life, a life united with Christ that grants forgiveness of sins and unites us to our heavenly Father once again.
What God promised through the prophet Zephaniah has been made ours. It is not something that requires our doing, but rather requires God to do all the work, and He does through Jesus.
He has come to do what Zephaniah and all the prophets of old foretold: be the Savior that God has promised. He has come to do for us what we could not do. He comes to forgive and make new what was once destroyed. He causes us to rejoice in all that He has done, just as today is meant to be: Gaudete, that is, rejoice. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.