THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT                             December 16, 2018                                             Zephaniah 3:14-17

14 Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, "Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."

In the name of Jesus Christ, the greatest gift ever given, my dear friends,

We are officially entering gift giving season.  There are classroom, office and family gift exchanges happening already and they will continue past Christmas Day.  In the past have you ever received a gift that really didn’t fit.  Maybe it was a shirt two sizes too big.  Or maybe the gift just didn’t fit who you are.  An embroidery kit is rarely a good fit for a 12-year-old boy who is into all things athletic.  Nor is a Sawzall a good fit a mom who has never used so much as a pliers in her life.  When an ill-fitting gift is received people console themselves saying, “It‘s the thought that counts.”  But an ill-fitting gift is usually a sign not much thought went into the gift in the first place.  One size fits all gifts are rare.  That’s why one of the greatest challenges in gift giving is finding the perfect fit.

This advent we are shifting focus from our gift giving to Jesus’ gift giving.  Unlike us Jesus doesn’t give poor-fitting gifts.  He gives gifts we desperately need that are a perfect match for us all.  For the past two weeks we have explored two of the special gifts Jesus came to give us—Hope and Peace.  Today we will learn of another fitting gift we all need—Joy

Let’s start by listing things that suck the joy out of life.  One of them is suffering the consequences for the evil things we’ve said and done.  There’s no joy in being made to stand in the corner while the rest of the group is playing.  Right kids?  It embarrassing to be reprimanded by your boss for being short-tempered with a customer.  It hurts to pay the fine for driving too fast on the highway.  It’s a doubly sad day when you suffer in this life for your own sins knowing they have earned you greater suffering in the life to come.

Another joy leach is suffering at the hands of others.  The world is full of predators who want to take advantage of us financially, emotionally and physically for their personal gain and pleasure.  Just the other day I received a phone call from someone saying, “We’ve detected a problem with your computer and need you log into our website, so we can correct it for you.”  The only thing they wanted to adjust was my bank account.  A young woman sends a snapchat of herself smiling with her new boyfriend to her ex-boyfriend with the caption: “Never been better.”  Your faithful performance at work earned you a promotion and the not so veiled jealousy of the runner up for the position.  Just coincidentally you find several four-foot-long s-curve scratches made by a key in your car’s paint job that day.  It hurts to be hated and scorned.  It drains the joy out of living.

The prophet Zephaniah was writing to people who had the joy sucked out of their lives for the same reasons.  City judges accepted bribes from plaintiffs and the accused.  The prophets and temple priests didn’t practice what they preached.  Kings and nobles sought direction from pagan superstitions rather than God’s word.  So, God gave them a time out—time living outside Israel’s borders as slaves among people who humiliated and used them.  Their bitter, hard life was well earned.  There’s no joy in such a life.

The LORD recognizes how helpless we are to fix the problems of our own making and to defend ourselves from others.  This is reflected in the terms the Lord uses for his people in our lesson.  He refers to them as daughters not sons—daughter of Zion and daughter of Jerusalem.  We see this even today.  Girls and women tend to go places in groups whether shopping or just to the restroom.  As parents we are more protective of our daughters than our sons.  When I sent my sons off to college, I was concerned about one boy on campus.  After sending my daughter off to college I was concerned about every boy on campus.  By calling us daughter of Zion, God indicates he is aware of our vulnerability to our sin, our guilt and the harassment of others—all things that drain the joy out of our present and future.

 

Here’s the wonderful thing…the LORD not only saw our joyless, fearful existence, he resolved to do something about it.  “The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm… The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.”

Hafthor Bjornsson is the 2018 World Strong Man Champion.  He weighs 397 pounds and deadlifted 1,041 pounds.  If Hafthor was your friend, are there many places you would be afraid to go with him.  We have a companion who could squash Hafthor like a bug.  With a word he called the universe into existence.  With a word he can defend us from any threat, even those of our own making.  The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy.”  Jesus Christ, the eternal and almighty creator of all things wrapped himself in human flesh , was born a baby, grew into a man and deadlifted the sin of the world including our sin off of us.  He took it away by taking it on himself.  He turned back Satan’s accusations and he presently transforms the insults and abuse we endure into blessings.  He has turned back our enemy.

For this reason the Lord says, “Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem!”  While you are living with the fall out from past sins of disrespect that left you home while the rest of the family went to a movie, of the sin of materialism that put you deep in debt, or of promiscuity that left you a single mom or a dad paying child support, look to what the Lord has done.  He has lifted away your eternal punishment.  He will strengthen you to go forward in faith while providing all your needs.  Like he did with Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery, he will transform the sorrow you caused into a happy ending.

Here’s the ultimate happy ending, “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."  There’s a picture here we don’t often see in Scripture but it’s a beautiful one.  The Lord taking delight in us and rejoicing over us with singing.  Typically, we think of ourselves singing to God.  Here God sings to us.  It’s like what happens at your birthday.  Your parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles or children gather around you and they sing “Happy birthday to YOU.”  With that song they are celebrating you!  How does that make you feel?  Loved and special to someone.  While people are holding grudges against you and hating on you, you are special to and loved by God.  Jesus was born so God could celebrate your rebirth into his spiritual kingdom.  Jesus will come again to usher you into his eternal home where you will celebrate God and his love, and he will celebrate you as his child.

Is this gift of celebration and joy a good fit for you?  Is there anyone for whom it’s not a good fit?  This joy is the gift Jesus was born to give you, to me, to the world.  It’s the joy we were reborn to give to others.  God help us cherish it and share it.  Amen.