He Will Rejoice!
“The 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” (Zephaniah 3:17 ESV). Advent is a time to rejoice and be glad our LORD’s coming. Today is the Sunday of Joy, and here at International Lutheran Church we continue our Advent reflection on the Good Word of the prophets that speak to us of our Savior’s coming. As the prophet Zephaniah shares with us the Good Word of God’s coming and the joy that the LORD our God has over us, we are restored!
Joy is not like the word happy which is dependent on what happens. We can have joy, or we can rejoice, but there is no such thing as un-joy. Joy is something that truly comes to us from the outside and fills us with such exuberance that we are willing to shout! Take, for example, the victory of your favorite team or a national day of historic consequence. These events can leave people, at least for a moment, overjoyed! Zephaniah speaks about that today in our Old Testament reading as he speaks of the fortunes of Israel and Judah being restored. They will want to shout and sing on that day.
Of course, a lot of Zephaniah’s message focused on the other side of things. He didn’t start with a very rosy picture as he was called to declare the happenings awaiting Jerusalem and Judah for all their backtracking. Zephaniah 1:2 says, “will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the Lord.” Zephaniah was called to warn the people of the consequences of their continued rejection of God and His ways. Yet, in chapter 3, he gives us a glimpse into a very different situation – one of unbridled joy. The question of “why?” or “what is different?” is an important one. The single difference is in verse 17: “The 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.” God has “happened.” The One who was and is and is to come, is present even in the words of the prophet. And the good news is that His presence is not a terror, but something unexpected, something not predictable. His presence is good news. His presence is salvation. His presences is joy over us! How can this be? Because He has removed and utterly swept away all that stood between us. The gulf of our sins has been filled to the point that He now rejoices in us! He is the One shouting the victory song and making a loud noise with singing. And this has huge, monumental meaning for you and me.
First, we all face disappointments in life. Like John the Baptist in jail awaiting execution, we start to wonder if any of our hard work and effort has had any impact or meaning. We might have even begun to think that our value and self-worth came from this effort. Then suddenly it is gone. Either by the very things we have done or the stark reality of this broken world, all that we thought would make us happy turns out to disappoint us. And what is hardest is that we can feel all alone, as each person needs to go through their own experience of loss and grief on their own. No one can do it for you. And maybe we are resilient, and sometimes we can see how God may have other plans. But the pain and loss are still very real. This is why Christmas can be a very dark and sad time for us in the midst of all the tinsel and songs about love and joy and peace. We can feel empty – like our hands have no strength, helpless.
These good words of Zephaniah couldn’t be more important for all of us to hear everyday, but especially when we face disappointments or what seem to be setbacks in our lives or careers. Namely that we can rejoice in the LORD who rejoices over us! He does rejoice over us and takes delight in us even as we see our human frailty, or our own "shaking hands.” The book of Hebrews (12:2) says, “for the joy set before Him, He [Jesus] endured the cross scorning its shame.” He was swept away completely that we would become His joy! Our return, our restoration is what God takes joy in! He has done this and is doing it even now.
Zephaniah ends this word with a beautiful picture of how God will gather us to Himself and restore us; literally raising us from death! Jesus tells John the Baptist that this is how he can be assured that Jesus is the One. He truly is in our midst! As we are fast approaching the end of the year and days filled with parties or perhaps more social distancing, we are called today to consider the words of a prophet (Zephaniah 3:16-17) for us today: “Fear not! The Lord is in your midst!”