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This week my denominational worship office suggests focusing on the Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) text for preaching. Generally speaking, it’s the Gospel text that gets center stage and the minor prophet Zephaniah makes for a curious choice indeed. If you have the time, read the chapter (or two) that immediately precedes this one, which offers much-needed background.
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; 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. –Zephaniah 3:14-20 NRSV
It would appear that Zephaniah is all about redemption and forgiveness (sort of a Mr. Feel-Good bringing warm and fuzzy thoughts), which is exactly why I suggested you read the preceding chapter or two of this small book. Let’s just say those chapters are filled with some pretty strong (some might say “fiery”) judgment. Clearly, Zephaniah’s intended audience had strayed from Yahweh’s preferred path. All appeared to be doom and gloom and certain destruction–at least that’s probably how it appeared to this prophet initially. But God was up to something.
Here’s a little known or at least rarely appreciated fact: Check out one line in particular in the middle of this passage–“[the Lord] will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.” This is the only place in the entire Bible where God sings. And so what is it that causes God to break out in joyful song? God’s people turning away from their wicked ways to experience forgiveness and redemption!
That one thought is worth at least a moment or two of serious pondering as we continue our Advent journey toward Christmas, don’t you think?
- Thursday: December 13 (prayerscapes.wordpress.com)
- The Word Of Advent 3: 12/16/12 (graceblog.wordpress.com)
- Annunciation Story in Luke 1: 26-27 (shalommysticwind.wordpress.com)
- Zephaniah 1,2,3; Acts 24 (66books.wordpress.com)
- Antiochus’s Epiphany (connecthook.wordpress.com)
- Advent 3: Year C (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)