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Advent 3, Year C–Zephaniah 3:14-20

There is no hope in the book of Zephaniah until the backend. Well, perhaps I should temper my sentence down a bit, as hope is sometimes a subjective thing. It would be more accurate to say there is only judgment in Zephaniah until the last section that begins in 3:9. From there it is all hope all the way to the end. Verses 9-13 are prophecies which speak to the future conversion of other peoples besides the Hebrews.

Our Old Testament reading for the third Sunday of Advent doesn’t begin until verse 14, though. We have to be careful to always take note of the historical situation, because that matters too, but in the themes of Advent we should read these words primarily as prophetic oracles about the Lord Jesus.

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The 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.

Zephaniah 3:15-15

Remember, Zephaniah has been pronouncing judgment–powerful condemnation–and he started with Judah (1:4). But now something has changed. The Lord takes it away. The reader is designed to come to the conclusion this is so because the Lord himself is in our midst, and his presence vanquishes evil.

The Lord doesn’t promise he will remove evil, he just promises that the people will no longer fear it, because the enemies have been cleared away. As a follower of the Lord Jesus, we see “Immanuel” in these lines–God with us who vanquishes the enemy, the only true enemy which is death. Jesus is with us, therefore we have no fear of death. Those dots are not hard to connect.

Let me push farther. It might be a reach. I understand that, so no scolding or judgment. The phrase “Daughter of Zion” is found throughout the Hebrew Bible and is usually understood to mean the Hebrews. What if, though, through the lens of prophecy, we could see the offspring, the daughter of Zion as the bride of Christ. The child of Israel might therefore be the church. The daughter of Zion.

Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 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  3:16B-17

The idea of the Lord quieting us with love is evocative of maternal action. The baby is afraid, so the mother comes into the room and is with the frightened infant. She holds the baby as she laughs and says, “There there, all is well” holding the baby near her chest and the pumping, beating heart. The baby is still jittery, so to nestle her back to sleep she begins to sing a lullaby.

Behold, 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.

Zephaniah 3:20

I am smitten by these words.

  • Save the lame–Jesus heals those who cannot walk.
  • Gather the outcast–Jesus makes a people from those who were not a people.
  • Change their shame into praise–the forgiveness of sins leads into the doxology of worship.

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 . . .

Zephaniah 3:20

Pentecost, the great ingathering day of the harvest festival, when the Holy Spirit brought the nations into one speech (Zephaniah 3:9).

 

 

 

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Advent 1, Year C, Zechariah 14:4-9

In my opinion, there is no more Christological Old Testament book than Zechariah. Word for word, it punches way above its weight. This is especially true in the latter section of text, beginning around Chapter 9. The lectionary reading to start the advent observance doesn’t disappoint. Nestled here in the ‘fly-over country’ of the Bible which most Christ-followers skip are words with deep messianic meaning.

“On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives . . . [it] shall be split in two from east to west.”  Zechariah 14:4

This is probably the idea Jesus is alluding to when he says, rather bluntly, that if we ask for a mountain to be moved in prayer, it will be moved into the sea in Mark 11:24. It should be noted by the interpreter that Mark puts this after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a theme which is prevalent in Zechariah (c/f 9:9)

What specifically interests me about the Zechariah reading is the eschatological emphasis.

“On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost . . . neither day nor night . . . living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem . . . and the Lord will be king over all the earth.” Zechariah 14:6-9

It doesn’t take a brilliant scholar to point out these ideas also emerge in the ending chapters of The Apocalypse.

“The sea was no more . . . behold the dwelling place of God is with man . . . and God himself will be with them as their God . . . To thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payments . . . and I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God . . . and there will be no night there . . . the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding is fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed.” (from Rev. 21:1-6, 22-25, 22:2-3).

There are, then at least three identifiable themes that emanate from Zechariah 14.

  1. One is the literal earth shattering nature of the coming of Messiah. When partnered with Jesus’ prayer words when he is standing in a place where the Mount of Olives could be seen in the distance for Mt. Zion, we see the power of Jesus’ advent in our own spiritual lives.
  2. The second theme is one of newness. Jesus not only made all things new, he makes all things new in a continual manner. Things cannot stay the way they are and also be in the presence of Christ.
  3. The third theme is healing and wholeness. No frost. No night. The Lord’s presence. Jesus is the balm of Gilead for a sick soul, a sick culture, a sick family or a sick church.

Zechariah’s vision of the future is not about when Jesus comes as a nativity event, but when The Day of the Lord Comes and turns upside down the cosmic order the same way he turned upside down the moneychangers tables in the temple. He turns the frost of winter and Christmas into the springtime of Easter. He exchanges winter’s shortened days with summer’s elongated sunshine. He takes us from the desert wanderings to the living waters in his oasis.

 

WHY I LOVE ADVENT

Yesterday our church (www.fbcpo.org) started our annual journey through Advent.  I freely confess Advent is one of my most favorite times of the year.  So often we confuse Advent with the season of Christmas.  The two are designed to be separate.  Advent prepares us spiritually for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter.  Through the years there are five things that I have come to particularly enjoy about the season of Advent.

  • Prophecy—The first Sunday of Advent usually carries a heavy emphasis upon prophecy.  Jesus Christ came the first time, according to Hebrew Bible prophecy, and he will likewise come again.  I like this emphasis because in my usual teaching and preaching ministry I really do not spend much time on the subject because it is never one of those ‘urgent’ issues.  However, the sacred time of Advent brings the issue to my thoughts ever year and I am blessed because of it.
  • Candles—Advent is observed with the lightly of candles.  I love ‘smells and bells’ and am kind of a closet Episcopalian on this particular issue.  Baptists—my particular tribe, are not usually much of a aesthetic group of people but this time of year even the most practical and functional folk will give in to the ritual and beauty of a candle.
  • Scripture—It is impossible to properly observe Advent without a strong dose of Scripture.  Indeed, the whole season revolves around the lectionary.  I am celebrating this year by translating the gospel readings from Luke from Greek into English.  When I finish each week, I may post my translation here on the blog.
  • Focus—Advent’s key job today is to take our mind away from the slavish service to the marketplace and focus us back onto the real emphasis of Christmas.  My perception is that this is why the observance of Advent is making its way into many non-liturgical Protestant and free churches.   It is truly sad to me that our sacred time has been hijacked by people hocking electronic gadgets.  If it were not for Advent and the traditional focus of this time of year; it would likely give up on Christmas and just let the heathens have it.  In the midst of the pagan abuse, Advent keeps me grounded on the gospel.
  • Climax—As a storyteller nothing is as thrilling to me as rising action that culminates in a dazzling climax of action.  This is what Advent does with the Christmas narrative—it provides the rising action.  Without this sense of dramatic unfolding the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day events are a little flat.  It’s like skipping the whole book and just reading the last chapter.  You might know what happened, but you don’t necessarily know why or why it is significant.