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"Rejoice Sunday!" Advent 3C

December 16, 2012

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Third Sunday in Advent                                  Trinity Lutheran Church

16 December 2012                                         Murdock, NE

 

+Jesu Juva +

 

Zephaniah 3:14-18

 

The horrific, appalling murders in Connecticut! The murder and suicide by the Kansas City Chief football player.  And that same week at Casper College in Wyoming, where I went to junior college and where my brother teaches math, more senseless mayhem and murder. The sense of sadness and loss is immense. 

 

The season of Advent this year is overshadowed by enormous pain and anguish.   The grief.  The pain.  The despair and depression.  It is so heavy! 

 

This time of year is also quite hard for the widowed and divorced.  It is exceedingly difficult for those who grieve the loss of dear loved ones.  It is challenging for those who are alone, estranged from their parents or siblings or who live far apart from family and dear friends. Call the pains or anxieties “ghosts” from the past like in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol because that’s what they are!  Ghosts that haunt!  That disturb and trouble us!

 

Then there are the everyday stressors and fears such as:  Will the children come home for Christmas?  Will they even call?    Will I be able to stay in my marriage?  Will I be able to rebuild a broken relationship?  Can I get through the holiday break without having a knock down drag out fight with my beloved?  Can I stay at my job anymore?  Will this surgery and treatment heal me?  Will I be able to pay all the bills once Christmas is over? 

 

No wonder that many dig in and hibernate around this time every year.  They go MIA from Thanksgiving and all the way through the twelve days of Christmas!

 

Thank the Lord then for today!  It is Gaudate Sunday!  Gaudate:  Latin for “rejoice.”  Rejoice Sunday!  That’s why the candle on the advent wreath is rose or pink instead of blue or purple.  In this little season of somber Advent repentance the apostle Paul exhorts us to “rejoice in the Lord always.”  And in case you didn’t hear him the first time he goes on:  “Again, I say it, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be evident to all.”  Why?  “Because the Lord is near,” he says.

 

So too the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah!  Did you know there was even such a prophet in the Bible?  He speaks to Israel of Old and to us the New Israel that now is the time for song:  “Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all you heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem.”  Why?  Because “The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back you enemy.”  And more:  “The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.” 

 

Eternal joy!  Not just holiday cheer!  Rejoicing anchored in the outstanding love of God for His people and for you.  Joy hooked with the eternal Word, Jesus, taking on your flesh, bearing all your sin and all its damnation in His Body on the cross so that you are forgiven and have eternal life.  Rejoicing – fruit of the faith in Jesus that Holy Spirit gives.

 

Brothers and sisters:  “Be glad and rejoice … [for] the LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.” 

 

That King, of course, is Jesus!  The Christmas Baby Jesus!  He is indeed the reason for this season!  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us!”  This is cause for great joy!  For rejoicing!

 

But when the prophet Zephaniah preached this sermon a long time ago, Israel’s days were filled with anything but joy.  A Gaudate Sunday?  Not even on their radar screens!

 

Why?  Because Israel was in deep trouble!  She refused to hear God’s Word!  She refused to trust God’s promises.  She whored after false gods!  Depended on false promises!  Prophet after prophet that the Lord sent to preach was mocked, shunned, persecuted and even put to death.  As a result of her mistrust and idolatry, Israel’s national security, her entire existence, was in question.  In jeopardy! 

 

Bitter enemies from the north amassed their troops along the border!  God, it appeared, was going to allow Israel’s enemies to march right into the heart of the country, destroy Jerusalem the capital, and deport the Israelites into exile!

 

Zephaniah preached about it.  You can read about it in chapter two.  “The great day of the LORD is near – near and coming quickly … That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, darkness and gloom, clouds and blackness,” (2:14-15).  Zephaniah’s name even says everything about the times in which he lived.  Zephaniah in Hebrew means:  “Yahweh is hidden.”  Indeed!  That’s exactly the way it looked!  The Lord appeared to be MIA as the invading armies gathered at the northern border!

 

But this is how the Lord works.  He forecasts doom and destruction for those who are stiff-necked and stubborn.  But He also proclaims forgiveness, hope and salvation for the troubled.  The Lord chastens, but He also heals.  The Lord kills but He also raises the dead.  He brings the arrogant down low but He also raises up the humbled.  Law.  Gospel.  The proper distinction!   

 

He indeed did send Israel into exile.  The armies came.  Israel was taken to a land not her own because of her idolatry.

 

However, the Lord brought Israel back from exile.  Back home!  With tremendous rejoicing and singing!  He is full of mercy and love!  His forgiveness is greater than Israel’s sin! 

 

And that’s really the heart of Christianity!  The Lord has more forgiveness than you’ve got sin!  This is cause for a Gaudate Sunday today! 

 

“The Lord has taken away your punishment.  He has turned back your enemy.”

 

How?  Through Jesus!  Jesus did battle with your enemies:  the devil, death, and sin!

 

The old evil foe brought sin, death and destruction into this world and your life.  He tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to trust him and not God.  As is God was lying to them!  Holding out on them!  Keeping them down!  “You shall be as god,” the devil hissed.  He tempts us in the same way!  “You can’t trust God or His Word.  He’s a liar.  Be god for yourself!  Take charge of your life!  Leave God out of it!” 

 

And so Jesus comes, tempted in every way as you are in His flesh, but who never sins.  Doing this in your place!  To crush the head of the serpent!  To defeat the devil at his own game by dying and rising from the dead!

 

Jesus has turned back your enemy, sin.  He did it by wearing your flesh and blood perfectly, without sinning.  And yet He came to destroy sin!  How?  He absorbed it and bore it in His own Body on the cross.  All your sin was nailed to that tree in the Body of Jesus!  And it was all damned there in, with, and under the crucified Christ’s flesh!  Not in you!

 

Jesus has turned back another of your enemies.  Not the Scythian and Babylonian armed forces that Israel feared.  Not even the totalitarians, terrorists and anarchists that threaten us today!  But the big enemy:  Death!  No greater enemy than death!  Just talk to those who’ve witnessed it first hand in the loss of a spouse or loved one.

 

Death is not your friend!  Death is not a power that is to be welcomed, sought, or legalized by a vote or court ruling as some kind of selfish right!  Seriously!  You don’t want it!  Death is your vicious enemy!  It is the very curse of your sin!  The paycheck that your sin has earned! 

 

But Jesus is death’s death!  Death’s Conqueror!  In His dying and rising.  He gives you His death defeating death for your life!  Eternal life!  “Never again will you fear any harm.”    

 

Why?  Because “The Lord your God is with you.  He is mighty to save.”  No absentee landlord God with Jesus!  Intimately with you.  To be FOR YOU!  With everything that He is and everything that He has!  A Holy Communion!  In the womb of the Virgin.  In the manger.  On the cross.  In the water of your Baptism.  In the preached Word of forgiveness.  In the Supper of His Body and Blood.  God King Jesus FOR YOU!  SAVIOR!

 

So I will say it again:  Rejoice!  The Lord is near.  He is here for you!  As your Savior!  Your enemies are defeated!  You are saved!    

 

Happy Gaudate Sunday!

 

In the Name of Jesus.     

 

  

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