Summary: God is not controlling as Satan would have us believe. He's with us to protect us and in fact sings over us. That's reason for us to rejoice!
How many Christmas hymns, carols, and songs are there? Do you have any idea? Our hymnal has 35 Christmas hymns while Wikipedia lists 77 Christmas carols that are unique to the English language. But it’s not just English speakers who celebrate Christmas. Germans, Norwegians, Ukrainians, Spaniards, the people of Africa and Asia and many other nationalities all have carols of their own. The total number of Christmas songs must be in the hundreds maybe even thousands, though it doesn’t seem as if anyone has bothered to count.
We may not know how many Christmas songs there are, but we each know which our favorites are. Hopefully we’ll sing your favorites over the Christmas season here in church. But even if we don’t, even if this turns out to be the worst Christmas ever because you don’t get the presents you want, or because you get sick, or because you can’t spend Christmas with the family like you usually do, even then you still have good reason to rejoice and lift your voice in praise. That’s what our final Tweet from Heaven and this last sermon on the Old Testament book of Zephaniah teaches us this morning.
In order to fully appreciate this last section of Zephaniah, we need to do a quick review of this Old Testament book. You’ll remember that Zephaniah was a prophet who worked during the time of good king Josiah. Although Josiah was intent on serving the Lord, many of his people were not. In the first chapter of Zephaniah, God thundered against those who praised him one minute, but then the next minute were worshipping false gods. Others had become complacent in their faith. They had become more concerned about staying up with the latest fashions and fads than keeping up with their faith. God was not going to stand idly by as these things happened. He said through Zephaniah: “I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth” (Zephaniah 1:17).
Do you ever feel like God overreacts? When he said, “Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth” (Zephaniah 1:17b), doesn’t he sound like a professional wrestler who is screaming into the microphone about what he intends to do to his opponent when they step into the ring together? But no one thinks that professional wrestlers are serious. It’s all part of the act. It’s a theatrical ranting to keep you from switching channels. But God was not being overly dramatic. He was telling the people of Jerusalem about the punishment that really awaited them if they did not turn from their sins. And this is the kind of eternal punishment that awaits all those who relegate the one true God to a back room in their life.
But if your daughter had a boyfriend like that, one who seemed so controlling, wouldn’t you advise her to get out of that relationship? That’s how Satan wants us to view our relationship with God. But that wasn’t the way Zephaniah saw the situation at all. Listen to how he began our text for today. “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” (Zephaniah 3:14, 15).
The reason God wanted to keep his people close to him is because he was their only defense against sin and death. When a father walks through the mall with a child, he will firmly grip that child’s hand – not because he enjoys exercising control and authority over the child, but because the child is a precious treasure that he doesn’t want to lose in the crowd. That’s how Zephaniah wanted the Israelites to see their God. Being close to him was a good thing. It meant that they had every reason to rejoice because with him at their side they were safe from all of their enemies.
Zephaniah promised the Israelites: “The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you” (Zephaniah 3:15b). Is the King of Israel with us today too? Oh, he’s in the house alright. In fact he comes to us in a tangible way through the bread and wine of Holy Communion this morning. And it’s a good thing he does because otherwise it would be so easy to miss Jesus. We came to church to meet with Jesus and yet when the opening hymn began, a hymn which called for us to think about Jesus, was our mind still on last night’s movie? When the Scripture readings were shared, words of life written by men of the Spirit, words of love spoken by Jesus himself, did we let ourselves be distracted as we studied the shirt pattern of the person sitting in front us? Right now you are dutifully looking up at the preacher, but a moment ago were you actually looking right through him into this week’s schedule of events? From the beginning of the service until now Jesus has waved for our attention but our attention has wavered. All is not lost, however! Our King will not be put off so easily and so he comes to us through the Sacrament of Holy Communion. He presses himself into our hands and into our mouths that he may live in our hearts. With the taste of bread and wine Jesus is saying, “You can’t miss me anymore, friend. I am here and I give to you my body and blood. I give to you the heart of my Father who desperately wants you to be in heaven with us forever. Take and eat. Take and drink.” (adapted from R. Z. Meyer)