Advent 3 · Zephaniah 3:14-20 · December 13, 2009

By Gerhard Bode

Throughout the Church Year the church rejoices in the gracious coming of Christ to itself in the Word of God and in the sacraments. Yet during the season of Advent the church applies the teaching of God’s Word in a unique way as it also prepares for the commemoration of our Lord’s first coming in human flesh and at the same time anticipates Christ’s future Advent in glory. In the Old Testament reading for the First Sunday in Advent, the prophet Zephaniah foretells what “The King of Israel, the Lord” will accomplish for his people when he comes among them. The text presents a message that highlights the central themes of Advent and may serve as a guide for the watchful and joyous preparation of the season.

Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640/39-609 B.C.) and foretold God’s judgment not only of Judah and Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, but also God’s judgment of all nations of the earth. Judah’s problem, of course, was sin, in particular, idolatry with all its attending sinful practices. Zephaniah warned of God’s coming judgment, called upon the people to repent of their sins, and proclaimed God’s promise of salvation and restoration.

In chapter one, Zephaniah prophesies the coming of “The Great Day of the Lord,” the dies irae when he will punish Judah for its faithlessness. Yet Zephaniah also exhorts the people to turn from their sins before the day of the Lord’s wrath comes. They are to seek the Lord in humility and search out his righteousness. The nations too will have their day, and in chapter two Zephaniah details the coming judgment and destruction of the Gentile peoples surrounding Judah.

In the third chapter, Zephaniah repeats God’s judgment upon Jerusalem because of its rebellion (3:1-8), clearly stating God’s intention of pouring out his wrath. Yet God’s dreadful judgment will also purify them so that in repentance they may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him (3:9). The great day of the Lord’s judgment of sinners thus is also the great day of the Lord’s redemption for those who seek him and his righteousness. The call to rejoice focuses on the Lord as King (3:15) in whom are united righteous majesty and loving mercy. The Lord is the Judge who takes away the judgments against his people and clears out their enemies sent as punishment to them. The Lord is the King of Israel in their midst who justifies them so that they will never again fear evil (3:15).

Key to God’s announcement of coming redemption is his personal coming as King among his people and dwelling in their midst (3:15, 17; cf. also Ez 37:26-27). He comes to the Daughter of Zion, to Israel, to the Daughter of Jerusalem (3:14). These titles refer to the people of Jerusalem and Judah, but also to the church at large, and all are called upon to sing, shout, and rejoice in the Lord’s coming (3:14; cf. Zec 9:9). He comes with decisive intention to save his people and give them the blessings of his restoration. Zephaniah here looks ahead to the Messianic work of Christ (the true “Immanuel”) who comes among his people to redeem them from their sins. The Lord exercises his royal authority and power to bring victory and peace to his faithful servants and to renew and comfort them in his love. When the Lord is in the midst of his people he is there to bring help, to aid them, to save them (cf. Ps 46:4—5; Jer 32:36-38). He comes to remove the sin and guilt of those who are fearful because of their sin and guilt. He comes to save those who are captive to the enemies of sin and death. He comes to love those who in their sinfulness are unlovable and unloving. When the Lord is in the midst of his people, he will be their God and they will be his people (c£ Rv 21:3).

Zephaniah’s prophecy—God’s promise of coming to be in the midst of his people as a mighty Savior—has been fulfilled and is yet to be fulfilled. In the Old Testament, God was in the midst of his people when he entered the tabernacle and temple. Yet in the New Testament, God sent his Messiah, Jesus Christ, in human flesh to dwell in their midst. God’s judgment of human sin (and of the sinful and rebellious nation) and God’s forgiveness of humans are accomplished by Christ’s death on the cross. Christ, the Lord, the true King of Israel, won salvation for his own people, but also those peoples scattered across the globe. This prophecy is fulfilled in the church of Christ, extending throughout the world. And yet, he has promised to return in the flesh to the world, to be in the midst of all nations to judge and to deliver his people.

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