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Dec 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 13, 2015 – Zephaniah 3:14-17; Luke 3:10-18

Third Sunday of Advent
A Song of Joy

Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O Israel! 
Rejoice and exult with all you heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away His judgments against you,
He has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
You will fear disaster no more.
In that day it will be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not be afraid, O Zion;
Do not let your hands fall limp.
The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
Zephaniah 3:14-17

And the crowds were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.”
And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.”
Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.”Luke 3:10-18

Intro: The verses from Zephaniah belong to the traditional cycle of Advent readings

What was Zephaniah’s ministry and message?
– the nation of Judah had been misled by two corrupt and violent kings
• the whole society, top to bottom, was in desperate need of reform
• their current king, Josiah, was only eight years old when he began his reign
– the word God gave Zephaniah was for the king, judges, priests, prophets and people
• God’s discipline had been harsh–and could be even harsher
◦ but if they were ready to return, he was ready to receive and restore them
• Zephaniah advised and encouraged both king and people to seek the LORD

An interesting feature of Zephaniah’s short book is the way it is organized
– Mary Douglas refers to it as “ring composition”
• a literary form that was characteristic of many ancient writings
• the end of the story (poem, etc.) comes back around to the beginning
◦ a distinct theme that occurs in the opening is repeated at the end
◦ in complex rings, everything matches up, from start to middle and middle to end:

1 – 2 – 3–3 – 2 – 1ring composition

• frequently, this form places the key theme in the middle

[This is just for those of you who read these notes from my Sunday talks] The main headings of David Dorsey’s analysis of the literary structure of Zephaniah are as follows:
coming judgment upon the wicked of Jerusalem (1:2-6)
coming judgment of corrupt leaders (1:7-13)
Yahweh’s judgment of all the nations (1:14-18)
CENTER: call to repentance (2:1-3)
c’ Yahweh’s judgment of all the nations (2:4-15)
b’ coming judgment of corrupt political leaders (3:1-7)
a’ coming restoration of Jerusalem and its fortunes (3:8-20)
(The Literary Structure of the Old Testament, Baker, 1999, p. 313)

– the book begins and ends with a series of “I will” statements (made by God)
• only in the beginning, they are all negative and at the end they are all positive
• several other details strengthen this connection between beginning and end
◦ e.g., the same Hebrew word used in the first sentences recurs in the last sentences
(translated remove in 1:2-3, but translated gather in 3:18-20)

We’re fortunate to land in the book’s pleasant meadow
– the passage above is an invitation to rejoice for what is on the horizon
• how does this fit the Advent theme?
• we are reminded to approach Christmas with joyful preparation

This is not first time I’ve come to a topic I have no business addressing

Forty-two years ago, I settled into scripture to prepare a sermon on our love for God
– all at once, it seemed that God spoke to me, gently but clearly:
“You don’t love Me, you know”
• I did not reply, but immediately and quietly chose another topic to talk about
• later on I had to come back and face a bitter truth
◦ wondering, “Well what am I doing in ministry?” I realized, I loved to teach
◦ the inner conflict this raised eventually resulted in an important change in me
– I am not a joyful person – I lived through too many years of depression
• although I am now out of that, despair has left its impress on me
• I cannot pretend to be knowledgeable on this subject
◦ but like everyone else, I have felt joy
• so I will share the little I know and what I’ve learned from scripture and others

Advent teaches us to greet Christmas with songs of joy

For instance: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come”
– we share the joy of the shepherds who heard from angels

Do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people (Lk. 2:10)

• the good news is message Zephaniah was given,

The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst

◦ and just in case they did not get it first time, he repeats,

The LORD your God is in your midst

• “midst” – does not merely with or among, but in the very center
◦ God enters the heart of the community
◦ and God himself is their source of joy

In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Ps. 16:11)
O send out Your light and your truth, let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your dwelling places.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy . . . (Ps. 43:3-4)
(And regarding Jesus, Peter said,) though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Pe. 1:8)

Matthew explained that Jesus would fulfill the “Emmanuel” prophecy (Isa. 7:14)
– and for the benefit of those of us who do not know Hebrew, Matthew adds:

which translated means, “God with us.” (Mt. 1:22-23)

• this would be a permanent condition, a defining reality
– now we know why this is coupled with the reading from Luke
• John the Baptist assigned specific “Advent preparations” to specific groups
◦ in his instructions we see that a living faith is an embodied faith
◦ the apostle James, in his own rough way said,

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (Jas. 2:26)

• in our western world we still don’t get it, that the spirit and body are one
◦ the truth is, we have no spiritual life apart from our bodies

The beauty of this passage is that God is the One rejoicing

Not only rejoicing, but shouting – practically dancing
– v. 17, the Hebrew word translated “exult” means to spin around (intense emotion)
• the big insight: our joy is an echo of God’s joy

Jesus: These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (Jn. 15:11)

In Letters to Malcom: Chiefly On Prayer, C. S. Lewis, explained to his friend

“I know that my tendency to use images like play and dance for the highest things is a stumbling block to you. . . . You feel it a brutal mockery of every martyr and every slave that a world process which is so desperately serious to the actors should, at whatever celestial apex, be seen in terms of frivolities. . . . But I think you don’t see the real point.
“I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this ‘valley of tears’ . . . certain qualities that mst belong to the celestial condition have not chance to get through . . . except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous. . . . No, Malcolm. It is only in our ‘hours-off’, only in our moments of permitted festivity that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. . . . But in this world everything is turned upside down. . . . Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

– God embodies his joy by sharing it with us, his flesh and blood children

A few of my own observations regarding joy

  1. Joy engages the heart
    – humor engages the head, pleasure engages the body
    – happiness engages the head and body
    • but joy is primarily of the heart
  2. Joy arises spontaneously
    – it is a byproduct, an effect – it is “the fruit of Spirit . . .” (Gal. 5:22)
    • we cannot produce joy or work it up
    • but we can be in places where its more likely to happen
    – we will have greater joy if we let Christmas happen than if we try to control what happens
  3. The cause of joy is almost always outside of you
    – the response is internal, but not the event that evokes it
  4. Joy often occurs in nature
    – or what is natural in a society, a city or the modern family
    • when one of my grandchildren voluntarily wraps an arm around my neck it doesn’t matter where I am or what else may be going on — I have joy
  5. Joy occurs more often in giving than receiving
    – an exception: when what is received is love
    • when what the other person gives is something of her self or his self
    • this is the joy of receiving Jesus, who gives himself to us

C. S. Lewis made a short list of things that can block joy:

  1. inattention
  2. the wrong kind of attention
  3. greed
  4. conceit (as in refusing to recognize joy or respond to it)

I believe that it is because we know so little joy, we grasp at diversions
– amusements, entertainment, fleeting pleasures
• and these addictions of ours diminish the experience of joy — and of love

Conc: In scripture, God’s work never ends in court

It never ends with a verdict, a sentence, a judgment or condemnation
– his work may pass through a courtroom, but that is not its destination

This week, listen for your song of joy–and give yourself few seconds to feel it
– sing your joy, celebrate your joy, share your joy

And the ransomed of the LORD will return
And come with joyful shouting to Zion,
With everlasting joy upon their heads.
They will find gladness and joy,
And sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isa. 35:10)

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