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Old Testament Reading: First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20

14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;   shout, O Israel!  Rejoice and exult with all your heart,   O daughter Jerusalem!  15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,   he has turned away your enemies.  The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;   you shall fear disaster no more.  16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:  Do not fear, O Zion;   do not let your hands grow weak.  17The Lord, your God, is in your midst,   a warrior who gives victory;  he will rejoice over you with gladness,   he will renew you in his love;  he will exult over you with loud singing   18as on a day of festival.  I will remove disaster from you,   so that you will not bear reproach for it.  19I will deal with all your oppressors   at that time.  And I will save the lame   and gather the outcast,  and I will change their shame into praise   and renown in all the earth.  20At that time I will bring you home,   at the time when I gather you;  for I will make you renowned and praised   among all the peoples of the earth,  when I restore your fortunes   before your eyes, says the Lord.

As we gather in church next Sunday, we will light the third candle on the Advent wreath, the candle of joy. Looking at the lessons for this week, you can get a glimpse of joy in each one!

The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah speaks God’s word to Israel. The role of the prophet is not one who predicts the future, but rather one who speaks forth the word of God. Zephaniah’s message is good news for the people of God – God is on their side!

Look at the words in today’s lesson and see what God has done and is promising to do. If you read earlier in the book of Zephaniah, you will see that Zephaniah doesn’t hold back in reminding the people of where they have gone astray. It is good news that God not only forgives but also promises to be WITH God’s people.

In that we hear two promises of Advent – forgiveness and presence. John the Baptist is big on the forgiveness front. Jesus is named “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.”

Because of this Zephaniah shares the message – fear not. Do not be afraid. Why? Because God is in your midst.

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, Professor and Elva B. Lovell Chair of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota shared this commentary on the passage on the website “Working Preacher” back in 2009 on this passage (her words helped me in forming my devotion for today):

Perhaps one of the most powerful images… on this Sunday devoted to joy, is the one that depicts God as the one who bursts into song with joy over God’s beloved: “He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival” (3:17-18). Such joy is not subdued; it is not quiet or dignified. The Hebrew words used in verse 17 are used elsewhere in the Bible to describe great jubilation. The LORD rejoices over his beloved, over Judah and Jerusalem, as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride (Isaiah 62:5). As David danced in front of the Ark of the Covenant, in exultation, so God rejoices over God’s people (2 Samuel 6). As the morning stars sang at the creation of the world, so God sings with elation over God’s beloved (Job 38:7)...

This Sunday, we speak of joy, the joy of a people redeemed and restored, but also the joy of a God who is deeply invested in the life of the world. God sings. God shouts. God rejoices. And we, we who are wondrously and inexplicably God’s beloved, join in the celebration.

What a wonderful image. As we prepare for our Christmas celebrations, let us not only get ready for our family and friends to gather with us in worship and celebration. There is one more guest who will be present, joining in the celebration of great joy. God is with us. God sings. God shouts. God rejoices.

Sing the song of joy. For unto us a Savior is Born. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

Let us pray:

Good and gracious God, We rejoice in the Good News you give us through Jesus, your Son and our Savior. May our fear be overcome with joy, and our darkness overcome by Your Light. We pray this in name of Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen

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