Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! 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.
On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
“I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you. At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the LORD. (Zephaniah 3:14-20)
The burden of the book of Zephaniah was a warning to the people of Judah and Jerusalem to repent, for the Lord was about to allow judgment to fall on them because of their wickedness. Historically, this occurred when Jerusalem was captured and the people were carried off to Babylon. But then, in the last half of the last chapter, there is a word of hope and restoration. God would remove their “punishment” and “turn back” their enemies. Benton’s translation of the Septuagint (an ancient Greek version of the Old Testament) says, “The Lord has taken away thine iniquities, he has ransomed thee from the hand of thine enemies.”
This was a prophecy about the return of Judah from Babylonian captivity. Yet it was never quite fulfilled, for though the Jews were able to return to Jerusalem, they were never free from foreign rule and in that sense were still in exile. But the New Testament teaches us to read this now in regard to Messiah, because all the law and the prophets, Jesus said, are about him. And, indeed, that is how the early Church understood them.
Especially at Advent, then, we read this passage theologically, as fulfilled in the coming of Messiah. For he has taken away our iniquities, which distanced us from God. In him we have forgiveness of sins and through him we are reconciled to God. He has also delivered us from the enemy of our souls. Paul puts it this way in the New Testament: God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
In Jesus the Messiah, we now have exuberant celebration: “Sing, shout aloud, be glad and rejoice.” But that translation doesn’t quite capture the enthusiasm of the Hebrew text. More like: wild singing, ear-splitting shouts of triumph, exhilaration and jumping for joy. For Jesus has delivered us from the oppressor — he has disarmed the “principalities and powers,” destroyed the works of the devil and broken the power of death. He “rescues the lame” so that we may walk straight and sure. He gathers us from our exile and replaces our shame with honor.
God joins in the celebration, too, taking “great delight” and “rejoicing” over us with “singing.” Again, the NIV seems too tame here. Rather, God exults over us with exhilaration and dancing, whirling and twirling over us in boisterous song. For he is gathering his sons and daughters and bringing them home. He is like the father of the prodigal, with unbridled joy at the return of his son:
Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. (Luke 15:22-24)As we draw near the Christmas season, let your heart be open to God’s wild, exuberant joy over you.
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles
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