Advent 3, 2012
“In the midst of this world’s tragedies…Rejoice!”
Zephaniah 3:14-20 & Philippians 4:4-7 & Luke 7:18-28
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 ESV) “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” (Zephaniah 3:14 ESV)
Rejoice? How? How can we as a people…a nation…a church rejoice in the midst of tragedy? The Saturday morning headlines in the Chicago Tribune brought somberness to the Christmas mood: 10 shot, including 4 teens, Friday afternoon/night in Chicago; Police kill gunman in Alabama Hospital; 2 dead in murder-suicide in Las Vegas; 26 children and adults massacred in Connecticut Elementary School. Rejoice? Rejoice for what?
How do we rejoice with the news of young children and teachers murdered? How do we rejoice in the face of hearing that children were led out of a school with their eyes closed so that they didn’t see the horribleness of murder and death? How do we rejoice as families looking forward to Christmas now mourn and bury their loved ones killed in a senseless act of violence? How do we rejoice in the midst of an evil world rocked by sin? It’s more than just one horrible act of murder…it is the daily acts of murder, rape, stealing, adultery, lying, coveting…and all the other acts of sin that surround us, hound us, and plague our daily lives. How do we rejoice with all of this?
The prophet Zephaniah lived during a time when the nation of Israel was very wicked. God used the prophet Zephaniah to proclaim God’s wrath for their sinfulness. God would give his people one last chance to repent…but they rejected Zephaniah and God’s Word. The people wouldn’t tolerate any news of God’s anger or wrath. These wicked people believed that God would never leave them or forsake them…regardless of their rejection and wickedness. In the midst of all of Zephaniah’s prophecies about death and condemnation…is the wonderful news that after the nation of Israel is destroyed…God would have mercy on the few who remained faithful. Zephaniah proclaimed to a people that were told that their young and old would be killed; that those that survived would be made slaves in a foreign land…“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” (Zephaniah 3:14 ESV) They too would have questioned…“rejoice? Rejoice for what?”
What many at the time of Israel’s Babylonian captivity might wonder about the true God…is asked by John the Baptist in our Gospel lesson. “And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:18-19 ESV) This same question is re-echoed today by those suffering from the tragedy of the massacre in Connecticut…and elsewhere where sin is rampant…“Is Jesus the one to come, or shall we seek another?” (Luke 7:19 ESV)
When tragedy strikes…many question God. When the world is in pain we ask if Jesus is really the Christ. When we hurt and suffer we question if God loves us…or is present…or knows what is going on. Is Jesus truly God…and if He is…why does He allow this to happen? The answer is in God’s Word.
“In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:21-23 ESV)
John the Baptist had questions about Jesus. Jesus just wasn’t living up to the hype. He wasn’t acting like the Judge whom John had foretold the Messiah to be. John sends his disciples to find out if Jesus is the Savior. Jesus’ actions provide the answer…actions foretold by the prophet Isaiah… “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:22-23 ESV)
Jesus actions showed John, his disciples, and all people who He really was: the Messiah; the Christ; the Savior; the Son of God. But what is God doing now? Where is God during the midst of our tragedies? Where is God when we need Him? Where can we turn to see God’s actions in our own lives that we may be comforted…and just possibly…rejoice?
Once again…God’s Word hold’s our answer. Be comforted by the words of Zephaniah: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” (Zephaniah 3:14-15)
Our comfort and joy found in the midst of heartache is Christ our Lord. “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV) The truth of God’s Word brings us comfort and joy. This comfort and joy is found in the birth of Jesus; the birth of the Savior. Christ Jesus was born for each and every one of the victims in Connecticut. Christ Jesus was born for each and every one of us. Christ Jesus was born for those that commit heinous acts…for Christ was born for sinners…that he may take the sin of the world upon His shoulders to the cross. No, God does not promise a world free from sin... God does not promise that all the evil of this world will suddenly be taken away... God promises the end of all these things when we are home in heaven.
May each of you who suffer from the heartache of this world…have comfort…and rejoice in the birth of Jesus. For Christ was born to save sinners through His death. He was born for you. He died for you. He was raised by the Father for you. Rejoice…for although you suffer the sting of heartache in this world…the sting of sin and death itself…you have been promised the gift of eternal life in heaven… where God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV) Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.