The Third Sunday in Advent at Hope, Jerseyville
“Rejoice and Exult”
Sermon Text: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Gaudete!Rejoice! Exult! “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 [Christ].” Blessed are you, dear brothers and sisters, for Christ, the Lord your God, the King of Israel is in your midst! The salvation of God which has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world is yours this very day! Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates, prepare to open for the King of glory waits, the Savior of the world is here, open wide and welcome Him in! Lift up your heads, ye mighty Christians, and look no farther for the one who was prophesied long ago is here. His body is here, His blood is here,His Word is here for you to make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth and to restore your fortunes before your eyes! So…
REJOICE IN THE LORD’S RESTORATION
(I. The church and Christianity isn’t what it once was.)
(II. The Lord comes to restore His Church.)
We truly do have any and every reason for complete and utter rejoicing without restraint because of what God has done, continues to do, and promises for us in the future. Our future, the future of God’s Church, and what it can and will be should be one of the most exciting and joyful parts about being a Christian.
Yet so often when we look at the present and future state of this church, we are not flooded with joy, excitement, and rejoicing, but doom, gloom, and despair.We remember the way the church used to be over thirty years ago that A-frame church with the pews packed full and needing to add more chairs in the aisles just to make sure everyone has a seat. Or maybe not thirty years ago, but even ten or so years ago, when we had closer to 115 people every Sunday rather than the 75 we have now. It seems as though the church has only and will only ever decline, and all we are doing now is kicking people out rather than bringing people in. And most of the people that we do have are nearer to the tomb than the womb, and we could be just one or two hard years away from having the attendance that we do have cut in half. This church just ain’t what it used to be.
And the world ain’t what it used to be either. It used to be that the world stopped on Sunday. That people weren’t working and so busy, but that Sunday was the day for church. And even Wednesday nights were acknowledged as a sacred time by the world where nothing was scheduled so that kids and parents could go to midweek services or classes. Now, neither Wednesdays nor Sundays are sacred, but they are just like any other day of the week.
And what’s worse than that, is where it used to be an acceptable, even a good thing to be a Christian, as though in order to live a moral life, and be a good person, a good employer, and a good employee, you had to be a Christian, now,we are mocked. Our morals and standards are condemned by the world as ancient and out-dated, even oppressive and hurtful turning us into the enemy.
So in a world where we are the enemy, where no one is allowed to have a holy,Sabbath, day, but is only allowed to serve one master, and that is them, and as the church ages and seems to decline, how can we say that we are joyful and excited about the future of the Church? How do we rejoice in the Lord’s restoration and exult with happiness? How do we remain hopeful about a church when every influence and factor around us seems to point to continuing the downward spiral?
We rejoice not in the signs that the world gives to us, but in the ones that God gives to us. We exult not in the way the world treats us and looks at us, but in the way that God does. We do not fear and get anxious over the way things look like they are going and we do not trust in what the world and our sinful,pessimistic nature says is going to happen to us, but we fear, love and trust in God above all things.
The book of Zephaniah records the Lord’s universal judgment and even the condemnation and downfall of Judah and Jerusalem, but it ends with the reading we have today. It ends with rejoicing and exultation. It ends with restoration.That is the final word for Zion, for the Lord’s Church: you have been and will be restored.
So take heart, O sons and daughters of Zion. Rejoice and exult, O children of Jerusalem for the Lord your God, the King of Israel is in your midst. The Word is coming to become flesh and dwell among us. Christmas is coming and it is here and has already come. The Word is flesh for you today. Jesus is crucified and risen from the dead for you today. Today, you are forgiven.
Your doubts, your fears, your pessimism, and believing that God cannot make this church great once more and restore it to what it once was are forgiven. Your time that you could not spare, your schedule that is filled with other commitments, and your calendar that is smothered by the demands of the world is wiped clean. You have been restored to a right standing with God and returned to His good graces. “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you… The Lord your God is in your midst.”
He is here. His body, His blood, and His Word are here. And that same Word, that same Promise, that same God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who has restored you will restore His Church. We have every reason to put our faith in the church as the place where God is, His Sacraments are administered, and His saving Word is preached. The gates of hell cannot prevail over these mighty works and wonders of God. God’s Church will be restored. She will be a place of renown and praise and her fortunes will be restored before your eyes. God’s Church does and will always live, no matter what the world says or looks like.
Now,I cannot tell you if that restoration, renown, and praise will occur in this lifetime or the next, but I can assure you, because God assures us, that it will happen. His Word will remain forever. He will remain with us, in our midst to the very end of the age and it is in that fact and that sure and certain promise that we put our fear, love and trust. So, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, OIsrael! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!”You have been restored and God’s Church will be raised up once again. Gaudete!In the Name of Jesus. Amen.