Monday, December 10, 2018

The Song of the Redeemed

We don't spend a whole lot of time with the short book of Zephaniah, but on the 3rd Sunday of Advent we encounter the song of joy at the end of the book.  In Zephaniah 3:14-20 there is only rejoicing.  It is as though all the exhortations in weeks prior during the season of Advent have met with good success, and now God's people are ready to celebrate.  This text gives us reason only to celebrate; how will we do that?

(The following questions have been developed to ponder some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, specifically around the function of the Word.  To learn more about this unique genre of preaching, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This text is purely about what God has done, what God is doing, and what God is about to do.  It is a gospel word from beginning to end.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Any Law that is present in Zephaniah is left behind; it is not present here.  The first two chapters are filled with Law, but here there is none.  If the preacher wishes to begin with the Law, perhaps the earlier part of the book can be brought into play.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are the daughters of Zion, the people of God who are exhorted to shout aloud because of the redemption of our God.  We are those who receive the word, "Do not fear."  We are those who are promised that we will be brought home.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  There are only a few imperatives in this text and they are essentially two ideas:  rejoice and do not fear.  That's it.  The Lord is the subject of every other verb.  In so far as rejoicing (i.e. worshipping) is part of our life with God we are called to that, but there is little in this text that calls us to live in a certain way in response to God's work in our life.

5.  Exegetical work:  In a classic commentary George Adam Smith calls these verses "a hopeful, peaceful epilogue."  (The Book of the Twelve Prophets, p. 72)  He sees it as quite apart from the rest of the book, but does not wish to go along with those who think it was not original with the rest of the book.  Much earlier, Theodoret of Cyrene wrote: "I am aware that some commentators understood this [text to apply to] the return from Babylon and the renovation of Jerusalem, and I do not contradict their words:  the prophecy applies also to what happened at that time.  But you can find a more exact outcome after the incarnation of our Savior:  then it was that he healed the oppressed in heart in the washing of regeneration, then it was that he renewed human nature, loving us so much as to give his life for us." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures, OT, Vol. XIV, p. 218).

6.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  No text is better suited than this one to do what Henry Mitchell advised - to make sure celebration is in the design of the sermon.  How to do this skillfully is the challenge.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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