Twice Zephaniah exclaims “God is in your midst.” How can he proclaim those words after Friday’s massacre? How can we stand in this very room and proclaim God’s presence amidst the disasters and horrors of this world? Why would we ever listen to this John the Baptist fellow who is telling us that God is about to do a “new thing?”
But friends, if you hear nothing else in this sermon, hear and believe this: We worship a resurrected God. We worship a God who, though crucified, dead, and was buried, is risen forevermore! We worship a God who Zephaniah proclaims will remove disaster from us, who will deal with all our oppressors, who will save the lame and gather the outcast, who will change our shame into praise, who will bring us home and gather us, and who will restore us.
That is why you and I should listen to the cry of John the Baptist in the wilderness. Because you and I are waiting for the God who will give and renew, save and gather, change and restore.
Having faith that this truth will be done, perhaps then we can receive the prophetic cry of John the Baptist not as a threat to be avoided but rather as a promise to be welcomed.
For if we did not have the hope of the resurrection, then we would have reason to fear the unquenchable fire of which John speaks. If we did not have the hope of the resurrection, then we should flee in terror as John describes God’s separating the wheat from the chaff and throwing the chaff into the flame.
But since you and I live as children of the resurrected God, we receive this promise with the singing, exultation, and praise that Zephaniah offers. We welcome the coming of the Christ-child for his birth represents nothing less than the salvation that we have been waiting for. For as he will burn the chaff with the unquenchable fire so too will he defeat death with unstoppable life.
Friends, one who is more powerful than us is coming, one from whom all life comes and to whom all life returns. At this time, as we look for answers in this season of Advent, we must not point to ourselves for then we would only sink further into despair and sorrow. Rather, like John the Baptist, you and I must point to Christ, who has broken and is breaking and shall forever break the fourth wall to be in his children’s presence if all of their joy and all of their sorrow. As we continue to light the Advent candles, we will renew our commitment to cherish the light while maintaining our trust in Christ, who alone will perish the darkness.
Come, Lord Jesus!
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.