Christmas Day December 25, 2016


Zephaniah’s Christmas Message—Rejoice! God Is in Your Midst!

Zephaniah 3:14-17

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 52:7-10
Luke 2:1-20
Titus 2:11-14


103, 87, 91, 85:13-15

To Thee, then, O Jesus, this day of Thy birth
Be glory and honor through heaven and earth,
True Godhead incarnate, omnipotent Word!
Oh, come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!” (TLH 102:4)

In the name of the King of Israel, who is the LORD, the Word who became flesh to dwell among us, grace to you and peace from Him,

Are you tired of singing yet? I doubt it. Christmas is a time when we expect to sing more songs that usual. Last Sunday, several of our members visited our shut-ins to sing Christmas hymns with them. These Christmas hymns were so well known and loved, that some residents with Alzheimer’s and Dementia who don’t recognize their own children, joined in singing those beloved hymns with gusto.

Why is there so much singing at Christmas time? We know the reason. We sing because of the good tidings of great joy for all people. We sing because a Savior has been born, who is Christ, the Lord! We sing for joy!

This morning, we have a Christmas sermon from the prophet Zephaniah. Zephaniah was the great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah. Zephaniah served as the LORD’s spokesman about 625 years before Jesus was born and laid in a manger, during the reign of the reformer-king, King Josiah.

The first two and a half chapters of Zephaniah’s book is a warning of the coming day of the LORD’s wrath and a call to repent. Zephaniah closes his 3 chapter book by calling on the Church to rejoice with all her might, because God is in her midst. Though Christ would not be born for another 625 years, Zephaniah comforts the Church by assuring her that it is as good as done. Listen now to Zephaniah’s Christmas sermon:

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. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

So far the Word of God.

It’s hard not to rejoice on Christmas Day. Glory to the newborn King! we sing. Let heaven and nature sing! Christ is born today and the Church wants to sing out. Today is the festival of our Savior’s birth. But tomorrow life will return to normal. Radio stations will go back to their regular programing. Soon our Christmas decorations will be taken down and put away for another year. And we’ll be confronted once again with the problems which we had put off for a day or two.

Yet, Zephaniah calls on the Church to not put away her praises. Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! While our congregation will soon move on from the “Christmas” section of our hymnals, the joy of Christ’s birth is always to be on our lips. The reason we have joy at Christmas? God is in your midst. At Christmas we see God coming in the flesh as our Brother. He is lowly, humble, and gentle. He is a Baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Though He seems so helpless and small, Zephaniah reminds us of what the birth of Jesus means: the LORD your God in your midst, a mighty one who will save. What a paradoxical statement! “God…a mighty one who will save,” wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger? The Babe of Bethlhem doesn’t seem mighty at all. Yet the Christ-child is Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” That Baby, so weak and so helpless, is the eternal and almighty God who took on flesh. And He is in our midst to save us. The eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us to save us from our sins. He was born to die on the cross to pay our off our debt of sin and to rise from the dead victoriously on the third day, crushing the Devil under His foot. What a paradox indeed! A mighty one who will save, whom we see now as an infant. The English Composer, Benjamin Britten would go on to write of this paradox in his hymn,

This little Babe so few days old Is come to rifle Satan’s fold.
All hell doth at his presence quake, Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmèd wise The gates of hell he will surprise.

Zephaniah goes on to tell us of why we are to rejoice in verse 15, telling us that since God is in our midst, that means the judgments against us ARE TAKEN AWAY. The judgments against us is the guilty verdict from God which we deserve for breaking His commandments. But Zephaniah tells us to REJOICE because they ARE TAKEN AWAY. Though it wouldn’t take place for another 650 years, it was as good as done because God had promised to send a Savior who would atone for the sin of the whole world. Therefore, rejoice, for Christ was born to take away the judgments against us.

Imagine for a moment being on a battle field against a noisy and powerful looking enemy. It seems that you are outnumbered and outgunned. They have more soldiers on their side and superior weaponry. So far, it doesn’t look good. But before you head into battle, word arrives that the battle is over and you have already won, even before you were able to get a shot off. Furthermore, you learn that their weapons can’t penetrate your armor and all they can do now is make lots of noise to scare you. Who would ever be afraid of such an enemy?

Zephaniah writes that the LORD HAS cleared away your enemies. 30 years after Christmas the enemy, the Devil, would engage Jesus in battle by tempting Him to sin. But Jesus would remain faithful, never sinning once. On Good Friday, Jesus would engage your sins and the sins of the world, head-on upon the cross. He would clear away your sins by taking them on Himself and dying with them. He would then engage in battle the fiercest of enemies—death itself. On the cross He would yield up His spirit and die and be buried. But on the third day, He rose! Christ has cleared away all your enemies! Therefore REJOICE! God is in your midst and has cleared away your enemies. Death and the devil is now just a noisy enemy that cannot harm you.

At Christmas we rejoice because of what God did for us in sending His Son to save us. Therefore it is striking to read what Zephaniah writes at the end of our text. Using language similar to the joy a groom has for his bride we read the LORD using it for the Christ-believer! The LORD your God is in your midst…He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.

Isn’t this also something you picture Mary doing with the Baby Jesus? Can’t you see her rejoicing over Him with gladness…quieting the newborn Baby by her love…exulting over Him with singing. It sounds like a mother lovingly humming to her newborn Son, whom she knows is also her God and her Savior.

Yet, do you find it shocking to hear that the LORD, who is in our midst, will rejoice over YOU with gladness and exult over YOU with loud singing? We wonder why He would do this. We are but dust and ashes. We are sinners who have fallen short of His glory. Why He would ever rejoice over us and exult over us?

These are words of grace—undeserved love. Christ was born to be your righteousness, your holiness, your perfection. Through faith in Him, you are wrapped up with HIS holiness. Having been baptized into Christ, you have put on Christ. Just as God the Father said of Jesus, This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, through faith in Christ, the LORD says that of you as well. He rejoices over you! He exults over you with loud singing. He quiets and calms you with His undeserved love, as Mary quieted and calmed her newborn Baby. Rejoice, because God rejoices over YOU!

God in our midst does not end with Jesus’ birth. Jesus has promised, For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Mt 18:20) Every time we assemble in His name—as we do every Sunday here at church—Jesus says He is in our midst. Jesus is in our midst by the preaching of His Gospel—as He comforts and calms us with His sacrificial love. Jesus is in our midst in Lord’s Supper as He says to the communicant, This IS MY BODY…this IS MY BLOOD. Rejoice! God is in your midst!

Zephaniah speaks to us today of God in our midst, as our Savior who delights over us and calms us by His love. This joy of Christ in our midst is not something we throw away this afternoon with the wrapping paper, or pack away with our Christmas lights until next year. No, the joy of God in our midst is something we sing with all our heart every day and every hour of our lives. We sing aloud because we know the Mighty One has saved us! Therefore, Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! …The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst! Hallelujah! Amen!

—Pastor Nathan J. Pfeiffer

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