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Vindication

December 13, 2009 Speaker: Pastor Braun Campbell Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: Zephaniah 3:14–3:20

The Third Sunday in Advent
St. John's
Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Zephaniah 3:14-20

“Vindication”

One of the big news stories this week took place in Oslo, Norway, where President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize.  Regardless of whatever feelings one might have about the merits of this year’s Nobel laureate, I think that it’s safe to say that the Nobel Peace Prize is widely regarded as the most prestigious recognition that a person could receive for their work to promote peace in the world.  Since its inception in 1901, five years after Alfred Nobel’s death, it has been awarded 90 times.  The world, it seems, continues to need peace.  The Nobel Peace Prize is – in some small way – a recognition that things aren’t as they should be.

Our first reading today comes from the book of the prophet Zephaniah, someone who’s message also pointed out that things aren’t as they should be.  Outside of learning the names of the books of the Bible, you may never have really heard of Zephaniah before.  He’s listed as one of the so-called “minor prophets,” right there in that section of the Old Testament that contains a number of shorter books like Nahum, Habakkuk, and Malachi – you know, the section where it seems harder to find exactly what you’re looking for during a Bible study.  Zephaniah served as a prophet, a messenger of God’s Word, over 600 years before Jesus was born.  In those days, the northern kingdom of Israel had already been wiped out by a foreign power.  And in the southern kingdom of Judah and its capital of Jerusalem, the people had grown complacent.  They had forgotten what it meant to live as God’s chosen people in the world.  They refused to listen to correction, to return to God, accepting instead the “peace” of the status quo.  They would not repent and turn from their way of living.  God’s message through Zephaniah calls the people to account:  the prophet announces God’s wrath to this complacent and unrepentant people.  The first two-thirds of the book, in fact, warn of the coming judgment.  He calls his hearers to take a look at their lives and to see that things aren’t as they should be.

Though some two-and-a-half millennia separate us, perhaps we’re not so very different from Zephaniah’s first hearers.  Things aren’t as they should be.  But complacency can be a pretty tempting state of mind.  It seems easier to just let some things slide.  Sure, we Christians understand that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but doesn’t everybody?  Why would you need to go to all the effort of engaging your Jewish friends, talking with them about the Messiah as they celebrate Hanukkah?  Why chance getting a funny look by wishing the sales clerk or your barista a “blessed Advent” or “merry Christmas” when you’re out running errands this month?  You just want a little peace this time of year, and you know that you’d probably be rocking the boat if you started advertising the real significance of Advent and Christmas.  It can be hard to take a stand in the world for the faith that we confess together here in the safety of the sanctuary.  The world’s OK with people celebrating Christmas – as long as it’s not overtly Christian, or in opposition to any other kind of belief.  But if you take a stand, if you make waves, you might face consequences.  Our fear keeps us from upsetting the “peace” of the status quo, and so, we’re tempted to accept it.  We’re tempted to settle for a status quo of “live and let live,” believing in a “private” faith that does not compel us to engage the world around us or to change our own behaviors.  But if you think about it, the “live and let live” attitude is really one that’s – to borrow the words of Paul McCartney – “live and let die.”  When we allow complacency to take over, settling for the peace of the status quo, we’re settling for a false peace.  Trouble might still come at us from any side, or friends and allies might leave us high and dry; we just don’t think about it.  Even under the status quo, we know that things aren’t as they should be.  We want more peace, or we want new peace.  Just take a look back a couple of weeks: what comes right on the heels of our National Day of Thanksgiving, that day on which we remember all the blessings we enjoy?  “Black Friday,” a day whose fundamental premise is “you don’t have enough.”  Despite what we might want to think, going along with the status quo delivers no peace.  As God’s people, we cannot continue in complacency, fearing a world that would silence those who share the hope that we have in Jesus, the Messiah.

This Advent, as we acknowledge our complacency and admit that things aren’t as they should be, we look to that final third of Zephaniah’s message.  Here, we see a statement of God’s love and faithfulness that can overcome our fear.  The reality that God sets before us today through this prophet is pretty amazing, because it throws out the status quo entirely.  He presents a time in which there will be no need for a Nobel Peace Prize, because God Himself will clear away the forces of evil, all oppressors, so that war will be no more.  As people who once knew only fear and hopelessness like refugees far from their homeland, our lives will be changed, for God will bring us in and gather us together.  The same God that calls His people to repent also promises to take away the judgments against us, to forgive us.  He will restore the relationship that was broken; He will change our shame into praise.  He will rejoice over us with gladness; He will quiet us by His love.  God Himself will be with us.  The Messiah, God’s anointed, will make things right.  He will make things as they should be.  He will deliver vindication. 

But here’s the thing: as we celebrate Advent, we remember and proclaim that this day of vindication is already dawning on us!  Jesus is that promised Messiah, and through him, we have God with us.  We Christians aren’t just looking off into the distant future and wishfully dreaming of better times.  Through the working of the Holy Spirit in us, Jesus is making things as they should be even now.  His presence gives us courage to face our fears.  His presence gives us strength to overcome the complacency in our lives.  His presence gives us gives us hope as we wait and watch for the day when our Lord comes again in glory.

While we live, God gives us an engaging faith, a faith which is active, a faith with allows us to take comfort in His care.  As people who are recipients of God’s forgiving and renewing grace, you and I can engage the world around us as messengers of that grace.  Instead of sitting idly by when you see someone you know is hurting and in need, you may lend a hand.  Sometimes, that might mean going out to listen over coffee.  Other times, you may take up hammer and nails to build a home or repair a school.  Our faith, as people of hope, allows us to be in the world that we have as we wait for the world that is to come, a world that knows true peace.

Rejoice and be glad, for vindication is coming.  The Prince of Peace is drawing near!

Amen.

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