Connections 12.16.2018: The Lord Is in Our Midst!

Zephaniah 3:11-20

How’s your Advent going? By this point, about a week before Christmas, many of us usually feel weary. We haven’t had time to wait for Christ because we’ve been so busy with the trappings of this season—decorating, planning meals, attending parties, cleaning house for guests, preparing for family gatherings, providing treats for school celebrations, rehearsing for Christmas performances, traveling, studying, working, and more. The busyness of the Christmas season is a well-worn topic for devotions at this time of year, and for good reason.

What can help us calm the racing feeling? What can settle our harried hearts? What can slow us down enough to look around and realize the truth that Zephaniah tells us so powerfully: the LORD, our God, is in our midst (v. 17). We don’t have to wait for God; we must realize that God is already here.

It’s good to honor the spirit of Advent and retell the story of waiting for the Messiah. It’s good to remember the ancient tale of how Jesus came to earth as a human baby. It’s good to imagine what life was like for believers before Christ, to understand how they waited with hope, and to recognize the utter joy that was felt in heaven and on earth when he was born.

But let’s never forget that Jesus is here right now, in our midst. We don’t have to rush around so much that our stress levels rise out of control. We don’t have to make sure every cookie is perfect and every bathroom completely spotless. We don’t have to be certain that each person on our gift list gets exactly what he or she wants. We can remember and retell and honor the old story, but we don’t have to wait for Baby Jesus; Christ is already here, in our midst.

Even though Zephaniah wrote long before Jesus was born, some of his words sound like Jesus’ descriptions of the kingdom of God:

• “I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly” (vv. 11-12). Jesus said, “…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matt 20:26).
• “Then they will pasture and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid” (v. 13). Throughout the Gospels, Jesus said, over and over again, “Do not be afraid.”
• “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you” (v. 15). Jesus said, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
• “The LORD, your God, is in your midst” (v. 17). Jesus said, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
• “And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth” (v. 19). Jesus said, “…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matt 11:5).
• “At that time I will bring you home” (v. 20). Jesus said, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

Zephaniah shared these promises of God with people who were waiting, and these promises were brought to fruition with the coming of Jesus Christ. As we approach Christmas Day, may we slow down and realize that Christ is here, in our midst, and the kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:20-21).

Discussion

1. How’s your Advent going? What is your primary feeling right now as Christmas Day approaches? Why?
2. How do you feel about the season of Advent? What is helpful about the idea of waiting for Jesus Christ to come at Christmas?
3. How do you feel when you ponder the truth that Jesus is already here, in our midst?
4. What helps you to sense Jesus’ presence?
5. Zephaniah spoke promises and assurances from God that Jesus reaffirmed in his life and teachings. What does that mean to you this Christmas season?

Reference Shelf

This unit breaks into two parts (3:14-15, 16-17). Although set apart from one another formally by the introductory formula “on that day” (bayôm hahû) in 3:16, the tight chiastic structure of the two parts makes it highly unlikely that the two sections can be seen as independent of one another. Readers should notice, though, that the nature of the threat of judgment in 3:14-17 is the removal of enemies. This differs from the judgment in 3:11-13 in which the threat was internal (the arrogant). Thus, one needs to understand this saying in 3:14-15 as independent of the previous verses, even though the logic of its placement after 3:11-13 makes sense. Once the punishment (purification) of Jerusalem has occurred and a holy remnant remains, YHWH’s protection of Jerusalem against the nations can resume. Hence, the judgment of Jerusalem presumed in 3:1-7, once completed, leads to the promise of YHWH’s return and the punishment of the nations.

Moreover, 3:15 contains a second promise—the presence of YHWH as King in Jerusalem. This promise has implications when read against Jerusalem’s destruction in the developing corpus. On the one hand, its message of security stands out and fits the general tenor of 3:9-20. On the other hand, speaking about YHWH as King in Jerusalem and as the guarantor of that security suggests that something has changed. While the first section of Zephaniah critiqued the royal household for incorporating foreign elements into Judah (1:8), Zephaniah 3:9-20 implies no role for a Davidic king in Zion’s restoration.

Zephaniah 3:16 repeats the call for the cessation of fear. The statements in 3:17 provide the rationale for Jerusalem’s joy: the protection and favor of YHWH. With YHWH’s presence in Jerusalem, no foe can prevail and victory is assured. YHWH’s rejoicing over Jerusalem implies YHWH’s acceptance of her. These promises imply Jerusalem is now fit to be reinhabited by YHWH, who will keep her safe from future attack.

James D. Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve: Micah–Malachi, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011) 747-48.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley attends First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (13) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Currently, she is looking for the next opportunity to be onstage in a local theater production. She also loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she will always be a writer at heart.

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