Date: December 12, 2021
Festival: Christmas Programme (A Christmas Service for All Ages)
Text: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
A reading from Zephaniah 3:14-20:
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 judgements 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. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes because your eyes,” says the LORD
This is the Word of the Lord. [Thanks be to God.]
“What are you so afraid of?!” …The meaning of this question depends on the context. For example, the meaning exhorts you to take up courage when we dare someone, like when we were kids. “I dare you to jump over that huge puddle! What are you so afraid of?! Or, “I dare you to ride your bike over that huge dirt mound as fast as you can!” Or my favourite from the 1983 cult classic movie, A Christmas Story: the scene where Schwartz dares Flick to stick his tongue to a frozen metal pole. He says, “Yeah well I double dog dare ya’! …I triple dog dare ya’!” After all, what did Flick have to be afraid of? Well, getting his tongue stuck on a frozen pole, obviously. (I don’t recommend you do this, by the way.)
The meaning also changes with real phobias and fears, like asking someone out on a date. I remember many times when I had cruses and my friends would say, “Just ask her out, dude! What are you so afraid of?!” Well, I was afraid of rejection, because I got rejected a lot! Thankfully, though, Emilia ignored her own fears and asked me out, and I ended up marrying her! And God receives my praises for this mercy He has given me.
Or phobias like arachnophobia. The saying often goes, “The spider is more afraid of you than you are of it. What are you so afraid of?” And it’s true, at least if you live in Michigan. I’m not afraid of spiders, but not even I want to live in a place where spiders are the size of dinner plates! I’m perfectly happy living in a place where the air hurts my face rather than a place where creep crawlies are trying to kill me, thank you very much!
Or to make things even more real, with people who are still careful about wearing face masks and social distancing and such, well-meaning Christians will ask, “What are you so afraid of?!” Implying we should fear the Lord more than we fear the coronavirus or anything else (and we should), their real fears and concerns are ignored and we victimise and shame them for being fearful rather than suffering with them and giving them the comfort of the Gospel.
The prophet Zephaniah also challenges us in this way. “Fear not, O Zion!” he declares. This proclamation implies, “What are you so afraid of?” Is Zephaniah being ignorant of the peoples’ fears? Well, let’s see: Before this proclamation, Zephaniah warned the people of Judah that their country and major city, Jerusalem (also called Zion), would be destroyed; and they would be taken away into captivity in Babylon. So, they had a lot to be afraid of! But Zephaniah can’t be ignorant or inconsiderate because he’s the very one who struck the fear of Babylon and the fear of God in them. He tells them not to fear because God will remove their judgement, He will defeat their enemies, He is still with them, and He will save them not only from the Babylonians but ultimately from sin, death, and the devil. All this was accomplished in Jesus Christ.
As we continue the Christmas programme, the children will recount the story of mankind’s fall into sin and the judgement we all deserve. They will also tell the story of Jesus’ work of salvation on the cross upon which He has removed all your sins by taking them all upon Himself and has defeated death and the devil. Pay close attention to these words as our little children recount these promises of God.
As you do so, think to yourself, “What are you so afraid of?” I mean this as both honest self-reflection and a rhetorical question. What fears do you have right now? When you identify what these are, ask the question again, but this time rhetorically, “What are you so afraid of?!” For you have nothing to fear, since in Christ death has lost its sting, and like the people of Israel, sing loud songs of rejoicing to God during this Christmas programme. The story of Christ that will soon be told here this morning will be the cause of our festal celebration at the end of the service, “Joy to the World!”
Even though fears may upset you, you have nothing to fear since the joy of Christ comes in His life. It gave Him joy to come on Christmas morning for you, to die for you, and to rise for you for the eternal life He gives you by faith. And it will give Him joy when He comes again in His Second Advent to bring you into the New Zion where death, grieving, crying, and pain shall be no more. Until then, let us continue with our festal celebration.