O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Day Without Light
Day Without Light
Based on Zephaniah 3:14-20
Preached on December 16, 2015
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In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
A tired mother raises her eyes to see the glow of the sun fading in the west. And in the east, the eerie evening light ebbs away beneath a mounting bank of clouds. Strange winds begin to howl and rush through the growing shadows. Once complacent townspeople now quicken their steps toward home, but the moonless night slows them to a crawl. They feel their way with trips and stubs, groping in front of them, as the darkness behind them races to eat the light of the stars above. A bright bolt strikes the earth, thunder cracks and shakes, and their light blinded eyes search thick darkness again. The clouds advance even into their minds as fears and worries. Would they make it home? Would the sun come up tomorrow? How long would they have to wait for the cheerful warmth of the sun? How long before the quiet joy of sunlight would call the birds to sing their songs? God has sent a storm. And there's something different about this one.
Our Old Testament lesson this evening comes from the book of the prophet Zephaniah. We don't hear much about this minor prophet, because his name, Zephaniah means, "The LORD hides." What a terrifying name for a book, the LORD hides!? But his name is just the beginning of the misery Zephaniah was sent to proclaim. His entire book is a picture of an impending storm, one unlike any other, one that God is sending upon all the inhabitants of the earth, even His own people.
In fact, the storm hits God's own people first, punishing them for becoming complacent in their faith, for taking their faith for granted. It says, "At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, 'The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill.' Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them."
Does this word of God make you uncomfortable, because it should? You and I think this way all the time. We say in our hearts, "God is a loving God, He will not punish me. He will not do ill to me." But where did this idea come from? Who made God into a fool that cares nothing for purity and justice? No, this self-righteous mindset wages war against our faith. It puffs us up and almost begs God to bring His judgment down. We are comfortable and conceited until we see the storm rolling in.
The men of Jerusalem learned this the hard way when their city was conquered and their families were dragged away to exile in Babylon. God will do what is necessary to lead His people to repentance, even when that means destroying His own temple, or might we say, His own Son. God preserved these accounts in His Word as a warning to us, that He might chasten and call us to repentance as well.
For although the world has seen the fulfillment of these prophecies, Zephaniah's darkest prophecy remains unfulfilled, pointing still forward to earth's end, what he calls: the great day of the LORD. In other words, the looming part of the storm is still coming. Zephaniah prophesied this future storm of God's wrath as a day without light. A day when His words, "Let there be light", those words He spoke in the beginning, would be taken back, and those without faith would never see light again.
"The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth."
Those black clouds that are beginning to block out the night are clouds of judgment. That's what's rolling in. The great day of the LORD is near; near and hastening fast. And if we were left alone here to face this great and fearful day, why would I even stand up here and preach? But God has not left us alone. The storm of His anger need not come upon us, for a Savior has stepped forward to protect us, and He is Christ the Lord. He has come to face this storm for you. Though you hide your face from it, Christ stars directly at it. Though your legs go weak beneath you, Christ stands firm. Though you scramble away from the looming darkness, Christ walks into it.
When all others have abandoned Him, Christ goes it alone, walking by Himself into the center of the wrath. He wants to meet the source. He wants to face the eye. He marched right up to the top of Golgotha, pushing Himself deeper into the darkness of our sin. He mounted Himself upon the hard wood of the cross, waiting for the fullness of God's wrath to crush Him. And hanging there in the middle of the day, darkness fell upon the earth. The LORD hides. The LORD hides indeed. The Father hides from His Son, leaving Him alone in all His anger. God has sent a storm. He has sent a storm upon His Son.
A gentle warmth on your face, stirs you to open your eyes. The sun is splashing its cheerful light in through the window. The faint sound of birds is heard in the calm, blue sky and joy flutters in your heart. You are full of energy and this soft welcome pulls you out of bed. Peering out the window, you realize a peaceful day has begun, and you seem to know that it will never end.
This is the closing picture Zephaniah paints in his book. The final word God speaks to His people. And so somehow, after the darkest imagery in all the Scriptures, Zephaniah ends his book with these words. "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."
Christ has faced that final judgment on the cross to shelter His people from the coming storm. He has made Judgment Day, a day of celebration, a day of great joy and light - for it will be the day that we see the storm end, the day we finally see the fullness of what Christ has accomplished for us, when we see Him face to face in His kingdom. A day when we will no longer fear evil. No matter who you or what you have done, Christ promises that His death on the cross saves you, that it means you are welcome in His everlasting light. Believe it. He changes the shame of the lame and outcast into praise and honor. He has taken away the judgments against you. Rejoice! Sing! Cry aloud! For He has set your heart free.
He knows this life is like a storm. He knows the battles that rage within you - the constant attack against your faith. And yet He says, "Do not fear the storm, but rejoice over your coming salvation. I will quiet you with my love. I will give your heart rest, that all things may become sweeter. For there is nothing that can separate you from my love - not even the strongest storm - for I have already faced it. This persistent joy stays with us through the darkest storm, because it is not rooted in how we feel in the moment. It is securely attached to Christ's death on the cross. It is His lifeline of love that gets us through the storm. So hold on tight. As Zephaniah says, "Fear not, O Zion, let not your hands grow weak."
The world does not understand the stormy life of a Christian. They are comfortable and conceited until the Judgment comes upon them. But we live at the foot of the cross. We see the judgment every day in the spread arms of our Savior. We see His incredible mercy and love. Let not your hands grow weak. Ignore everything else and hold fast. For His salvation is near; near and hastening fast. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr