The Gifts of the Manger
A sermon based on Zephaniah 3:14-17
Sunday, December 16, 2012 – Advent 3C/Children's Program
Grace, mercy, and peace are just some of the many gifts that are yours from God our Father, through our Lord, Jesus Christ, and by his manger. Amen.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our sermon text for this morning is from one of God's last Old Testament prophets, found in Zephaniah 3:14-17…
14 Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, "Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."
What do you want for Christmas? Do you want the new Furbie toy? I hear he's making a comeback. Do you want some Lego sets? Do you want the new Wii U? Or maybe your wish list is a little more grown up and you want the new iPad, or a new snow machine, or a 3D TV. Or maybe you don't want toys at all. Maybe your wish list contains simpler items this year. You want to keep your job. You want to spend time with your family. You want your children to be safe from harm.
But if that's all that's on your Christmas wish list this year, then, well, I hate to break it to you, but you deserve worse than a lump of coal. What about a stronger faith that puts your trust in God no matter what? What about strength to resist the temptations that bombard us and to serve God in honesty and purity? What about forgiveness for all of the times we've failed God and failed each other putting our selfish wants at the top of the list while leaving others real needs out of sight and out of mind.
Too often we focus on the pleasures and treasures of this life and neglect the far more important spiritual matters with our priorities way out of whack!
That was the case with God's people in the days of Jeremiah and Zephaniah (about 620 BC). God's people had abandoned him to serve false gods. The clergy, who should have been correcting the people, were just as bad, if not worse. And God sent Zephaniah to warn them.
He said in Zephaniah 1:14-18: 14 "The great day of the Lord is near— near and coming quickly… 15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness… 17 I will bring distress on the people… because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord's wrath." Harsh? Yes. But also well-deserved. The people deserved far worse than a lump of coal… just like we do.
Now you and I may not sacrifice our children to Molech or bow down to Baal or Ashera, but don't we have our false gods too? We sometimes put our trust in our savings, or our intelligence, or our strength by the protection we offer our children. But this economy might teach us that our savings isn't trustworthy. Our intelligence could all disappear with one car crash. And we saw this weekend that we can't always keep our children safe. Those are all false Gods.
And for trusting in wealth to save us from calamity, for our haughty arrogance and pride, for our rebellion against the King, we too deserve to have God pour out his wrath on us, as he says in Ezekiel 18:4, "The soul who sins is the one who will die." That's what we deserve for Chirstmas—eternal death in hell. But that's not what we get!
You know, yesterday at Christmas for Kids, Mr. Holper asked some of the kids, "Who thinks the presents that we get are the most important part of Christmas?" And every one of the kids kept their hands down. But I raised my hand to see what they would say. And one of the kids said, "Pastor! You're wrong! The presents we get aren't the most important thing!" And I know what she meant, but I replied, "No. Really they are. The presents that we get from God through Jesus and through his manger are really what Christmas is all about."
In the middle of his warning of God's impending wrath, Zephaniah cried out, "Sing… Shout aloud… Be glad and rejoice." Seems a bit out of place doesn't it? "You all deserve God's wrath and it's coming. Sing and rejoice." They ought to shudder, not rejoice, right? What reason could they possibly have to rejoice? Zephaniah says in verse 15, "The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy."
The word translated "taken away" means "to get rid of completely, to remove, to take out the trash." The word translated "turned back" literally means "to get rid of stuff that's in the way, to sweep it away" Both would be good words to describe what you do to get the house ready for your Christmas company this season—to clean house.
And this is God's Christmas gift to you in Jesus by his manger. The gift of salvation! "The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy." How?
He gave us his Son, born in a manger to take the blame for world's sins! He gave us Jesus who would go to the cross to pay for every one of your sins and mine! He took away our punishment, by taking it on himself. As Isaiah wrote, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)
God gave us Jesus to pay the price for us to come into God's home—and not just as visitors or guest, not just for a couple of weeks, but as members of his family for all of eternity! No blessing compares to that baby—that great warrior King—who turned back and soundly defeated our enemies of Satan, death, and hell so we can look forward to an eternity in God's perfect home in heaven!
And with that gift comes others too. We are full of joy! "Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy."
And we are full of confidence and peace. "The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm... Do not fear, O Zion… The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."
Like a frightened child, suddenly wrapped in mom's loving arms, God promises to quiet us with his love and comfort us when we're afraid. And there's a lot to be afraid of, isn't there? So much is beyond our control! There are wars being fought all around us. There are people who want to harm us. There are predators who might snatch our children. These are real fears! We fear failing health and the loss of a job. We fear watching a loved one get hurt and suffer. We at times fear what will come of our sins? What new challenge or threat will tomorrow bring?
But when we're afraid, God wraps his loving arms around us in a big embrace and says to us, "Don't be scared. I'm right here. I'm with you. God with you—Immanuel." What awesome gifts we get!
So go ahead! Shallow as it may seem, focus only on the gifts that you receive this Christmas season. You can be glad to spend time with your family this Christmas. You can rejoice that your kids are safe. And you can take delight in the gifts you find under the tree. They are blessings from God. But remember that they're nothing compared to the gifts that God gave to you at Christmas. Rejoice in what God so graciously and freely and continually gives you in Jesus! Give thanks for the gifts of the manger.
In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.