Sermon Ideas For Zephaniah 3:14-20 Part 4
The hopes of post-exilic Israel throb in this text. From the joyous news of redemption from Israel's wayward past, to the promise of the restoration of the Jewish community and the ingathering of its exiles, to the triumph of God's ways among all humankind, here is message of hope, both for the immediate present and the imminent future. Each facet of this post-exilic piece of eschatology contains a theological insight, worthy of our own celebrations of Advent.
First is the news of redemption that makes renewal possible. "The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies" (Zeph 3:15). Note the redemption here is twofold: one having to do with the house of Judah itself, the other with Zion's traditional national enemies. God's judgments encompass the spheres of both the personal and the political, the private as well as the public. At each level, individuals as well as nations fall short of God's divine hope. Both spheres need redirection, salvation, restoration.
In Heidegger's famous exploration of the inauthentic life, he notes three modes of being that pertain to our humanness: facticity, existence, and forfeiture.
Facticity means that we are already in the world. We have been cast into a world beyond our will or choice. It is the world of one's particular time, place, and conditions. It may not be of our making, but it is ours to appropriate within our limits of contingency. Existence is the second characteristic of our humanness. Our challenge is to make this world of facticity our own. For Heidegger, we each have the capacity to anticipate ourselves. Each self exists in advance of itself. It can grasp itself and shape its world of facticity. It can aim toward that which is not yet. Heidegger refers to this "projection" or "transcendence." Finally, forfeiture is the distinct possibility that an individual may not grasp his or her facticity and thus fail to shape their existence. The result is an inauthentic life. Heidegger goes on to analyze steps that are necessary for one's existence to result in an authentic life. Among them is the role that conscience plays, informed by guilt, which awakens one to the possibility of an individual grasping his or her destiny afresh. In Christian theology, Heidegger's inauthentic life mirrors the Bible's concern for a life that falls short of the divine hope. Likewise, his analysis of conscience and guilt mirrors the biblical call to repentance and self-emptying that makes renewal and the acceptance of divine grace possible.
What Heidegger explores as "possibility," Christian theology heralds as "actuality." "O daughter of Zion, rejoice and exult with all your heart. The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. He has turned away your enemies." However marred your facticity, limited your existence, real your forfeiture, you are forgiven. Neither your past nor your uncertain future have to have the final word. God's grace opens new levels of destiny and existence for all. And this can be as true for nations, for people, for ethnic groups as it is for individuals. It gives depth and power to all our advent themes, to all our advent celebrations.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight.
Second, there is in this passage a theology of the omnipresence of God that hovers over all. "The Lord, your God, is in your midst" (Zeph 3:15, 17). For Zephaniah, the end of Assyrian dominance signaled the end of Judah's judgment. But that had never meant the absence of God. God had always been in their midst, though Manasseh's reign relegated God's hope for Judah to the sidelines. Now Zephaniah celebrates the power of God's presence by affirming anew God's intentions for Judah. The Lord their God is in their midst, has always been in their midst, and has always been faithful to the house of David. His proclamation draws from the depth of that same theological insight that empowers Psalm 139. "O Lord, you have searched me and known me... Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there" (vv. 1,7-8).
Tillich likes to speak of the "inescapability of God." God is inescapable. That is what makes God God. And therein lies our hope and salvation. That God is inescapable, even in our personal and national times of distress. That the inescapable God of the universe is not willing for us to go down in forfeiture or inauthenticity. Neither for the Israelites, nor their enemies. The Lord, their God, was in their midst, in spite of their fallenness and failed grasp of their existence.
That is the meaning of the Incarnation as well, in the midst of our own fallenness and distress, God is in our midst. It is that reality that ennerves Advent and Christmas, as well as the birth of the babe in the manger. The inescapable God of the universe is everywhere. And this God wills to free us, as individuals and as a people, from our marred facticity and failed destinies. "Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven; And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man"; as the Nicene Creed puts it.
Finally, there pulsates through this text the hesed theology of the Old Testament. It is this theology that underlies the entire Bible, both the Old and the New Covenants, and it flows from the very heart of God. "He with renew you in his love (or he will hold his peace in his love); he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival" (Zeph 3:17). The Hebrew word for "love" here is ahab, but it has to do with that loving kindness and profound faithfulness (hesed) with which God surrounds God's people. It is one of the primary presuppositions of the divine nature as God is witnessed to in the Bible. God is love; God loves. God holds his peace in his love. That is the option by means of which God elects to transform God's people and the world.
Ben W. Farley