Scripture: Zephaniah 3:14-20
“The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” ~ Zephaniah 3:17
What do you delight in?
Delight is a word that we don’t often hear nowadays – in fact, usage in print and other media has dropped significantly in the last century – and when we do hear the word I think we don’t necessarily hear it or appreciate the full weight of the word.
A person can be delightful, food can be considered a delight, we can be delighted to meet someone – all good and pleasing things no doubt, but not befitting of the gravity or significance of the word delight.
The definition of delight revolves around great pleasure with a large emphasis on the great. This isn’t mild enjoyment or satisfaction, this isn’t even liking something a whole lot; this is something more complete, something which fills us with joy and gives meaning to our lives.
What do you delight in?
This is the kind of emotion that we see in our passage from Zephaniah that we heard this morning. If you look particularly at verse seventeen, it is practically bursting with delight, practically with the bursting happiness and joy of God. The prophet described God as a warrior who gives his people victory, as one who would rejoice over the people of Judah, exult over them with loud singing and renew them in his love.
The whole passage is dripping with delight, the delight of God over his people, the delight of God over the return of his people from their wandering ways – which is quite the turn of events if you read the rest of the book of Zephaniah.
If you were dipping into this book for the very first time and read no more than these seven verses you could never guess that a book that wraps up this lyrically, this gorgeously and so utterly full of hope could have built up to this soaring crescendo of a climax with some of the grimmest, saddest, most frightening stuff in the whole Bible.
Most of Zephaniah is the epitome of doom-and-gloom. And some of the worst of it is aimed squarely at the people of Judah.
Like John and his fiery preaching that we heard in our Gospel lesson this morning, the prophet Zephaniah turned his harsh words of judgement upon the people of God who had turned away from God’s covenant, who had allowed oppression of the poor and marginalized to shape their society, who no longer reflected the justice and mercy of God and who pursued other Gods.
John and Zephaniah both pointed their audiences to self-reflection, to the examination of their sins and offences, to how they had been disobedient and had wandered away from God so that they would be ready for the finale that God had in store. You see while judgement is part of the prophetic message in the end it is not God’s purpose just to punish or lament or to turn away from his people.
We can look at the closing verses of Zephaniah as God’s truest purpose by revealing to us God’s very heart, a glimpse into the very divine life that is in store for us in his Kingdom forever. God is practically giddy with glee in God’s response to his people’s return. With all of the singing, the renewing, the exultation, God is telling his people, God is telling us that God’s dearest wish is to take utter delight in his people.
What do you delight in?
Imagine the joy of new parents meeting their baby for the first time, or the restless joy and anticipation of the arrivals gate at airports around the world where loved ones have reunited after long times apart – that is the kind of energy, the kind of delight that God has for God’s people, that God has for us: that is the kind of delight that God has for you.
This delight is so immense that Zephaniah tells us that God will sing over his people, God the very creator and sustainer of the universe will not be able to contain his joy and will burst into song – this is the only place in Scripture where God is said to sing, and the target of his crooning affections is his people, it is us, it is you. What a wonderful thought that is: that God is so filled with joy and delight at our return that God bursts out in song to welcome us home.
But this delight doesn’t come cheap, it doesn’t come without dealing with the ways and inclinations that led to our separation from God in the first place. True forgiveness and repentance are required – reconciliation must occur and that’s why Zephaniah and John were sent to their people to prepare their hearts and minds – reminding them of the ways they had wandered away but also offering them a glimpse of the way forward, a glimpse of the way that God would fix things for good.
Each of the prophets was preparing God’s people for that great joy and delight – they were preparing them for God’s Messiah, they were preparing God’s people for God’s great rescue plan from sin and death; in short, both prophets were preparing God’s people for Jesus.
From Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem to the cross of Golgotha and the empty tomb on that first Easter day, God revealed the lengths that he would go to, to delight in his people, the lengths that he would go to reconcile us to him and restore our future in his kingdom where God will sing over us, out of his great joy and satisfaction in us.
What do you delight in?
This Advent season we would be wise to heed the exhortations and words of warning that we hear from both Zephaniah and John the Baptist. Advent is a time for us to prepare, to prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus; a time of self-reflection and introspection that we are given each year as we await the celebration of Jesus’ first coming but also the coming of Jesus in our lives today and the coming of Jesus in great power and glory at the end of time.
Every week during our confession we ask God that we might “delight in his will”, and I must admit that I have often puzzled over that as a strange turn of phrase. To delight in the will of another is a pretty strange concept, to find enjoyment and great pleasure in what someone else wants for you is foreign in our world today – a world where the individual will is celebrated practically above all else. But if we remember that God’s will is ultimately for us to have joy, that God’s will, as we see in words of the prophet Zephaniah, is for God to delight over us – then we should gladly delight in the will of God, because God’s will for us is the path to life, the path to abundant grace and mercy, the path to everlasting joy.
While Advent is rightly a season of repentance, a fact often lost amidst the tinsel and glitter of the secular Christmas season, Zephaniah is here to remind us that when it comes right down to it, the salvation we receive – the reunion we have with God on account of the birth, death and resurrection of God’s Son – cannot be exaggerated. That salvation is nothing less than the utter delight of God in God’s people, the utter delight of God in you God’s child. And that delight promises unending peace and love in the presence of God, in eternity but also as something that we can glimpse and taste here and now.
As we gather at this table, as we sing our songs of praise, as we wait for the coming of Jesus this Christmas – remember that as you feast at this table, God prepares an eternal feast of rich food and abundance for you and all the world; remember that as you sing your praises, God sings over you, his song of eternal delight.
You are God’s beloved, the one in whom God finds his delight. May your hearts, may your minds and may your whole selves be ready and waiting when that delight comes in the person and power of Jesus.
Thanks be to God! Amen.