Joy springing from Hope
Trying to be joyful
Trying to be joyful
Have you ever been in the situation where you just feel a bit down but those around you want you to be happy?
Or maybe the opposite where you’re feeling great, but your friend or partner is feeling down?
It sometimes happens with kids. They’ll get in a grump mood for whatever reason, and then as the parent you feel it is your job to cheer them up.
Sometimes this can involve you going into overdrive happiness - you know where you jump around a bit and exaggerate your own happiness in the hope you can crack a smile in them and suddenly everything will change.
I’m not sure why we try this as it usually just makes them more grumpy.
But I don’t blame them. Sometimes I think we all get that feeling of being a bit down. I’m not necessarily talking depression, just the natural cycle of emotions we all feel. Maybe you’ve got a good reason for feeling down, maybe you don’t. Either way usually the sight of a bright bubbly person during these times is not usually something you want to see.
Now what I’m talking about is generally speaking just a natural part of the ups and downs of life. You might not feel like being happy now, but give it a little time and things might change.
However, that being the case there can be a general drag on us that gives us that constant feeling that things are not right. Though we can have some happy days, and some not-so-happy days, there can be a constant gnawing happening. Exactly what that looks like for you will differ from one person to the next, however I want to suggest that whatever it looks like for you, at the root of it is sin. We live in a sinful world and the affects of which are very wide spread.
As a result of this sinful world, relationships are broken, people don’t look out for other people, people get ripped off, lied to, scammed, the list can go on.
Because of this sinful world, just as you feel like you begin to make some headway in life, something will happen to bring you back down.
We can get by for a while, but it can all be just so depressing that it’s hard.
Now with this in mind - we then open up our Bibles, read passages like which says to rejoice in the Lord always - and we think, but how?
Sure we can be happy sometimes, but how in the world are we meant to always be joyful?
Well today I want to turn to the book of Zephaniah and explore some of the context here, because I believe as we do, we can begin to see how it is that we can live in such a depressing world and yet have joy in our hearts.
Context of Zephaniah
Context of Zephaniah
Well, Zephaniah is one of those books in the twelve minor prophets which I suspect you don’t know a whole deal about.
You know, we’ve got this whole section in the Bible which we refer to as the twelve minor prophets, most of which we don’t know much. Sure we’re all familiar with Jonah, largely because it has such a memorable story to it. There are probably bits and pieces in some of the others, but by and large, it doesn’t get a huge amount of attention.
The Minor prophets
The Minor prophets
Well, the twelve minor prophets, as with the books known as the five major prophets, all fit within a time period of a few hundred years of each other.
Now let’s just try and place this with our knowledge of Old Testament history.
I’ll start with the period of Elijah and Elisha, because if you were with us, we recently did a series on these two prophets. Well, roughly speaking, they were in the mid 800’s BC. The first of the minor prophets however, were roughly speaking 100 years after that.
But what does that correspond to?
Well, if you know your Old Testament history, then you’ll know that the kingdom of Israel was split into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom.
The Northern Kingdom went off the tracks quite early and eventually God sent them into Exile. Well, the first of the minor prophets appeared shortly before the Northern kingdom went into exile.
After the Northern Kingdom went into exile, God also sent the southern kingdom into exile which was a bit more than another hundred years later. They then spent about 70 years in exile before being returned. The last of the minor prophets were in the time period after the Jews had returned from exile.
But what about Zephaniah?
Well, he appeared in about the middle of all of that. We’re told at the start of his writing that he was around during the reign of Josiah.
This correlates between the time when the northern kingdom had been exiled but the southern kingdom had yet to go.
Now this was actually a bit of an interesting time. You see, these remaining Jews had flip flopped quite a bit since the Northern kingdom’s demise.
Under the reign of Hezekiah, they had managed to get back to a proper worship of Yahweh. But under his son and his son after that, things had got far worse.
But with Josiah, things are about to get better again - but nevertheless, the inevitable downward push of a sin filled world was still in force. It’s that same force that can give us an ongoing depressing feeling.
And for those who were listening to the words of Zephaniah, that feeling would not have got any better, at least not during the most part of his message.
The Day of the Lord
The Day of the Lord
You see Zephaniah picks up on the theme known as the Day of the Lord.
So it’s worth briefly exploring now, what is the day of the Lord.
Now the Day of Lord is actually a phrase that quite a number of the prophets used. The problem is, there are a number of different facets to this day, and sometimes that seem to get somewhat squashed together.
It gets a little complicated because though it seems to speak about a specific day in which various things will happen, the fullfilment happens over time.
You see sometimes, we pick up on this phrase as a key to the day in which Jesus will return, and sometimes that is what is in picture when they use the phrase, but the phrase is much deeper than that.
Actually, what we see with this day of the Lord is actually quite a dark and bleak picture. That’s because the day of the Lord is largely about judgement. And that is certainly the picture we get for the most part in Zephaniah’s writings.
Now I would encourage you that as you study scripture, don’t be tempted to over simply what it says. You see, sometimes we have the tendency to want to pick out a phrase like the day of the Lord and give it a precise meaning.
However, when we avoid the temptation to oversimplify it, what we see is this pattern emerge - a pattern in which God deals with the problems of this world.
We then see this conflation between these harsh but fair judgements and God’s blessing, because that is God’s plan in dealing with the problems.
And so as we allow this idea of the Day of the Lord to sit with us, we can see how the tough times need to come first before the final blessings which we are to receive.
This is indeed the hope that I talked about two weeks ago when we began this season of Advent.
Well let’s now turn specifically to to see how this plays out.
Now the start of this chapter continues on in the same vein that the previous two chapter went - that is, talking about judgement.
Let me just read verse 8, which is the verse immediately preceding what I read before, and in this verse we will see this judgement I speak of.
Therefore wait for me,’ declares the Lord, ‘for the day I will stand up to testify. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them— all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.
Take note of that last bit - about the whole world being caught up in this.
And it is in this context that we begin to identify what we’re experiencing, which is what I was talking about in my opening.
You see, while we don’t generally like talking about God’s wrath, largely because it doesn’t seem to fit nicely in with our view of grace, but the reality is that the sin in this world does not please God, in fact it makes him angry.
And while I would always caution against making a direct link between a specific sin and a specific judgement, we can however see a correlation between the sinfulness of our world and the suffering of it.
And so as you read the first two and a half chapters of Zephaniah, that depressive feeling would continue.
But then suddenly verse 9 makes quite a change.
You see, though judgement has been the predominant theme, now the prophecy turns to purification. God promises in verse 9 that he will purify the lips of the people.
At that time, things will be different. Rather than the idolatrous practices that have been happening, worship will rightfully center back on God.
Verse 11 then almost seems to contradict what had just been previously said.
You see, though Jerusalem had been under judgement, they will no longer be put to shame, but the reason is because God has removed the arrogant boasters.
A remnant will be left, one that is humble and does what is right.
Now let’s just briefly stop here. You see, this only fully makes sense on that final day when Jesus returns again. However, this is where I want to again urge you not to see it too simplistically. That’s because God we can see how God will does purify his people even before this final day.
I want to suggest that it is actually in this process of purification that God is doing with all of his people that we start to see the final hope of all that God is doing.
Be glad and rejoice
Be glad and rejoice
Well, after Zephaniah describes this purifying process for us, we then read the command to shout aloud - to be glad and rejoice with all your heart!
Once we begin to explore the context that I’ve just outlined, we can see that this command is by no means that vein attempt to cheer up a grumpy child (or adult).
In fact, when it says be glad and rejoice, it is certainly not just talking about some superficial grin on your face.
In fact, this is the whole beauty of what this message is about. You see, when we read in the Bible to be glad and rejoice, the type of joy that is in picture is a very deep seated joy that can still happen even as bad things happen.
I made a passing reference to before, when Paul tells us “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!”
I remember thinking at other times, what is Paul going on about? You can’t always be happy.
But that’s because I misunderstood the type of joy that the Bible describes. You see, Paul understood the type of joy that we have described for us in .
You see, that command to be glad and rejoice came in verse 14, but then as we see the next few verses, it gives us the reason why we should rejoice.
Firstly, in the first part of verse 15, we see that it is because your punishment has been taken away. In fact, this is a flow on from the purification process that God is doing in us, that we read about in the preceding verses.
But then the second half of verse 15 gives us another amazing reason to rejoice. It says, “the Lord, the King of Israel is with you; never again will you fear any harm”.
Now there is something interesting to note in this verse, which is particularly interesting when we think of the verse in the context of the time in which it was written.
You see, whenever you see the word “Lord” written in block letters like it is in this verse, it is written in block letters because it is the covenantal name of God, namely Yahweh. Yahweh is of course the name that was revealed to Moses way back in the burning bush of .
And so it is saying, “Yahweh, the King of Israel, is with you”.
I find that interesting because this is still in the time of the kings, yet here we see the true king of Israel. It is not a man but God himself.
There is of course this beautiful idea however where Jesus converges as both the human ancestor of the kings and of God himself, putting the notion of Yahweh as king in it’s rightful spot.
But the joy for us is in knowing that God is always with us.
Analogy of human parent
Analogy of human parent
Now I believe that inherently, we all know this kind of joy. It might be only a reflection of the real thing, but in healthy family, it’s the kind of joy you have when you’re with your parent - particularly for children.
You know when a child is upset, usually the first thing they cry out for is their parent, or possibly more frequently, their mum. When the child gets a big hug from their parent it has a huge comforting effect.
There is a sense for that child that even though things might be in turmoil, there is great comfort in just being with the parent.
Actually, I think this feeling of comfort with being with your earthly parents doesn’t necessarily stop when you reach adulthood. Even as an adult being with a parent can be comforting.
I want to suggest that within this moment of the troubled child being with their parent, we begin to see the deep joy that I was talking about before.
You see the deep joy is not just about having a smile on your face. It’s about knowing that there is someone there with you. Knowing that things are being put right. That there is hope and that this isn’t all there is to it.
On that day
On that day
In verse 16, it starts with the phrase “on that day”.
With this phrase, Zephaniah takes us back to that day of the Lord. This is that day of the Lord that just a few verses before was so filled with terror, but now it says “do not fear”.
The Bible is not ignorant of the fact that life is tough. But through all that struggle, the Bible gives us hope. But it doesn’t just stop with the hope, rather it continues to rise up and springing from that hope we get this most beautiful deep seated joy.
This is the wonderful thing about Christian joy. It is not stilted by troubles, rather these struggles actually form the basis of the strength of it, because out of the depths our hopes rise and joy springs forth!
As the passage then continues from verse 18, we continue to read of the great promises of what will happen.
What becomes apparent as you read them is that these are the things that Jesus initiated when he was here on earth.
He rescued the lame and those who were ostracized. He gathered his people together and restored their fortune.
In many ways, the great day started when Jesus came. We will fully know the blessings when Jesus returns again, but it is at this time in Christmas, when we think of Jesus coming to earth as a baby, that we really start to see when things made a dramatic change for the better.
As I started in my introduction, there are going to be days when you feel happy, and there are going to be days when you feel down. But the joy of Christmas is not about a few smiles and a couple of giggles.
The joy of Christmas is something far deeper. It goes to the depth of the promises that God has made. The promise that he will be with us and he will make things right.
This is a sinful world and you have a right to get angry at the many injustices we see, some of which we cause ourselves. But this is not all there is to it.
There is hope and from that hope comes a great joy, a joy that goes beyond the sadness and can give us a deep sense of assurance that God has this all in hand.
When we reflect on the baby Jesus, allow that deep joy to fill your heart and let it overflow to others.
Let me pray...