Joy in God’s Presence

2018-12-16 – Year C – Advent 3 – The Rev. Carrie Klukas
Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 85; Philippians 4:4-9; Luke 3:7-20

Lord help us to turn from the things that draw us away from God and help us to experience unexplained joy that only comes from you. Lord help those who are weeping keep going on sowing for you are a good God. Amen.

The third Sunday of Advent is a Sunday in which we turn towards joy, we call it Gaudette Sunday. We light the pink candle today to call attention to the fact that this is a special Sunday in Advent that turns our eyes to the joy that comes with the birth of the Lord. All of Advent is a time of preparing our broken hearts and lives towards the coming of Jesus. Over the weeks we have focused our eyes on our sinfulness and God’s goodness and mercy to accept us. Today we call on joy, the joy of the Lord.

The prophet Zephaniah today calls the people into a season of rejoicing for what God will do for them. He believes that the Lord will redeem and restore his people and encourages the people to rejoice for the good things to come. Zephaniah calls the people in Judah to sing for joy. Jubilation does not arise from their own actions, but rather because of the presence of their God. Their punishment is over, and the foreign enemy, the instrument of God’s wrath, has been removed. Zephaniah is seeking to share a vision of release from captivity to the people of Judah. He is seeking to paint a picture of freedom to the people of God.

The people of Judah are like us in that we need to be reminded of what’s to come. The people of Judah suffered greatly with abandonment, fear, and seasons of constant running. Life will not always be filled with moments of pain, suffering, or captivity but rather our Lord will come again and set us free. Whether we suffer in our hearts, minds, or physical lives God will indeed ease our sufferings or broken heartedness. He will restore our lives to exemplify his glory in the world. He will come again and make our lives new, and unite the church as one. Instead of their being many churches we will be united as one body proclaiming the goodness of our Lord.

Sometimes I feel like there is a lot of pressure to be bright and merry this time of the year. Songs blare at us from stores, doctors offices, and car radios telling us to be happy and cheerful. Everywhere you look someone is talking about it being the most wonderful time of the year. For some it really is and for others this is a time of mourning or sorrow.  

This attitude often feels as if it flows into our church life. As if we are supposed to will ourselves to be joyful. To pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and make ourselves happy, just choose joy. That is the beauty of our scripture passage today we do not have to make ourselves joyful but rather it is the presence of God that brings joy and freedom.

Zephaniah is pointing to a kind of joy that comes from basking in the presence of the Lord and beholding his beauty. When we come near to Jesus everything changes, our attitudes, our thoughts and our hearts. What was once cold and hard becomes soft and warm. What was once selfish and inward becomes open and outward facing. What was once defensive becomes gracious and accepting of others.

When we come into the presence of God things that seem like big deals really aren’t. Our perspective changes in a way that helps us love one another and to accept one another. I don’t know about you but there was a season in my life when I thought that I needed to pray for Jesus to show up. I thought that if I was in a worship service and not moved emotionally then God wasn’t present. Something was missing and the spirit was not in that place. This however couldn’t be further from the truth.

God by his very nature is present in our worship service the question comes, are we? Sometimes the music, the preacher, the readings, the lighting, or the color of the furnishings seem to bother us. Maybe we find someone distracting and it becomes very easy to lay blame to them for our unawareness of God. However Zephaniah reminds us today that God is present in the worship. He gives of himself and lavishes us with his love. Zephaniah reminds us that now, in the presence of their loving LORD and King, Yahweh, they have no more reason to fear.

Just being in the presence of God brings comfort. There are many Sundays when I am busy leaving four times in a service, plucking a little one off the floor twenty five times, or giving a bunch of children the mama means business look. It can be very tempting to think that God is not here, but the truth is that God is present and waiting for me if only I would come.

Whether it’s the wiggly kid next to you, the style of music, or the loud cough-er God is indeed here at Good Samaritan and deeply desires for you to come to him so he can comfort and meet you. Learning to quiet our insides without the outsides around us being quiet is a true gift that God desires to give us. The next time you feel flustered and annoyed during church try stopping your train of thought, asking Satan to drive far from you, and praying for the person or situation that distracts you.

Turn your annoyance into prayer for others. Turn your distraction back to Jesus and He will meet you there and give you a deeper experience of worship. Each time I remember that a person who is driving me nuts has a soul that will go on forever it helps me to have more compassion for them and not just react in my frustration.

Zephaniah is reminding the people of God that fear, and its physical manifestation, powerlessness, are things of the past because of the very presence of Israel’s God who is also her King (15). In his might as the Divine Warrior (2:9) he is powerful enough to save them. The God who we worship gives us joy and can redeem us from hard places of desolation, hopelessness, and desperation. I encourage you this week to take some time and reflect back on your life and see how God has spared or redeemed you from something in your life.

Perhaps financial hardship, poor relationship choices, bad business decisions, or poor health choices. Think back on how God redeemed you out of this situation and better yet write it down so you can come back and remind yourself over and over of God’s faithfulness.

About nine years Chris and I were a few years into our debt pay-off journey and I will never forget sitting in my tiny office and calculating how long it was going to take us to pay off our debt. When I took my budget, calculator, and pen and paper and laid it all out all I could do was set my head on my desk and cry. There was no way anything was going to change for about 30 years. We were living so simply with so little in order to give everything we had to debt and nothing was going to change for a long long time. Jesus in his mercy just spoke to me and said, “Just steward for this month.”

He only needed me to trust him one month at a time. He was so right and what a journey it was. I wouldn’t trade anything for those beautiful years of drawing near to each other, trusting God, and giving ourselves to God’s work. It was in our incredible place of need that we became most aware of God’s provision. Everytime we needed shoes for the kids, electricity bills to be paid, or medical bills to be covered God would provide.

God redeems his people and brings them to places of joy. As he acted on the behalf of his people in the past so he will again, then and today. Power and gentleness are combined in the same person. The Warrior is also like a parent, delighting in the return of a lost child and quieting his or her fears. How many of you have had experiences where you thought you lost one of your children? It doesn’t matter what he or she did before when you find them such relief washes over you and all you care about it is holding and loving that child. God is like that with us.

When we come to the Lord with our concern, fear, or desolation He hears and can set us free. He longs to provide for you, to bring you joy, and deep personal quietness. God delights in seeing your face in worship, and longs to hear of your concerns and worries. In the Philippians passage we hear, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Your life matters to God you matter to the one who made heaven and earth. The Creator of all that is loves and cares for you. God is big enough to carry our concern and worry.

Zephaniah points out that previous oppression, from external threat and internal corruption, will be removed and those physically maimed and geographically or socially outcast and scattered will be rescued and gathered. He is prophesying about what God is going to do for and with his people. His prophecy is for us as well. God desires to set people free from there bondage and oppression.

Here in Jacksonville we are gifted with an incredible ministry called Christian Healing Ministries in which you can go and get prayer for all kinds of issues in your life. Whether it’s insecurity for who you are and what you were made for, physical suffering, or mental suffering; you can receive prayer and intercession.  We are deeply blessed to have the Posley family among us as they both stand in this incredible ministry. Mr. Posley is often here offering prayer during the 10:30 service during communion. If God leads you come and ask for prayer it can change your life and heart for good. It is never too late to be changed and shaped by God for the good.

Zephaniah says even honour will be restored to those once a people of shame. Aren’t we all a people of shame? One of the important aspects of being a Christian is remembering that we too could so easily fall and succumb to any number of sins. When I hear of another Christian leader announcing their end of ministry due to scandal it causes me to fear and tremble just a bit. How easily that could be you or me? When I hear of another marriage that has failed I tremble and cling to Jesus begging him for the softness of heart needed to remain in marriage. We are all people of shame and yet we have a God that loves us so much to come as a little infant child to set us free of our shame.

Yahweh is actively and personally present in blessing as he was in judging. He speaks directly eight times in these last three verses. He also directly addresses Israel as you. In spite of the strain they brought upon their relationship by their sin, Israel is still God’s people and he is still their God. Our sin can never drive God away but our sin can cause us to flee from His presence. We can miss out on the love that God desires to give us by clinging to our sin and running from the one who can fix it.

One day one of our little ones fell and scraped their knee on the sidewalk. Of course there was blood and a need for some medical attention. As this little one ran to me for help they instinctively covered their knee and screamed at me to not touch it. This child longed for my comfort and healing and yet didn’t want me to do anything. As I helped them I just quietly kept doing the tasks that needed to be done to get them cleaned up and cared for, and finally at the end they were thankful it was all done and going to be better. God desires to care for us like this gently, peacefully, and knowing what is good for us.

God’s ultimate desire is not to inflict punishment, even upon those who disobey. Rather, it is to restore everyone to a right relationship with himself. Whether nationally, as with his people Israel, or individually, in each of our own lives, he longs to be able to restore our fortunes. He longs to give us joy that makes no sense in the light of the circumstances. He longs to give us peace in the midst of storms and trials.

He longs to hear us rejoice and to cry out to him with praise. Our promise today in the scriptures is that we will be given peace and joy when we come into his presence. When we turn our hearts to Him he will enter and give us such love and peace. In the Psalm today it says,“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” True peace in God is possible in Christ, being in his presence is possible despite interruptions, noises, and distractions. You can come into his goodness and mercy even when your head is swirling with to-do lists, worries, and lost hopes or dreams. God has room for us in his presence.

So in the last few weeks of hustle and bustle before the Christmas craziness let us remember God’s goodness and deep deep desire to restore us. Rejoice oh children of Good Samaritan rejoice for the Lord has a plan for you. Rejoice for his love is meant to comfort us and to bring us peace. Rejoice because his joy does not depend on our doing it but rather in being in His presence.  May you experience Him intimately in the days to come and may you join us for the great festival of the birth of our Lord. To God be the glory! Amen

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