14 The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
Like the other prophets, Zephaniah sees the coming day of the Lord as a day of darkness and judgment. Judgment on all of Judah’s enemies (chapter 2) but also judgment on Judah herself.
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
But then suddenly Zephaniah’s message to Judah turns into one of hope.
14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
And so Advent turns from darkness, gloom, and judgment to singing, rejoicing, and salvation. How is this even possible? Why the two dramatically different messages from the prophet?
When war turned to peace
The answer is of course the Apocalypse – God’s revealing of himself in the incarnation and the cross. In Christ’s humanity and dying he has taken the wrath of God against Judah, the distress and anguish. The ruin and devastation. The darkness and gloom. And now, because of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, God can sing over Jerusalem.
The incarnation is Christ’s union with Israel. Jesus took the place of Israel here on earth. He succeeded where they had failed. He lived a life of faithful obedience before God. Therefore, by his righteousness he can be the substitute for Israel. By experiencing the day of the Lord on the cross, he took the wrath that they deserved (and the wrath that we all deserved). Now, because of the cross, Israel can experience God’s forgiveness – The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies.
Our union with Christ is our union with Israel. We too are free from the judgments of God. We too are clear of our enemies. We too shall never again fear evil. We too have the Lord God in our midst. We too are sung over by the Lord with gladness. This is “to live is Christ.” This is our Advent. This is what we are waiting for. Rejoicing.
Yes, it’s dark around us. Yes, waiting is full of sorrow. But Jesus Christ has brought rejoicing into our sorrow. He has brought peace with God. He has brought us hope in a day of the Lord full of rejoicing not reeling. The Lord our God singing over us. Loudly.
Are you able to rejoice in your Advent? How does your union with Christ (and thus with Israel) allow you to find joy in the thought of the return of the Lord?