Sing, O Daughter of Zion
O LORD, the Mighty One, we thank You for sending Jesus, King of Israel, to take away our sin and guilt, and to cast out the Evil One and all the disaster that he has worked in this world. You make us glad. We rejoice, we sing, we shout the praises of Your love. Amen.
Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! Zephaniah 3.14
Dear Daughter of Zion, those who believe in Jesus,
My sermon today is going to be a little different. It is a sermon that I have been thinking about for a long time. Today I want to help you understand what true Christian worship is all about. Today I hope to encourage your faith and one of the most important expressions of faithóyour worship of God.
Zephaniah was a prophet who lived about 700 years before Jesus was born. God sent Zephaniah to warn people who were turned away from God and who were committing terrible sins. The root of their sin was that they made up their own religion and they practiced false worship. They made up other names for God. They worshiped things God had created such as trees and stars. They created new commandments. Some of them even believed they could make their new god happy by sacrificing their own children. God was extremely angry with them, so He sent Zephaniah to warn them of the Day of the LORDís wrath (1). God would not put up with this evil. But He would save the Daughter of Zion, the small group of those who truly believe in Him and follow His word (2). He would gather them together in His forgiveness and love (3), and they will worship Him with joy and gladness.
Seven hundred years later that promise began to be fulfilled when God sent His Son, Jesus. Jesus came to bring Godís wrath upon all who make up their own gods and worship them. Jesus came to bring Godís love to all who recognize their sin according to His commandments (4) and receive His forgiveness according to His sacrifice when He gave His life to pay for the sins of the whole world (5). Where there is true faith, there will be true worship. Where sin is destroyed and Godís wrath is averted, there will be true joy and singing. It has become a tradition in the Christian church to celebrate the joy of Godís salvation in Jesus on this third Sunday of Advent. While most of the advent candles are blue to remind us of the hope of Jesus and His return on the Last Day, one candle is pink to remind us of the present joy we have in Jesus now.
So far youíre probably wondering whatís so different about this sermon. You will begin to seeóI want to walk you through the regular worship service to show you how everything fits together. I want to show you how our worship carefully follows Godís word and looks to Godís forgiveness in Jesus. I want to consider all the expressions of joy that flow from our firm trust that God has saved us from our sin.
(At the baptismal font) Letís begin here. This baptismal font is where the joy of salvation in Jesus begins for all of us. St. Paul was told, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (6). Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (7). In Zephaniahís day, just as today, people sometimes made up their own names for God and their own ideas about God. This is where all turning from God begins. Jesus came to bring us to the true God, and therefore Godís name is very important. It is the name that saves. In the miracle of baptism that name and the salvation that goes with it is given to us. This is something we never forget as we worship. Behind me you see the stained glass window of the baptismal font. Notice that the water of baptism flows throughout the entire picture. This is to keep reminding us of the name of the Lord who saves. At several key points in the worship service we will come back to the name of the Lord.
(Moving to the center) We live in Godís baptismal grace by confessing our sins everyday and receiving Godís promise of forgiveness. The pastor is Godís servant who speaks that word of forgiveness in Godís stead. Whenever we address God or worship Him, we will always confess our sins and look for that word of Godís forgiveness in Christ. In our personal worship it may be the words of Scripture that we recall or read. In our families it might be spoken by father or mother. Husbands and wives should absolve each other. As we worship in church that word of forgiveness is spoken by someone (a pastor) who is especially called to do this.
(Moving toward the altar and the cross) Reassured again of our forgiveness the pastor steps toward the altar. We praise God with a psalm and two very short hymns. The first, the Gloria Patri, reaffirms again the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The second, called the Kyrie (Greek for "Lord") praises God by accepting His mercy in the Lord Jesus. The pastor prays a very short prayer that "collects," that is, emphasizes the main thoughts that we are about to hear when the Scriptures are read. All of this is done with reverent acts such as bowingóWhy? We are not bowing to the brick and wood. We are bowing and showing reverence to God. We have dedicated this place for Godís word that brings salvation. To your right you see the eternal candle. That candle burns continually because this space is continually set aside for God to deliver His grace and salvation to us. The altar is a reminder of Godís word regarding the sacrifice for sin. Itís not a table to set things down. It is a symbol to remind us that sin doesnít just go away on its own. The writer of Hebrews tells us "without the shedding of blood there is no remission" (8). God commanded various sacrifices for sin to prepare us for the greatest sacrifice of Jesusí death on the cross. The cross always goes with the altar because the command regarding the shedding of blood was completed by Christ on the cross.
(Moving to the pulpit) Our worship begins with the name of God in baptism. The name of God is again affirmed in the creed. In the creed we also expand upon that name by confessing the works of God. The name of God is expanded and amplified even more as we listen to His word. The Bible is Godís inspired word. In several places God tells us that we should listen to this word on a regular basis (9). But the Bible is a big book, and to meet the needs of most people Christians have always divided the reading of the Bible into portions or selected readings. Listening to Godís word is probably the most difficult part of worship. This is where the devil works the hardest on us. I personally try to repeat in my mind the key words that are being read so that my mind doesnít wander. God wants our full attention. Allow a brief little comment at this point. . . I love children. God has given five to our family. I also know how important it is to bring them to worship and to get them into the habit of worship from infancy. But we must also consider the needs of our larger Christian family. At this critical point in the service, and also as Godís word is explained and affirmed in the sermon, it is important to take our restless children behind the glass doors where we can still hear the message and yet allow others less distraction. We must balance the love we show to all Godís childrenóthose in whom we are instilling the habit of worship and those who may have difficulty hearing and concentrating on Godís word. At other places in the worship service where listening is not as critical it is certainly the duty of all members to be understanding of those parents who fulfilling Godís command to bring their children to Jesus and trying to teach them to worship the Lord.
(Moving back to the altar) When the preaching of Godís word is concluded, we respond with a series of important prayers. The first is called the Offertory because in it we are offering ourselves to God in faith. The Offertory is Psalm 51.verses 10-12. As we prepare for the General Prayer we gather our offerings which show our thanks to God for all He has done for us. We sing the Doxology. "Doxology" simply means "words of glory." The General Prayer follows in which we indicate special thanksgivings and needs to God.
After the prayers our direction shifts to the Sacrament of the Altar. It is also known as the Lordís Supper, the Breaking of Bread, Holy Communion or the Eucharist (Greek for "Thanksgiving"). One of the best and simplest explanations of the Sacrament of the Altar is found in Martin Lutherís Small Catechism. "It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine for us Christians to eat and drink." Remember what I said about the altar and the shedding of blood for the remission of sin. This Sacrament is not a re-sacrifice of Christ. It is a very special miracle that brings the sacrifice of Christ to us. It is one thing to read about the sacrifice for our sins in the Bible. It is another thing to participate in this sacrifice. Before Christ came the people of God participated in the coming sacrifice of Jesus through the animal sacrifices. They didnít just read about Godís love; they actually participated in His love in this way. Now that Christ has come we also do more than just read about Jesus, we actually join with Him, and He delivers His love and forgiveness to us through this eating and drinking. The communion songs emphasize the holiness of God and His salvation. "Sanctus" simply means "holy," and "Agnus Dei" simply means "Lamb of God."
During the celebration of communion as well as at other times in our worship we sing longer hymns. These hymns are prayers and praises to God. We always try to select hymns that fit with the main aspects of the worship service. We sing a wide variety of hymns from the fourth century up to the present day. Lutheran hymns tend to be more theological than emotional. Itís not that it is wrong for the music and hymns to move our emotions. But we do have a pattern to follow in the book of Psalms and in the other songs of the Old and New Testament. In these songs God is more often glorified by very clear and specific descriptions of who He is and what He has done for us. The more we read and meditate on the word of God the more we will grow to appreciate the hymns of the church.
After we have participated in the body and blood of Jesus Christ in this miraculous way we sing the song that Simeon sang when he first laid eyes on Jesus (10). We sing of the hope of Israel who waited so long to see Godís salvation. We give thanks and again pray in the name of the Lord. As we began with the name of the Lord, so we conclude with the threefold blessing to Israel.
Here you have a basic explanation of our Christian worship. In a sense there are these two things constantly taking place: First, God speaks to our hearts with His word, and He invites us to participate in that word through Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. Second, we then respond with our confession of sin, our affirmation of faith and praises to God, our petitions of need, and our thanksgivings for all God has done and promises to do for us.
From the moment God first spoke His word of Law and Gospel until this very day, believers have responded according to the encouragement of Zephaniah, "Sing, O Daughter of Zion!" I pray that our rejoicing will continue even as God continues to extend to us the hand of salvation. Amen.
(1) Zephaniah 1.15 and 18 (2) Zephaniah 3.8ff (3) Zephaniah 3.15 and 17 (4) Matthew 9.13 (5) Mark 10.45 (6) Acts 22.16 (7) Matthew 28.19 (8) Hebrews 9.22 (9) 1 Thessalonians 5.27 (10) Luke 2.29-32
Pastor Michael Walther
The Third Sunday in Advent, December 17, 2000
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois
Michael P. Walther; Copyright, 2000
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