I don’t know about you, but if someone would ask me to pick my favorite Christmas song of all time, it would really be hard for me to pick my favorite Christmas song of all time, because I have many favorite Christmas songs. But what about you? Of all the hundreds, maybe thousands, of Christmas songs, do you have one for sure favorite? There are many surveys which ask that same question – and it often depends on who the target audience of surveys is, of course, when it comes to things like this — but apparently the majority of people still look to the old favorites like “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as their favorite secular songs — and old – or even older — favorites like “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” and “Joy to the World” as their favorite sacred ones. Those songs may or may not be on your list of Top Five or Top Ten, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one or two of them were.
This morning we have an even older Christmas song written by a man of God named Zephaniah who wrote his Christmas song about six hundred years before Christmas even arrived. The reason he could write his Christmas song six hundred years before Christmas is because Christmas has been God’s emphasis ever since thousands of years earlier in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve’s sin showed there was a need for it because of their sin and rebellion against the God who made them and gave them everything they could ever need. In fact, this song of Christmas that Zephaniah wrote is really a song that God himself sang. Look at the end of the last verse – verse 17. Talking about the Lord God, Zephaniah said, “He will take great delight in you. In his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
So, let’s listen to this song that our Savior is singing for us today as we continue to prepare our hearts for Christmas. Like many songs we sing in church, this song Zephaniah wrote has two verses and a Refrain. What I’m calling the Refrain is the first part of the opening verse of our Lesson: “Sing, Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, Israel. Be glad and rejoice with all your heart.” As we often do when we sing Refrains, we sing them together, so I invite you to do that with me right now and start by speaking together the words printed as the Refrain in the worship folder. “Sing, Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, Israel. Be glad and rejoice with all your heart.”
Okay, now verse 1 of Zephaniah’s Christmas song sung by God himself. Verse 1 of our God’s Christmas song is Verse 15 of our Lesson:“The Lord has taken away your punishment. He has turned back your enemy.” The Lord has taken away your punishment. I mentioned that the prophet Zephaniah wrote these words six hundred years before Christmas. What did the people who first heard them think about them? Sadly, it wasn’t any different then than the reaction of most people today, because there never has been a time when most people in the world have really cared about – or felt they needed — any good news that the Lord has taken away their punishment. The reason for that is because most people back then, as now, didn’t think there was any punishment to worry about, because they didn’t think there was any eternity to worry about, because what they were concerned about was the here and now – and not what would happen when the here and now was no longer here and now after they died.
Just a little before the words of this beautiful song, Zephaniah had said this:“The Lord will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth.” That is not a happy song, but a disgusting-sounding one, talking about someone’s entrails – his guts – being poured out on the ground as a symbol of people being condemned to eternal death apart from God. Those were words that were meant to wake people up – to let people know that the coming of Christmas was meant to be the best time ever, but if people didn’t know why they needed Christmas or didn’t care about the real reason for Christmas, it would actually be the worst time ever, because they would be saying they didn’t want the very Christmas gift the Christmas Savior was meant to give – the gift of in his love telling us that the Lord has taken away our punishment by taking away the responsibility of our sins.
That’s why you and I do sing at Christmas, because we realize that because of Christ every day is Christmas! Yes, that’s why we sing:“Silent night, holy night. Shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar. Heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia. Christ the Savior is born. Yes, Christ the Savior is born.” And “Hark the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn King. Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled.” Isn’t that why we sing at Christmas? We know we so often sing our own songs of filthy words — or disrespectful, lying, gossipy ones. We know we so often sing our own songs of greedy thoughts — or selfish, lustful, hateful ones. But on the silent, holy night when the herald angels erupted in song, we hear God sing to us from the bottom of his heart, “I have taken away your punishment.” I am reconciled with you. I am at peace with you. That little baby away in the manger is your Savior and your King. Isn’t that a reason to sing the Refrain, which I invite you to do by speaking it again right now: “Sing, Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, Israel. Be glad and rejoice with all your heart.”
Now we have verse 2 of our Savior’s Christmas Song. Verse 2 of the song is in verse 16 of our Lesson, where God sings these words: “On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.’” Do not let your hands hang limp. Is there anyone here who has not had his or her hands hang limp at some point – and maybe at many points – during the past few weeks – and the past few months – and the past few years? God has allowed events to take place that have often made our hands and arms feel like spaghetti, just hanging off to the side – our minds and hearts feeling confused — wondering how much the Lord will see fit to allow us – or people we love – to endure, with diseases that divide people and tragedies that unite people, if even for a little while — with supply chains that keep us from getting things we want or need and flash mobs that think it’s okay to go into stores and get things they want for themselves and their own sinful, selfish purposes.
The people to whom God was singing when Zephaniah wrote this song – the people who were so grateful that they would not be punished for their sins — were still scared and confused, because the world was just as crazy then as it is now, with wars and anger and hatred and division and mockery of those who believed in a God of grace and mercy as their only hope for any joy in life now and for peace in life after death. God had said that the land of his people – people in the land called Judah, where the Savior would someday be born – would be invaded by horrible people from a godless country and the capital city of Jerusalem itself would be destroyed – something that did in fact happen only a few years after Zephaniah wrote these words. It is totally understandable that their hands would hang limp and their hearts – though filled with the love of their God – would still feel heavy with pain and fear. Some of these very people whom God was comforting would still be among those who were carried off to another land or who even lost their lives as enemy armies came to the place they had known as home.
But the Lord told them, even as he tells us, no matter what happens in our life day by day – whether it is something that worries us in a small way or a big way, “Do not fear, Zion. Do not let your hands hang limp.” Nothing can remove you from my love. Nothing can change the joy of Christmas. Nothing can keep me from answering “Yes” to your prayer when you sing, “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell; Oh, come to us, Abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel.” God answers, “Yes, I will!” No, nothing can keep me from answering “Yes” when you sing: “Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay, close by me forever, and love me I pray. Bless all the dear children in your tender care, and take us to heaven to live with you there.” Indeed, God answers, “Yes, I will!” Isn’t that a reason one more time to sing the Refrain, which I now invite you to speak with me again one last time: “Sing, Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, Israel. Be glad and rejoice with all your heart.”
We all may have many Christmas songs – old ones and new ones — that are our favorite Christmas songs to sing to our Savior at this special time of the year. But when you think about the song Zephaniah wrote, all of God’s people have to agree that the best song there could possibly be is not any song I could sing to my Savior, but “Any Song My Savior Sings to Me!” Amen.