7 Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is near;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice
and consecrated his guests.
8 And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice—
“I will punish the officials and the king’s sons
and all who array themselves in foreign attire.
9 On that day I will punish
everyone who leaps over the threshold,
and those who fill their master’s house
with violence and fraud.
10 “On that day,” declares the Lord,
“a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,
a wail from the Second Quarter,
a loud crash from the hills.
11 Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar!
For all the traders are no more;
all who weigh out silver are cut off.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do ill.’
13 Their goods shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.”
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.
I hope you have not been leaping over your threshold! (Look at vs. 9.) Zephaniah wrote these words in the waning days of Judah’s “independence” prior to the Babylonian captivity. We think threshold leaping was a superstition which suggested reliance on a false god. We wrote in a moment when Zephaniah could be heard, the days of good King Josiah, but the wicked ways of Josiah’s wretched predecessor Manasseh had been deeply ingrained. Zephaniah and his colleague, Jeremiah, desperately were calling their people to repent and amend their ways before the hammer of God’s judgment fell upon them. This effort failed. Within the lifetimes of many of their hearers, the kingdom was brutally conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, not once but twice. The words of Zephaniah here about wailing throughout the city, searching with lamps, and houses laid waste were agonizingly accurate. They did not get to drink the wine from the vineyards they had planted. They were led out of the city chained together with hooks in their jaws.
If you have ever watched someone make a train wreck of his or her life, you know a little of what the prophets were dealing with. I once watched with sadness as a young woman married the man who had impregnated her. As many of us suspected, he was not a good boyfriend and he was not a good husband or father either. We were there to pick up the pieces of her life with her daughters and family, but the heartache was gut-wrenching for her and everyone who cared for her.
Zephaniah the prophet sees more than one day. He saw the day of Nebuchadnezzar’s brutality, but he also sees a day of universal judgment, the day of the Lord Jesus. That day will fall hard upon those who are complacent, who imagine that the Lord does neither good nor ill. But there is hope. Look again at the first verse of this reading. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests. The sacrifice is the death of Christ on the cross. God has consecrated his guests in the waters of Baptism, including your Baptism.