“The Day of the LORD” is a recurring theme in the prophets (see Isaiah 2:6-22, Joel 2:1-11 and others). It refers to a time in which the LORD will first punish Israel and then the nations. After that, judgement will give way to mercy. The book of Zephaniah, for example, unfolds in this three-part manner: Judgement upon God’s people (Chapter 1), Judgement upon the nations (Chapter 2), Restoration for the remnant (Chapter 3). For Israel in the book of Amos, because of their injustice, the Day of the Lord “will be a day of darkness, not light” (Amos 5:18). It is only after the death of the nation, that there will be resurrection and life (Amos 9:11-15).
What a bear of a text. Only the homiletically brave of heart would select this reading for preaching on this Sunday. Look at it. There is no explicit gospel at all. We will need to reach far in Amos to grab a text at the end of the book (Amos 9:11-15) to bring in a surprise gospel. Fortunately, it is a gospel which can proclaim salvation from God through a specific day when the Lord works through death to bring about a glorious resurrection for all peoples.
Naturally, we are speaking of Jesus, even if Amos is explicitly not speaking of Jesus. The surprising thing about our text is just how devoid it really is of gospel. Amos makes it quite clear that the “Day of the Lord” is a day of darkness and NO LIGHT! Amos is, of course, referring to the day of judgment. Who could stand on that day? It is hopeless unless something is done about our sin. Indeed, on that day, there would only be darkness for us unless Christ had come and made our judgement day at Calvary. There, at Golgotha, on the cross Jesus was fulfilling Amos’ words when He was there in darkness “from the sixth hour... until the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:45) enduring the judgement of all sin for us. Indeed, in Luke’s gospel the darkness was so real at Calvary that it was said the “sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45). How much darker could it get?
Well, the physical darkness was bad but what is worse is the spiritual darkness Jesus suffered there. He took all of our sin on Himself. As a result, even the Father would separate Himself from His Son and turn His face away from Him. The darkness Jesus experienced on that day was the darkest day for all the world because there the LORD would put His judgement for sin, our sin, on the sinless son of God. There in the darkness, Jesus cried out: “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15: 34). Here in Christ, we behold Amos’ “Day of the Lord.” Where now with our sins paid for and fulfilled in Jesus it becomes a day we no longer need to fear. Therefore, in the light of Easter we can see “that when these things... take place... raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). In fact, your salvation is now here in the resurrection of Jesus. He who died in darkness for our sins has been resurrected for our life and salvation forever. Or as Amos says, when speaking of Jesus at the end of his book:
“‘In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old,’ declares the Lord who does this. ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord... I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land I have given them,’ says the Lord your God” (Amos 9:11-15; various verses).
He who died in darkness for our sins has been resurrected for our life and salvation forever.
Because this text has a surprise gospel that you need to establish from the context of the book itself, the best structure is likely the “Lowry Loop.” Eugene Lowry developed this structure in his book, The Homiletical Plot. He suggests you create a “Aha Moment” by using the sequence of the sermon to create experiences on the part of the hearers that mirror the experiences of a typical plot form.
So, Amos’ call for the Day of the Lord moves from an amazing image of hopeful anticipation to a moment of dread that it is only darkness and “no light,” leaving the hearers conflicted through a deeper complication of the understanding of the text, to crisis, and finally to resolution. A Lowry Loop, as it is often called, has five sections:
- Upsetting the equilibrium (“Oops”).
- Analyzing the discrepancy (“Ugh”).
- Disclosing the clue to the resolution (“Aha”).
- Experiencing the Gospel (“Wee”).
- Anticipating the consequences (“Yeah”).
“Just as in a narrative, the climax of the story often arises from a surprising discovery of a new way of looking at things, so too in this sermon the reversal is something unforeseen by the hearers and, therefore, a surprise or, as Lowry calls it, an “aha!” experience.”
Here is an idea of an outline based off the Lowry Loop, all fleshed out:
Intro: The Day of the Lord is only supposed to be good news. Amen! Come quickly Lord!
Oops: Except in our reading, this is not good news at all! The Day of the Lord is darkness.
Ugh: In fact, the Day of the Lord has “no light” to speak of. There is no good news in this text.
Aha: The Day of the Lord is Christ on Calvary.
Wee: On the cross, Jesus took the fullness of our darkness as the sinless Son of God in our place.
Yeah: There, in light of Easter, we have a day of redemption which turns the whole world around.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Amos 5:18-24.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Amos 5:18-24.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Amos 5:18-24.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!