78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
“Those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.” I don’t know for sure what the poet had in mind with that phrase, whether it is a general metaphor for the ordinary troubles of life, whether it evokes the trials of oppression under a foreign power, whether it refers to the darkness and hopelessness of a debtors’ prison.
Many images come to my mind: Camping in the high Sierra’s when the cold seeps through the sleeping bag and your stiff body longs for the warmth of dawn. A cold rainy night on the road, curled up in a rest area because no one would stop in that weather for a hitchhiker. A view outside a bus window on a bleak winter day in Minnesota, trees stripped bare and frozen earth as far as I could see – a scene matched by an inner desolation in the aftermath of a burial. A homeless man making a home of newspapers in a window well in downtown Detroit.
All of these are shy of a debtors’ prison and enemy soldiers on the streets, yet I can guess at the desolation, the weariness, the ache in the bones and in the soul. And I can guess at the grace of a dawn from on high.
Too often we stand at a point in life when we see nothing down the road but more of the same, whether loneliness or pain or economic difficulties, whether injustice, political turmoil, or neighborhood violence, whether troubled homes, unsolvable problems, or the dark night of the soul.
John’s father Zechariah has been silenced by his unbelief. But now the child is born and his tongue is loosed and he sings of the dawn that comes. The dawn that warms the soul. The dawn that heralds a future. The dawn of mercy and redemption and new life.
We sang this song of Zechariah today, and its beauty lingers. But, in a sense, every worship service sings of dawn. Every service opens doors, unlocks prisons, lifts our hearts. Every service warms the soul and brings that new day where mercy reigns.
Sometimes the songs evaporate like the morning mist before we even leave the parking lot. But sometimes they linger. And the taste of the bread lingers. And the aroma of the wine. And the sounds of grace. And the warmth of God’s new dawn.
Some days we return home and find God’s tender mercy our lasting companion.
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“Advent talks to us about preparation. We are getting ready to greet the Christ who comes to us. But there is a great difference between preparing for a test or preparing for a courtroom trial and preparing for a wedding. We are preparing for a wedding.”
(From today’s sermon, “The wedding of heaven and earth” – posted in Recent Sermons)