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.”
It is the first full day of winter, Christmas is just 3 days away and the sun has just broken over the trees to the east of us; it is a bright, cold, winters morning. I’ve been re-reading the above scripture from Luke as I watch the sun climb into the sky. We used these verses yesterday for our prayer group Lectio Divina and I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind, therefore, I ‘m not supposed to. I NEED to continue to consider what they mean to me.
These are the last two verses of the prophecy Zechariah speaks when John (the Baptist) is presented to the temple. Mind you these are the first words Zechariah has spoken for 9 months so he’s put a lot of thought into this moment. This is part of the Christmas Story we don’t hear much of yet it is a beautiful piece and one worth remembering. John after all is the one who announces the coming of the Messiah and, in the synoptic Gospels, baptizes him. (Just in case you’ve never noticed there is no baptism in the Gospel of John.) John also recognizes the divinity of Jesus from the womb when the pregnant Mary approaches Elizabeth. So John has a role in this divine birth narrative.
While the prophecy Zechariah speaks tells us his son will be the one to prepare the way for the Messiah, these two verses are really about the coming role of the Messiah, the light that will shine in darkness. Zechariah knows what it is like to be in darkness; from the day Gabriel announced to him he’d have a son he had been unable to speak. For a Jewish Priest the inability to speak is a kind of darkness, for being unable to speak the words of God is like putting out the light for those who need the comfort of the WORD. These two verses don’t refer to sunlight, they refer to Son Light, and the WORD spoken that draws us out of our darkest moments, pulling us away from the death of a life lived in the shadows.
The footnote for verse 78 tells us that there is another ancient interpretation of line two, “… the dawn from on his has broken upon us,” instead of “… The dawn from on high will break upon us,” and that changes the meaning of the two verses. I happen to like the ancient version of that line because it means there is no waiting for the Good News, it is now, always has been now. We have never had to wait for the WORD, all we’ve had to do is open our ears, eyes, hearts, and listen.
The birth of Jesus is the embodiment of the Divine, the Holy Spirit, who wanted us to see the WORD that had been repeated over and over again by messengers throughout the ages. But Jesus added to the Spirits message, He just didn’t speak the words, and berate those who had fallen away; he acted the WORDS, which was a significant change in the game plan for G-D. No longer are we to hear the message we are to act it out. If we are to honor the Child in the manger then we must do more that kneel and give homage. We are to remember Jesus was born homeless and poor, which means that the light, the words we offer, must lead the homeless and poor, in body and spirit, out of the darkness.
I have always had a love/hate relationship with the Christmas Season. I dislike the gift giving, the hoopla, the commercials, and the insincerity of the greetings people give. I have always wondered how I will change to make this moment meaningful for myself and for those I love. I finally have come to the conclusion giving expensive gifts and preparing an overly elaborate dinner is not Christmas. That does nothing to honor the dawn that has broken upon us. So this year I offer my gifts to the homeless and the poor. The money for dinner went to feed the poor. That is my Christmas gift to family and friends, the light of the WORD acted out. I know I can’t care for all of the poor, homeless, or mentally ill, there are too many and they tug at my heart. I want to gather them all up, human and non-human, and hold them, give them warm clothes, good meal, and a safe place to rest. I can only offer what little I have.
Holy Spirit, love was born that night in a stable and the WORD became visible to all who could see. I pray that now in the messiness of emphatic change in how we hear and see the spirit we will all gather at the manger and offer not gifts of gold, or IPods, or gameboys, but rather offer love, compassion, mercy, and justice for those whose have lived in darkness for too long. My prayer is I will hear you, touch you and listen with an open heart, ear and eye. May my mouth be opened to offer the overflowing love you have given me, let me be the shepherd to guide people on the path to your peace.
©Ruth Jewell, December 22, 2011