We’re entering the Holiday season – the time of Advent and Christmas. We might think that this is an odd time to have a celebration. The days are getting shorter, and the darkness is oh, so obvious. The season of Advent is a time when we look at the darkness in and around us, see and our desperate need for light to come. The light that God promised from the beginning.
A big part of the Christmas story is that of the birth of Jesus’ “prophet” or forerunner – John the Baptist. One day John’s future father, Zechariah, was performing the duties of the priest in the temple, making the daily sacrifice of burning incense to the LORD while the multitude prayed outside. Praying that the Messiah might come to deliver them from the darkness of their sin, and that the LORD would again visit them.
The angel Gabriel appeared and told him that his aged and barren wife of many years would have a son. This son would be the one to prepare the way of the LORD. Zechariah did not believe him. Much like it is sometimes difficult for us to believe God’s promises. Gabriel brings “these glad tidings” that those prayers that Zechariah and the people have been offering for so long are about to be answered, but Zechariah didn’t see it happening! “I am and old man, and my wife well stricken in years.” Bah, humbug.
So in God’s tender compassion, Zechariah was given a sign. He was struck dumb for the nine or so months until John was born. Time to meditate on the blessings that were promised.
Then when John was born, the Holy Spirit used Zechariah to give us one of the most beautiful and comforting canticles in Scripture. It’s in Luke 1:68-79. It’s also a part of our daily prayer in the Lutheran Book of Worship in a setting called Matins. (LBW pgs. 131-141) It’s called the Benedictus from the Latin for “blessing.”
The first words are “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has come to His people to set them free.” Later in the canticle, Zechariah addresses his infant son directly, saying “you, my child shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the LORD to prepare His way. To give His people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.”
And here is the Advent part that I hope you will keep in your hearts and minds as you prepare for the coming of Christ:
“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
In days of darkness, as we struggle under our cares and worries of our daily grind, of the sin in the world around us and in our own hearts, this word of promise and tender compassion comes to us from our God. Our midweek Advent worship (at noon on Wednesdays) will include this canticle. I pray that you will come as you are able – bring spouses, kids, coworkers, whoever – and have these words prepare the way in your heart for the coming of Christ, and direct your feet into the way of peace. For it is promised. To you. “The dawn from on high shall break upon us.” Pr. Tim