“How Many Feet are in a Peace” Luke 1:68-79
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, December 9, 2012, Second Sunday of Advent
Zechariah was like most any other man–going numb with silence after hearing that he will be a father. Most men, however, regain their composure soon thereafter and are able to put a few words together. Not so with Zechariah. His lips were moving, but no sound was coming out of them. It happened right as he doubted the news of the angel Gabriel that his wife, Elizabeth, would be pregnant. It happened right as he, a priest of God, doubted that God could or would do such a thing through them. Not only would they have a child in their old age, but their child would be the forerunner of the Messiah. “God, just give me a sign, then I will believe you!” is the essence of his response, one not unlike how you and I respond to God at times. He, after all, was an older man and Elizabeth was no spring chicken either.
It is not that Zechariah didn’t want to be a part of this big plan of God’s for the world. He knew full well the need for the Messiah. He was aware of the prophetic words that had been spoken for years about the one who would come and lead them out of their problems, out of their captivity, and free from their transgressions. He longed for the kind of peace only God could bring in his world. His eyes had been trained to watch for such a person, to see the light he would bring into the thick darkness of their world. But it didn’t dawn on him that he was a part of that plan; that his offspring would actually be the one who prepared the way for the Messiah. He was happy being a priest, an intermediary between God and other people. He just never imagined that he would be this kind of intermediary. And so God gave him some time to be quiet and do the dreaming; to listen more than to speak. He would stay this way until the day his son, John the Baptist, was born. For all nine months, he had plenty of time to work on the song he sang as his first words as a father, the words we heard just now in Luke’s Gospel.
The words of Zechariah’s song are powerfully poetic. It is obvious that they rolled out of the dry lips of his silence, vibrating from his idle vocal chords, to sing words ready to come out for nine months. There is one phrase that stands out the most in this time of Advent, By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (v.v.78-79) Now that is powerful imagery. I confess that in all my readings of this text, I never caught it. . . . the dawn from on high will break upon us. Zechariah and all of his people for years and years had been sitting in the fright of the night, longing for a peace of the light. And now the dawn of this long night was breaking with the first rays on the horizon of the dawn. His newborn son, John, would help spread that light for the world to see.
Have you ever been in the dark? I mean, have you ever felt the cloak of the darkness all around you? I am sure that all of us can remember a time when, as children, we woke up in the middle of the night, imagining who may be in our closet or under our bed. I recall a time when I was out deer hunting with a friend and his dad. I was an avid bird hunter growing up, not interested enough in deer hunting that I wanted to sit in stand and freeze for Bambi. I went along on this trip, though, because it would involve birds–quail and duck specifically–and not just deer. I remember getting up at 4:30 am, riding out to the hunting lease deep in the heart of Texas brush country, and being led to the place where I would stay to await an unlucky deer. My friend and his dad walked on, their footsteps getting farther and farther away and theirflashlight disappearing in the dark distance. I was alone, in the woods, and with instructions not to turn on my flashlight and ruin the hunt. I remember holding my hand in front of my face, in disbelief of its invisibility. The silence of the night was interrupted by the sounds of breaking branches, of coyotes howling, and things scampering around in the leaves. I was convinced I even heard the sound a Brown Recluse makes as it cuts through the tissue of your skin. Then the cold of the dark night set in and I began to feel going to a chill on my face to an ache in my bones. I was miserable, no longer able to move my fingers, no longer able to concentrate, no longer caring about what led me out into the dark. I remember thinking I would not survive out there in the dark that night. The only thing I wanted was for the dawn to break. I wanted it to dispel the darkness, to illumine my surroundings, to give warmth to my frozen body. I wanted the dawn more than I had ever wanted anything.
We all know the dark of the night. We so often take the light of the day for granted, forgetting the loneliness, the sounds, and the thick veil of the night. We forget what it’s like until we find ourselves back in it. Alone. Maybe you are in it right now. You and Zechariah may just have more in common than you thought. You have longed for the break of the dawn from your darkness for so long that you begin to question if there ever will be a breaking dawn. You may feel like you have an assigned seat in the darkness or have felt raw fear from the shadow of death. You may be wondering if you, like Zechariah may lose your voice. It is hard for us to believe that God can bring something new from something old. It is hard to believe that God remembers you while you are sitting in the darkness. When you are sitting in the dark, it seems reasonable to conclude that God doesn’t keep his promises. It is difficult to believe that God can take the things that conquer and hold us down in captivity and destroy them, setting us free. It seems impossible to conceive that peace can happen in our volatile, violent world. It is hard to believe that we actually could be the ones who helps prepare the way of the Lord of peace in our world. It is inconceivable to us while in the dark to see that our insurmountable financial debt can ever be repaid. In the dark, it is hard to believe that our sins against God and others can be forgiven and what was lost can be found. Yes, but the dawn is breaking.
What Advent reminds us this morning is, though it may be dark now, the dawn is breaking. The comfort Zechariah found long ago is something we can experience as well. You may not believe this at first, but keep watching. Stay open to the realm of possibility; to what can break up the darkness with the bright intensity from the light of the Son. Be aware, as you await rescue in the night, that God’s tender mercy . . .will guide your feet into the way of peace. Realize that you have nothing to fear in the dark. Yes, the sounds and scampering you hear in the dark of your night are scary and real. Our worst nightmares sometimes become real. But, don’t forget. The dawn is breaking. Keep waiting and watching. Keep the faith you have known in the light of day. As Rabindranath Tagore wrote, Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark. The season and Scripture of Advent invite us to feel that light, now, even as we may sit in darkness. The light of Christ has broken through the dark, bringing a new dawn for you to see, to guide your feet into the way of peace.
Audio of Sermon is here: