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. Luke 1:78-79
I suppose one should be careful of baring one’s soul too often or people might be frightened away, but sometimes it’s worth the risk. As I get older it seems like I’m gifted with tears more than I used to be. For one thing, I don’t feel as constrained not to cry if I feel like it, and, for better or worse, maybe that’s because I have sought to follow up my health crisis of 24 July 2007 with the renewed sense of perspective which it brought to me as yet another gift.
Sitting at my desk, the morning sun streaming in through the stained glass windows in my study here at the Cathedral, as it does only in these short days of the year when it rides far down in the southern sky and the nights are longer and longer, I read these verses at the end of this Sunday’s Canticle, which is the Song of Zechariah, and I am moved to tears, tears of joy.
God’s tender compassion! What an amazing thought! That word, ‘compassion,’ is from the Latin and it means ‘to suffer with.’ In the tender, suffering-with love of God, a new day is dawning. Zechariah’s song at the circumcision and naming of his son, John, is a wonderful prophecy, in its best sense, which is sharing God’s word, forth-telling more than fore-telling, although it is both. In this case, he sings not only of his own son, but also of the light-bringer, the one who will be ‘for us a mighty Saviour, born of the house of [God’s] servant David.’ He sings of the one who will be named Joshua, after the ancient deliverer, the successor to Moses, who brought the people of Israel into the Promised Land. In Hebrew the name is Y’shua, which means ‘God saves,’ and in Latin pronounced it’s pronounced as Jesus.
This light, God’s living Word of tender compassion from on high, Jesus the Christ, is the one for whom we still wait, the one whose coming (adventus) anciently and presently and distantly shines on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. Who, dear friends, is not included there at some time or another, in some way, shape, or form? Tender compassion indeed! How it is needed in this world, in the Syrias and the Sudans and in the fires of Lhasa! How it is needed in this city, in the gangs and murders and violence and grinding poverty! How it is needed in our own lives – and here you can fill in the blanks – and in our life together. How desperately, how longingly, do we need someone, this one, this Jesus, to guide our feet into the way of peace?
Old, bitter conflicts run deep and dark all over the world; some of them we know well, as in the Holy Land, and some of them we try to keep secret, because they run through our own lives and through our own hearts and minds and families, and, yes, through our churches. Praise be to the Holy One! God hears our cries, sees our suffering, and, despite it all, we know, because of God’s love shining most clearly and brilliantly in Christ Jesus, that even in the midst of death we live in God’s tender compassion. So there is hope, hope unlike anything that we can earn, buy, create, or even steal, hope which is gift, pure grace, shining on us and on the whole creation, in the tender compassion of our God. Thanks be to God!