Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fearless service III

In earlier posts, I started laying out some thoughts for a sermon I would have preached on Luke 1.67-80. Having been liberated from a divinely-imposed silence, Zechariah bursts into song over the divinely-acheived salvation of Israel. Such salvation means not simply deliverance from the hands of enemies, but more fundamentally "light to those who sit in darkness, in the shadow of death".

This is all of us. None of us by worrying are able to add a single hour to our life. None of us can guarantee tomorrow. We are all dying, giving birth astride a grave. Although some might be more aware of being close to death, this is a matter of quantity rather than quality. The universally deadly future casts its grim shadow back upon all the living. Our society either obsesses over death, or refuses to look or think about it. Either way - whether in explicit fixation, or implicitly through resolute denial - we live as though death is the definitive reality in life, colouring all existence.

It is this morbid situation that Zechariah realises God is addressing. How does God execute this salvation from the shadow of death? By raising up a mighty saviour in the royal line of David. Of course, this points forward to the rest of Luke's narrative. By the end of the story, that a saviour has been "raised up" (now with an extra and more direct meaning) makes all the difference to those who pale at the approach of death. Zechariah puts it like this: "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.” The resurrection of Jesus dispells the gloom of death. Death is still there, but its terrors melt away in the breaking dawn.

And what is the intended goal of this salvation? God doesn't simply remove the negative, but replaces it with a positive design. From sitting in darkness, we can now rise and walk "the way of peace". Having been saved from enemies, especially the last enemy death, we are liberated to fearless service.

Service seems risky. So often, we are anxious that if we pour our lives out in service of God and neighbour, we might miss out. Our attempts to bless might be repaid with curses. We might be left forgotten. But the one who remembered his holy covenant with Abraham will not forget you. And the one who has dawned upon us will bring everything to light.

Daylight is come, our saviour is risen, the path of peace lies gleaming before us. Let us follow our master in service without fear.
Series: I; II; III.


Anonymous said...

I found your phrase "giving birth astride a grave" an *enormously* powerful image that somehow captured instantly and perfectly what it feels like to be human. It brought a flash of tears. Thankyou.

byron smith said...

Benjamin - yes, that phrase from Samuel Beckett has stuck with me from the day I first heard it at a school performance of Waiting for Godot when I was in year 11.