Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Promises, and the Dawn

One of my favorite Scripture readings is the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79). Here is Zechariah, an elderly fellow who is told that his equally elderly wife is going to have a baby – a baby who will be important to Israel’s salvation. And his initial reaction to the message of God’s angel was the equivalent of today’s “Are you kidding me right now?” Zechariah’s canticle of praise is not a paean to his spiritual perfection – far from it! This beautiful piece of Scripture is instead a testimonial to the merciful God Who first gave him nine or so months of silence in which to contemplate his relationship with his Maker – and Who eloquently and generously and completely fulfilled every promise he had made to Zechariah.

When Zechariah demonstrates his submission to the will of God by giving his son the name the angel revealed to him, his power of speech is restored. Rather than dashing off to celebrate with his friends, he takes the opportunity in those first moments of restoration to praise God. His theme: How a faithful God remembers and keeps His covenant with and His promises to His people.

Zechariah’s song of praise echoes God’s promises over the whole history of the Israelites. When I reflect on the early verses, I’m reminded that we 21st-century Christians are blessed with the richness of several millennia of experience, as retold by the inspired writers of Scripture and as lived out by the Church Jesus established during his time on earth: thousands of years and countless stories of how God has kept His promises.

That we, like Zechariah, question His faithfulness and His willingness to do what He says He will do, is the mark of our heritage from our first parents in their original sin. We fail, and God forgives, asking only that we be open to His forgiving grace and try sincerely to do better with His help.

Lest that cycle of sin and forgiveness become something we take for granted or worse, become a source of discouragement and despair, we are given the beautiful words that end Zechariah’s song of praise:

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 in the way of peace.

What wonderful words of encouragement! The same God Who has been keeping His promises for thousands of years of human history promises to keep right on caring about what happens to us. Left to our own nature and our own devices, we can’t help but drift toward darkness. We must turn toward “the tender compassion of our God,” because that way lies the dawn. We must let Him shine on us and “guide our feet in the way of peace,” because that way lies freedom.

I don’t trust pat phrases like “all you have to do is….” but this path to freedom really is just that simple. The promise is there. The redemption that fulfilled the promise is there as well. The grace that gives us full access to that redemption is there. All we have to do is just let Him.

Because there is this one other thing. When we do let Him – when we come before Him, sinful and sorry and recognizing both the promise of redemption and the depth of our need for it, Jesus does not delight in our shame. Rather, He takes us by the hand and lifts us up so that we can walk with Him. This is the core of our personal relationship with Him, that He loves us as sinners and then takes us, with His promise of redemption, so far beyond our sinfulness so that we can love Him back. As with Zechariah, He loves us even in our stubbornness and our questioning and our rebellion, and then He generously fills the space we have left over when we give those up and look to Him.

We are children of a Father Who keeps His promises. We are invited to walk with a Savior Who redeemed us from sin with His own suffering. We are guided by their Spirit of love and wisdom. Knowing this, why would we not open our hearts? Lord, to whom shall we go?

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