Darkness cloaks our days. We go to work before the sun is up, and we return home with our car lights on as the shortened days are at hand. We do our best to illumine this time of year with both artificial and spiritual means. Thankfully, God provides the latter.
One of the texts for the Second Sunday of Advent is the Benedictus, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. You may recall that Zechariah had encountered an angel while performing his priestly duties at the temple; in this terrifying experience, Gabriel (who is quite busy in these early chapters of Luke) announces that the priest’s wife, Elizabeth, would bear him a son—finally. Up in years, they had both given up hope of this expectation. Advent begins with dim prospect.
Understandably, Zechariah questions the messenger’s word, and the angel tells him he will remain mute “until the days these things occur” (1:20). Outside the people are wondering about the delay in the sanctuary, and they grew more puzzled when he came out and could not speak to them, only make motions. At least they had the spiritual sensitivity to conclude that he has seen a vision. Then, he went home.
We have no evidence of him speaking again until after the circumcision and naming of the child. I have always found it rather humorous that instead of listening to his mother who clearly said his name would be John, the neighbors and relatives turn to the wordless Zechariah. Still unable to speak, he can only write, “His name is John.” Then, “his mouth was opened and his tongue freed and he began to speak, praising God” (v. 64).
Filled with the Holy Spirit, his spoke this lyrical prophecy about the role his son would play in the coming of the might savior. Luke crafts a joyous song that summarizes the whole of God’s covenantal promise and John’s preparatory work. The canticle concludes with these words of fulfillment:
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 (Luke 1:78-79).
Benedict of Nursia most likely instituted the practice of including the Benedictus in the morning prayer of his monastic community. Each morning at Lauds the monks celebrate the wonder that the “dawn from on high” has come, acknowledging both the new day and the new epoch of redemption for those who sit in darkness.
Without this inbreaking from God, we stumble without direction along destructive pathways. Thankfully, God’s tender mercy finds us in our darkness and lights the way. In these reflective days of Advent, may we walk toward what we hope for—the way of peace.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.