Every Sunday morning, I sit in the second pew from the front in our 10:30 service and listen to our pastor preach a sermon. And then at 10:30, I use my notes from the 8:30 sermon to teach the same passage to children. Sometimes in the re-telling, parts of the selected passage catch my eye that I didn’t notice a few hours earlier. Sometimes the kids have questions that slow us down, and the pause in pace lets us consider how other truths that they’re struggling to understand bear out in the verses of the day. It’s been a wonderful practice that I wish everyone could participate in to further grow their understanding of God’s Word. There’s something deeply fulfilling in taking the powerful Word of God and explaining it to children. At the end of the day, I find I’ve had it explained to me a bit better, too.
This week, Pastor Derek was finishing up his Advent series from the first few chapters of Luke. We had talked about the lead-up to John’s birth as well as Jesus’, and this week we read about both births. In reading through the verses to the kids, a particular verse jumped out at me and arrested my attention. At the end of Luke 1, Zechariah prophesies about the coming of the Messiah and how Zechariah’s own son would play a part in preparing the way for Christ’s ministry. It’s a beautiful passage that I’ve usually skipped over on my way to the famous and more familiar second chapter of Luke. But one of the last verses of this prophecy stopped me in my tracks this week:
Because of the tender mercy of God,Luke 1:78-79
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
I’ll be honest; we didn’t even make it to Luke 2 this week because these two verses derailed me a bit. I looked out into the faces of the children listening and asked them a question: “How can a sunrise show up at your door like relatives coming to stay at Christmastime?” They giggled but didn’t seem to have any ideas. There were quite a lot of big words and weird verses in that prophecy, so I wasn’t looking for them to get every word. But that’s why we paused – these words were really important!
Some of the kids in the seats in front of me, some of the people in our pews in “big church”, and some of you reading this post know what it means to sit in darkness – to sit in the shadow of death. Maybe this year has felt like one big shadow. How can we find the way of peace? We echo the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – There is no peace on earth, we say. But beauty is found when we realize that the sunrise is coming to visit us. In fact, He already has.
Just like a sunrise in the morning bathes the world in warmth, light, and beauty, Christ came to warm our cold hearts, light the world and the path of peace, and reveal the glory of God made flesh for us. He lived in the shadows with us and made a way for us to live in His light, all because of the tender mercies of God.
I told the kids in children’s church that the people of Israel had been waiting 400 years to hear God speak – for the shadows to lift. And then God came not as a conquering king to drive out the darkness, but to live in it with us. We sometimes revert back to the thinking of the Jews in Jesus’ day: if the Messiah came, why haven’t the shadows gone away forever? Where is the peace on earth promised in the coming of the Prince of Peace? We chafe as we wait for the second coming to finally banish the darkness forever.
The waiting is hard. The shadows seem so so dark. I looked out into faces of children who were feeling the shadow of death this Christmas season. I thought back to the prayer requests we’d mentioned before we started our lesson, from sick family members to missing pets. The hurts of children are sometimes small but always felt. We all feel the darkness of waiting, no matter what age. The familiar pang of longing. And sometimes the good moments of life leave us longing even more than the bad – for more, for better, for purer things.
Take courage, reader. The Sunrise has come and on people walking in darkness, a great light has dawned. And as surely as each night is followed by the rising of the sun, the Dawn will return again. And there will be no more night. Thanks be to God and His tender mercies.