A READING FROM THE GOSPEL OF LUKE Luke 1.68-79 (NRSV)
[John’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 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.” Friends, this is the Word of the Lord . . . thanks be to God.
MEDITATION Of a Father’s Love Begotten
Imagine, as you hear the Song of Zechariah, the scene . . . imagine you are there . . . who are you? Are you the proud father, lifting his child aloft, crying out with joy? Are you part of the listening crowd? As for me, I’m the baby, held securely in my father’s arms. It’s a lovely picture, but there’s something wrong in it . . . for although I am a child of God, I am no longer a baby – not in years and not in faith.
In his book The Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen points out that most of us picture ourselves in Luke’s parable as the prodigal son (the one who went away into a life of sin later to return repentant into his waiting father’s arms) . . . either that, or we see ourselves as the ‘good son’, the one who stayed faithfully at the father’s side, only to resent the warm welcome his wayward brother receives.
But as believers, says Nouwen, we are challenged by the story to place ourselves in the position of the father of open and welcoming arms, as the figure in the story who represents God . . . the first time I read that, I was stunned . . . place myself in the position of God? No! It is too much!
Yet listen to Nouwen: “A child does not remain a child . . . When the prodigal returns home, he returns not to remain a child, but to claim his sonship and become a father himself. As a returned child of God . . . the challenge now, yes the call, is to become the Father myself. I am awed by this call. . . It has taken me much spiritual work to make the elder son as well as the younger son in me turn around and receive the welcoming love of the Father. . . on many levels, I am still returning. But . . . there is a call beyond the call to return. It is the call to become the Father who welcomes home. . . Having reclaimed my sonship, I now have to claim fatherhood. . . the hands that forgive, console, heal and offer a festive meal must become my own.” Friends, we are called with John to make God’s way straight, to prepare the road God will travel into the hearts of human beings, one soul at a time. We are called away from childhood and into parenthood."
In the Exodus, God leads the people out of Egypt and into the promised land. The image of God going ahead of God’s people, making the way straight and easy for them, is one of great meaning and comfort.
But in Luke, we have the reverse: the people – we – are to go ahead of God rather than God ahead of the us . . . we are to prepare God’s way, rather than God preparing our way.
The purpose of the calling to go ahead of God, to prepare God’s way, is very clear and very specific: to give to others the knowledge and comfort, as well as challenge, of the saving ways of God, to let them know that God forgives and in God’s forgiveness is God’s saving. . .
And . . . it . . . is . . . coming!
Isn’t that an incredible message? Isn’t that an amazing word of peace?
How can we be at war with ourselves or with each other in the face of such promise? How can we be anything but hopeful in the face of these promises already completed?
And so we pray: Lord, guide our feet all of our days into the ways of Your Peace. Amen.