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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 1:67–75

Then his 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. (NRSV)

It had been one of the worst summers on record in Chicago. The three days before my daughter was born, the temperature was 95, 98, and 95 degrees. Then, on the night she was born, when I was heading home from the hospital, the skies opened up. Thunder and lightning, and I just stood there in wonder.

Maybe that’s a little of what Zechariah was feeling. The months of silence are finally broken, and all he can say is that this child, John, has come into the world in an auspicious moment of wonder.

And while Zechariah was praising God in his joy, other parents were also welcoming children with (one presumes) their own, similar happiness. And those children would be slaughtered by Herod.

Buzzkill, I know.

That rain, that sudden storm—it’s not always a joyful thing. The world can be a pretty cruel place for kids. In poverty, in immigrant caravans, in refugee camps, in leaky boats on an unforgiving sea—joy and wonder can be in pretty short supply a lot of the time.

That ability to stand in that moment of wonder, to feel it wash over me—that’s a privilege.

Zechariah recognizes this. He is, in this passage, profoundly grateful to God. Grateful for his child, grateful for his voice, and grateful for the chance to give back. He thanks God for giving him the chance to do something, to serve God “without fear, in holiness and righteousness.”

In the face of what we see, is our pity righteous, is our sympathy holy? Maybe it’s righteous to offer thoughts and prayers, but holiness and righteousness are qualities of action and without holy and righteous action we can’t presume to be living up to our part in Zechariah’s prayer.

It begins with empathy—the knowledge that we are that desperate, bereaved parent; that that child, lost or in danger, is our child. When we get to that point, if we get to that point, then maybe we have a chance to have the world we claim to want.

Lord, in this time of year, we are waiting. While we are waiting, remind us that the work before us does not cease, that the world is waiting for a rebirth of joy, a rebirth of hope, and a rebirth of wonder. Help us work to bend the arc toward justice. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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