And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.1
I'm sure I had read the benediction of Zacharias to his son John before. In fact, I'm reasonably sure I have read it at least three or four times. But for some reason, it has never leapt out at me. (Maybe because it is overpowered by Mary's Magnificat just a few lines up the page.)
This morning, though, it hit me like a boatload of rabid weasels:2 God's tender mercy, personified in Christ, is a sunrise.
It's a simple picture, but also a powerful one -- especially if you have ever had the joy of seeing the sun creep over the horizon after a long, dark, painful night. The renewed burst of warmth and light from that celestial body remind you that the world is actually a pretty wonderful place after all, despite its spots of scattered darkness. No matter how foul your mood, there is always some solace to be found in the cheery rays of sunlight dancing through the morning sky. If nothing else, there is always the hope that today will be better than the one that preceded it.
Sunrise always reminds me of the 900-mile trek from my former home in Northeast Arizona back home to Kansas. The drive is a long, exhausting one, over mountain passes and through seemingly endless stretches of desert.
We normally tried to have at least three drivers in the car, of whom two would be asleep at any given time. This allowed us to leave at 3 p.m. on a Friday and pull into our destination at about the time the sun was peeking up over the Kansas plains.
Without fail, the hardest stretch of the drive was between midnight and 5 a.m. Struggling to stay alert when it's way past bedtime, navigating confusing networks of backroads to shave a few minutes off the drive, and listening to whatever radio station was least staticky out in the middle of nowhere3 can certainly drain a person.
The worst part of driving in the dark is that it's hard to see your progress. You have no real evidence, other than your odometer, to indicate that you're actually going anywhere -- particularly when you're driving through Western Kansas, where there are very few landmarks and a lot of flat, open spaces.
So when you see that blessed glow on the horizon, you suddenly realize: "Hey! I'm almost home!" There's a feeling of relief that accompanies the sunrise. When you look back on the long night behind you, there's also a feeling of accomplishment. You realize that you have already done the most daunting part of the journey, and ahead of you is only brightness and joy.
For those of us sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, the Sunrise is a welcome sight indeed.
1 Luke 1:76-79 (New American Standard Bible)
2 I was going to say "like a ton of bricks," but that was just a little too cliché. I have high hopes of making "boatload of rabid weasels" the new "ton of bricks."
3 Normally the musical choices were reminiscent of the following exchange from Blues Brothers:
Elwood: What kind of music do you usually have here?
Claire: Oh, we got both kinds. We got country *and* western.