Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Second Sunday of Advent, year C
texts: Luke 1:68-79 (the Benedictus, appointed as the psalm for today); Luke 3:1-6
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“In the tender compassion of our God, the Dawn from on high shall break upon us:
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
You see, don’t you? We already know what we need to know to live in these times. We’ve sung it with Zechariah for 2,000 years.
Sometimes we forget we know this. So we come here to remember, to be reminded by each other.
Sometimes we remember we know this, but fear it’s not enough to stand in these times. So we come here to stand with each other in this community of Christ, and be encouraged – given hearts.
As distressing as these days are, the Good News is, we already know what God is doing in us and in the world to make all things new. The Good News is, because we are Advent people we already know this will take time. The Good News is, because once more we meet the Triune God here, and are healed by God’s Word and grace, we can remember again what we already knew. And once more find God’s peace.
The Dawn from on high is even now shining on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. We know this.
Because the Dawn, the Light of God’s coming into our own bodies and living with us, comes from “the tender compassion of our God,” we sing. Compassion, like our words “patience,” and “empathy,” is rooted in the ancient word for suffering. In the grief of our world today we come here to remember this deepest truth we know about the Triune God: this God enters our suffering.
Yes, on the cross, but not only there. No, God’s con-passio – God’s “suffering with” us, begins in this birth we will celebrate. Dawn from on high is in our world because whatever we know about those who suffer, we know the Triune God who made all things, galaxies, microorganisms, light, joy, life, this God is with them. With us.
We live in darkness, under the shadow of death. Our whole world does.
But God is with us in this darkness, and has destroyed death’s permanent power. So we are not alone. And death cannot survive.
The Dawn from on high is even now revealing the path of peace. We know this.
The evangelists saw in John’s preaching the voice of Isaiah’s promise, preparing for God’s coming by announcing a highway in the wilderness, a safe, level, smooth path for all. In our day we leave wilderness pristine. For most of human history, walking through the wilderness was life or death. A winding forest path meant threat of bandits or wild animals. A long desert journey meant if water ran out, people died.
So a highway in the wilderness, safe, level, smooth, for all people to find safety and life in God, this is Good News. And Zechariah says it’s the path of peace God’s Dawn reveals to us.
We already knew this. We’ve prayed a prayer for it for 1,600 years.
In Vespers, Lutherans have prayed it for over 200 years, Anglicans for more than 500.
“O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments; and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness.”
We will pray this again on Wednesday; come, pray it with your sisters and brothers. We have prayed this for 1,600 years because it is what we need God to do to give us life in such times of grief and pain. This world needs the peace this world cannot give. We need help to walk that path.
This peace of God comes when our hearts are set to obey God’s commandments.
Listen to that wisdom: there is agency here, God is setting our hearts. That’s in our song, too. “Guide our feet” isn’t strong enough for what Luke writes. There is an agency in this word, we are being moved, straightened into God’s path of peace.
We know what needs to be done, we always have. We know our lives are shaped by love of God and love of neighbor. We know this is the path of peace, that we do this love, act this love in all our moments.
But we need God to set our hearts to do this, or we will fail.
We will fail in fear of this path. While a highway is being built, it’s not fully safe. Builders, and the first walkers, can be harmed in the wilderness. Walking the path of peace means we might be hurt. So we ask God to set our hearts. So we’re not afraid.
We will fail because we are overwhelmed by the size of the task. All we can see is wilderness ahead, the pain, the brokenness, the fear of this world. It’s too much. But we’re not asked to build the whole highway ourselves. Neither can we walk away from it. So we ask God to set our hearts that we take the steps we need to take today, to do what we can do. Tomorrow is another day, another prayer.
And this peace of God comes when our hearts are defended from the fear of our enemies.
Listen to that wisdom. Zechariah sang of being saved from our enemies. This wise prayer names our true need: to be saved from fear of our enemies.
We’ve known this, too. Eight decades ago, President Roosevelt told us the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. We have forgotten this in our culture’s fear mongering. When those who tell the news pander to our fears without challenging our leaders, our society, or even us, to change our ways, when there is no limit to the amount of fear politicians will manipulate to achieve power, when the sheer volume of news that we now receive from all over the world overwhelms us with terrifying pain and suffering, we need not to be saved from our enemies. We need to be defended from our fear of them.
So we pray that God would take away our fear. So we see no enemies on this path at all, only sisters and brothers.
We have always known what God is doing to bring peace to this world. Here, once more, we remember. And we remember that our lives are Advent.
This path of peace God is making will take time. God is willing to take the time, even to the point of being in a womb for nine months and growing into adulthood with us. The Son of God sees the only way to God’s peace is by the joining of all God’s children into this path of peace, one person at a time, one community at a time. There is no quick path, no short-cut, that avoids the healing need of all people walking God’s highway together.
But the Dawn from on high is shining, even if the Day of the Lord has not yet fully arrived. Muslims greet one another with “Salaam,” Jews with “Shalom,” we with “Peace,” and we name for each other this path, this hope, that all will walk together.
We remind each other so we don’t forget. We walk with each other so we don’t stumble. And we pray, we pray for God to set our hearts and take away our fear so each of us is able to walk in this path of peace.
Because we know, though it will take time, one day all flesh truly will see the salvation of God.
In the name of Jesus. Amen