This Advent season I am offering some meditations that come from the Narrative Lectionary. The story for next Sunday has to do with the birth of John the Baptist and the reading is the Song of Zechariah.
Although the lyrics don’t rhyme, the song of Zechariah in Luke 1:68-79 really is a song. Here is a beautiful rendition of it in English.
But the thing about the song is that its context in Luke is about John the Baptist directly and Jesus, only indirectly. Zechariah is John’s father. It could be about Jesus until the closing verses:
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 his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.
Because of our God’s tender mercy
the dawn will break upon 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 (Luke 1:76 ff. NET Bible).
The child will grow up to become a prophet. The narrative lectionary has included the story of how Israel’s long way back from exile in Babylon was prepared by God’s guiding of geopolitical events. But it was also prepared spiritually by the prophets who first said God would visit disastrous consequences upon Israel, and then that he would bring them back and give them comfort. Luke 3:4 ff. applies this to John. But it is the proclamation of doom that we usually think of (Luke 3:7-9).
In Luke, though, unlike the other gospels, John also explicitly recommends simple actions of sharing and fairness even for tax-collectors and soldiers (Luke 3:10-14). I take it that this practical sharing and fairness represents the “way of peace” that Zechariah predicts. Share with those who have less, don’t cheat the tax-payers, and be content with your pay so you don’t resort to extortion or theft.
This corresponds to the words about the “forgiveness of sin” and God’s “tender mercy”. Usually people are reluctant to share what they have. Usually people with power over others exploit them. But God provides another way, one that Luke associates with forgivness, mercy, light and peace.
The other day I watched the movie, Love and Mercy. It is a biographical movie about Brian Wilson, the greatest talent behind the Beach Boys. He struggled with mental illness and abusive relationships with his father and then with a hack therapist. It was all a mix of exploitation, brilliance, drug use, failed relationships, and love. In the end there was a way to peace and light.
Something about the Advent/Christmas season calls for song. So here is the real, recovering Brian Wilson singing the song that gives the movie its title. It comes from real experience and expresses some of the meaning of this season.