Tumbling in the Sand
The texts July 1, 2012 (moved from June 24, 2012 — the celebration of the birth of John the Baptist): Malachi 3:1–4; Psalm 141; Acts 13:13–26; and Luke 1:57–80
“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.” – Luke 1:78-29
In the heat of the summer, I love the dark quiet of Salem’s sanctuary. The light, filtered through stained glass, creating patterns of blue and yellow and red across the pews—especially as the sun gets low toward the end of the day—giving this sort of holy hushed peace. There is a tender mercy there.
But I must say, that coming out of that dark space through the front doors into the sun is a painful experience while my eyes frantically adjust from the softly-lit interior to the brilliant sun baking the wooden doors and cement steps outside.
I often think of that feeling of sharp pain when exposed to the sudden sunshine when I read this line from Zechariah’s song: “the dawn from on high will break upon us.” I can’t help but feel that the odd juxtaposition of tender mercy against that shooting pain seems wrong somehow. And yet, there it is.
Of course, there are times when I appreciated the dawn, the breaking of light. There was this time when Lee and I went camping on Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. It was a beautiful place to camp, except that at three o’clock in the afternoon every day it would rain and then we’d spend the evening in a fog bank and the night under clear, cold, dark skies. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been colder in my life (that could be an exaggeration, but I’m not sure) and the breaking of the dawn, as Lee and I lay wide awake, shivering in the tent, were the most wonderfully welcome rays of sun that I had ever seen. That was truly mercy.
I wonder if God’s dawn is like both of these experiences. I wonder if our experiences of God and God’s ways are exactly this juxtaposition. I wonder if when God shows up in our lives, it can seem like harsh disruption, like the roasting sun on pavement, or like the voice crying out in the wilderness—it’s so different than what we are used to, what we are comfortable with, that it can hurt. And yet, at the same time, that light is tender mercy—warming the earth, showing the way, freeing us to walk away from the foggy shadows of death to something new.