Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Psalms of Advent: Benedictus, Dawn of God's Tender Mercy

 Because of our God’s deep compassion,
  the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
 to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
  and in the shadow of death,
  to guide us on the path of peace.
Luke 1: 78-79

The dawn breaks
The third in Luke's trilogy of birth narrative psalms is Luke 1: 68-79. They're the words of the priest Zechariah, the expectant father of the one who would become John the Baptizer.
They are the first words spoken by Zechariah after Gabriel rendered him unable to speak. Zechariah did not initially believe the angel's words about his aged wife Elizabeth bearing a son, one who would have an amazing mission. 
Maybe the heavenly messenger realized too late that Elizabeth was the better first option. Was the concern that Zechariah would say or do something that might endanger the mother or the soon to arrive son?
But Zechariah teaches us something when it comes to men and compassion. The late great Congresswoman from Texas, *Barbara Jordon, once spoke of men not really getting compassion because men are not physically set up for it.
She was taking about a mother's love for her children. The Hebrew Bible uses compassion in different ways, the most common is the kind of mercy a king grants a subject. But the second most prevalent meaning is the kind of mercy a mother has for a child. This mercy is not in the head or heart, but visceral, the kind that exists in gut, womb, or even bowels.  
God's womb-love? The inclusion of "tender mercy"  (NRSV) or in the CEB, "deep compassion" shows that Zechariah and of course Luke, know all about it from the Hebrew Scriptures and even more from the ministry of Jesus. You could make the case that the many faceted and unique Lukan parables (all of Luke 15 comes to mind, for example) cannot be read and understood apart from God's womb mercy. 
I love these words of Zechariah because they seem to indicate that I, too, can both learn and receive something amazing in God's tender mercy. It's God's love and compassion that makes my life possible and worthwhile. There is nothing more to be added, there is nothing to be deleted.  
* "I believe that women have a capacity for understanding and compassion which a man structurally does not have, does not have it because he cannot have it. He's just incapable of it."



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