Advent Devotions: Tender mercy

Advent 2015. Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).   

By Rev. Scott Clark
Luke 1:67-79
Zechariah emerges from his silence with a shout and a song.

As you may recall, Zechariah has been on a silent retreat of sorts. Zechariah could not believe it when the angel visited and told him that he and Elizabeth — both well-advanced in years — would have a son, who was to be named John. And so, the angel has instructed Zechariah to mull it over — in silence, unable to speak — “until the day these things occur” — until the angel’s word becomes flesh.

Elizabeth conceives, and Zechariah waits in silence.

And when the time comes, Elizabeth gives birth, and there is great commotion as the neighbors rejoice with her. Just as the crowd is about to name the child after his father, Elizabeth says, “No. He is to be called John.” Disbelieving, they look to Zechariah, who has had time to think all this over, and Zechariah follows Elizabeth’s lead — and the angel’s — and writes on a tablet: “His name is John.”
And then Zechariah opens his mouth. And he speaks. He shouts. He sings out the great good news: “Praise be to the God of Israel who has come to redeem God’s people!” It is as if Zechariah picks up where Mary left off in her song, when she sang: “God is bringing down the powerful, and lifting up the lowly; God is filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich away empty.” To Mary’s song, Zechariah adds: “God has raised up a horn of salvation — salvation from our oppressors. Rescue. Revolution. Salvation.” And then Zechariah says this: “All this, all this, is because of . . . the tender mercy of our God.”
Right there — in the midst of this great and powerful good news — is tender mercy. Out of his silence, Zechariah says this:
God’s healing power is God’s tender mercy.
God is bringing down the powerful
            because of God’s tender mercy for the vulnerable.
God is sending the rich away empty
            because of God’s tender mercy for the poor.
God is overthrowing all oppression
     because of God’s tender mercy for all those whose backs
     are up against a wall.
God is bringing about an end to violence — peace with justice — 
            because of God’s tender mercy for all the mothers
            who mourn children shot in the street.
God’s tender mercy, Zechariah says, is what we are about to see in flesh and bones — by which “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.”
God’s. Tender. Mercy.
Look for it.
Prayer: Today, may we embody God’s tender mercy by living lives that birth God’s justice, healing, and peace. Amen. 

Rev. Scott Clark is a chaplain and associate dean of student life at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

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