Rev. Larry Strenge is a friend of mine, I am honored to say.
He is a noble man, a man of great faith and resilience and weathered trust in God.
Often (but not as often as people covet them, I’m sure!) he’ll post meditations on Facebook. They are nothing long in space, but in reverence and trust and quiet encouragement–they are long in each of these.
Inevitably, along with photographs he’s taken, this text wends itself into his words: “By the tender mercy of our God the dawn from on high is breaking upon us, to give light to those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Larry just offered another reflection yesterday, and for whatever reason, I was particularly taken this time with these familiar words, and found myself unable to shake myself loose from them.
The passage comes from the first chapter of Luke, a powerful set of stories packed into just a few paragraphs of text: we are introduced to Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist; we meet Gabriel, the angel who announced to Zechariah and to Mary that, all evidence to the contrary, they would soon be parents; the prenatal John and Jesus meet; and at John’s birth, the be-muted Zechariah speaks again, saying that yes, his wife was right, that the child would be named John. And then Luke tells us this:
67Then [John’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: 68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Tomorrow is Pentecost, a High Feast day in the Church, a day when we celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Although this text from Luke tends to be thought of most often in Advent and at Christmas time, I think we can get our Pentecost on when reading it too.
Zechariah wasn’t just proud-papa-ing after the birth of us son: he was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” for John’s advent revealed the presence and nature of God.
If that doesn’t have a Pentecost feel to it, I don’t know what does.
With that in mind, listen again to what Zechariah then says, as he is filled with this Holy Spirit: that through Jesus-yet-to-come, God has raised up not a sword, but rather “a mighty savior;” that mercy would be shown, not vengeance; that we may serve and do so with no fear; that salvation would be understood through forgiveness and not retribution; and that light, not darkness, would guide us “into the way of peace.”
The Holy Spirit has gotten, on occasion, short shrift in certain traditions, like, ahem, perhaps my own. We tend to be far more comfortable talking about God-broadly-meant, or Jesus the Christ. The Holy Spirit isn’t ignored, but is a bit like the relative at holidays whom we simultaneously revere and yet can’t begin to fathom. Best to acknowledge her from a distance with a wave and a nod, and then under the breath tell our cousins of rumored stories, mysterious and wild, of our kinswoman on the loose.
Perhaps part of the reason is that the Holy Spirit seems nebulous, like spirits are wont to be.
But is the Holy Spirit really so indistinct, so intimidatingly vague?
Look again at what it looks like to be filled with the Holy Spirit: it is to be taken with, in, and by mercy, and forgiveness, and service, and confidence, and light, and peace.
The “mighty savior” is defined by these hallmarks, these signs of the Spirit (‘Might’ is mightily redefined here).
And the more Zechariah speaks, the more we understand something of the Spirit, and something of God’s intentions for us all.
The more too we hear of what it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, as a person and as a people.
Holy and tangible nebulosity.
A blessed Pentecost to you all.