Lynda Hollinger-Janzen is God’s beloved daughter and desires to follow Jesus’ example of sharing God’s love and liberation with all people. She has put her faith into practice on three continents and worked most of her adult life through Mennonite Mission Network, currently in Goshen, Indiana. She is also a massage therapist and, with her husband, Rod, parents three adult children.
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
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 knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
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: 68-79 (NRSV)
Today’s Luke reading is one of my favorite biblical passages. My most recent experience with these verses was in October when I spent most of the month worshipping and helping with the work of hospitality at The Hermitage, a retreat center near Three Rivers, Michigan. We gathered in darkness for morning prayer and while we sang, “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,” fingers of pink and gold brightened the windows of the chapel.
As we prepared to leave the worship circle and begin daily duties, we named and blessed each other. “Lynda, you are a bearer of God’s infinite life,” the praying community said to me.
I loved “Zechariah’s Canticle” years before rediscovering it at The Hermitage. It has long been part of my prayer for my children, “and you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High.” My ultimate desire for my children is that they will be conversation with God and “be bearers of God’s infinite life.” I also pray this for my figurative children; the articles I write, the projects into which I pour my energies: “And you, Advent devotional for The Mennonite, please call readers to God’s light and life.”
Yet, these beautiful words of light and promise are set in a context of years of grief, fear and scandal. The backstory of Zechariah’s song is one of barrenness, disgrace, unanswered prayers and the struggle to believe. John, the long-awaited and beautiful child of hope didn’t stay cuddly for long. All too soon, he was raising eyebrows by the way he dressed, creating nausea by what he ate, becoming a public spectacle and running full-tilt toward his beheading.
Elizabeth and Zechariah experienced the swirl of joy and the pain that old Simeon explained to Mary when he blessed her family in the temple during Jesus’ purification, “a sword will pierce your soul.” (Luke 2:35)
Few of us end up being exemplary human beings. Few of our ministries/professions/projects live up to our dreams and our intentions. Few of our holiday celebrations gleam with the advertised golden aura of family harmony. Some of our family members won’t be present because they are incarcerated (as was Paul in today’s reading from Philippians). Others won’t come home because they feel judged. Many families are separated because God’s earth has been carved into nations with boundaries and dire consequences for those who dare to breach them. Others don’t have the finances to make the trip to be with their families. Some of our children are shaking their fists in God’s direction and don’t want to hear about God-with-us.
Let’s not feel cheated if our holiday plans are not materializing according to our dreams. Each of today’s scripture readings speaks of hope and light that “shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79).
Paul turns his prison cell into a pulpit, and says, “I’m going to keep the celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out…Everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known.” (Inspired by The Message paraphrase of Phil. 1:12-18). Malachi 3:5-12 tells us one way to keep the celebration going is to acknowledge that all good things come from God by tithing and sharing our material provisions with others.
Let’s not celebrate by shutting out the world’s pain. Let’s not allow the world’s pain to prevent out celebration.
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