The rising of the sun is a daily phenomenon that we take entirely for granted. And yet without it our world would remain dark and cold and our days would go so differently. In Luke 1:68-79 Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) bursts forth from a God imposed silence with a glorious prophecy about the coming Christ. Within it the incarnation is described as a sunrise.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The prophesy speaks of two births, both of which result from divine intervention. John the Baptist is born to the previously barren Elizabeth. Here his father Zechariah describes how his son will be a herald to the way of salvation brought by the coming Messiah, the Messiah whose birth is painted here as a sunrise.
Have you ever watched the moment when day breaks out of darkness? Before light dawns, the world is dark and cold, silent as death. And then, on the horizon breaks the first beam of the dawn, a piercing ray that carves a path through the dark sky. The sun breaks forth and with every passing second the night is pushed back as light and life burst out, beams of hope that cause the shadows to run for cover. The sky is filled with colour, the earth bathed in warmth. It’s no wonder the birth of Jesus is described as a sunrise, is there a more fitting image to help us envision the dawning of salvation?
Before the incarnation our world was gripped by sin’s darkness, and all of life was shrouded in death. We couldn’t escape the curse or find a path out of fear. Deliverance had been promised, but the wait had been long. Abraham and David were just two of God’s servants who pointed forwards as generation after generation fixed their eyes on the horizon, awaiting the promised dawn.
And then, finally, the Son of God steps down, fully flesh yet purest light, a baby born in the dead of night. Divine hope dawns in the birth of a boy. A baby of king David’s line, heir to the promises of old. And at his birth the cosmic shadows tremble, for the visiting of God’s mercy sets in motion the destruction of death itself. Sin’s bondage over the human heart begins to unravel as this dawn brings the birth of redemption.
On Bethlehem’s hills this sunrise from heaven is accompanied by a dawn chorus of angels heralding the birth of this long-awaited day. He has come. The tender mercy of God has visited us.
This is a dawn like no other, for this sunrise shouts salvation from the enemy of sin, it speaks forgiveness to all who turn and whispers freedom to those encased by fear. As light breaks forth from the manger night begins to flee, for this sunrise illuminates a path, a way of escape, a way to peace.
Long ago Isaiah spoke of a day when light would dawn ‘on those living in the land of deep darkness’. The incarnation is this long-awaited sunrise from heaven. This birth brings mercy into our mess and extends forgiveness and peace to those bound by sin and fear. May we join his dawn chorus and with loosened lips accompany Zechariah in blessing God for his risen Son.