Day 16: Because of Tender Mercy

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before God to prepare a way,
to give God’s people the knowledge of salvation
through forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

-Luke 1:76-79

Zechariah can sing. His song barely registers in our memories, outshined by Mary’s awe-inspiring Magnificat. But when he finally gets his voice back and sings to his baby John, he knows how to sing. 

If Zechariah is the guy who you don’t like to watch and you never want to play with, it’s not because of his lack of skill. He’s a skilled player. He just makes the wrong decisions in the clutch. And he happens to be on the field with Mary the Mother of God, who’s sort of a Marta figure. She’s just the best. It’s hard to watch anyone else when Mary is in the story. Sometimes, what makes a character forgettable is that they stand next to the greatest who ever did it. 

While Mary sings for her own, brilliant victory, Zechariah sings for his son. It’s a strange hope for his child: to teach the people about salvation and prepare a way for God. Perhaps he regrets this when John takes up the locust-eating lifestyle. 

Zechariah also speaks of the mercy of God. Having recently spent 9+ months unable to speak because of his unkindness to an angel, perhaps Zechariah is acutely aware of God’s mercy. The rising sun that shines on those living in darkness and the shadow of death is close to his heart. Or perhaps the shadow of death is particularly visible now that he is a parent. Zechariah is in awe, and he knows how to sing.

I’m usually cynical of the players who make religious gestures before they step on the field. It seems like a crude reduction of faith to God-is-on-my-side-ism. But there is also something admirable about the players who invoke God, who contextualize their work within their pursuit of a faithful life. Do you, in your ordinary life, offer a prayer before beginning your work day? There’s something more than triumphalism in this small act–God accompanies the player onto the field, not to win or to lose or to prove righteousness, but to guide their feet in the path of peace, regardless of the result of the game.

A busy birthing scene from a medieval painting, with women hovering around the mother and child, angels singing above, and Zechariah's beard and shoulders just visible on the right side of the frame.
In Jacopo Tintoretto’s 1563 painting The Birth of St. John the Baptist, Zechariah is struggling to even get half his body included in the painting.
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One thought on “Day 16: Because of Tender Mercy

  1. Pingback: Day 20: But the Final is on a Sunday | gathering the stones

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