Advent Reflection: God’s Tender Mercy
“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”
After his son, John, was born, Zechariah “was filled with the Holy Spirit” and uttered a “prophecy” (1:67). His prophecy is often called the Benedictus because of how it begins in Latin: benedictus Deus Israhel (Blessed be the God of Israel). Zechariah praised God for sending a Savior, whose way would be prepared by John. Finally, God would fulfill his promises through the ancient prophets (1:70).
Zechariah’s prophecy concludes by celebrating what God is about to do through the birth of Jesus: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us in the path of peace” (1:78-79). The light of God would overcome the darkness of the human condition, even breaking the power of the shadow of death. Through God’s light, new life would be born that brings the opportunity to live in God’s peace.
Notice what motivates God to send forth his saving light: his “tender mercy.” The Greek original of this phrase uses two words, eleos and splanchna. Eleos is the standard Greek term for mercy. It suggests showing exceptional kindness to someone in need. Splanchna refers literally to the inner organs of the body. But Greek speakers used this word much as we would use the English word “heart.” Splanchna was the location of strong feelings of compassion and care. Thus, Zechariah intensifies and tenderizes God’s mercy. God will reveal his saving light because of his heartfelt mercy. He senses our desperate need. He knows we are lost without his help and feels for us much as a parent for a beloved and hurting child.
The Benedictus encourages us not only with the good news of God’s salvation through Christ but also with the staggering truth that God feels deeply for us. His compassion for you and for me is passionate, profound, and permanent. It gives us hope every day, especially in the season of Advent.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you ever think of God having tender, heartfelt mercy for you? How does the good news of God’s “tender mercy” impact the way you think and feel? How might it impact the way you live and work each day? How might it shape your relationships with family, friends, and coworkers?
PRAYER: Praise be to you, Lord God of Israel, because you have visited and redeemed us. You have sent a Savior to deliver us. You have shown us, not just mercy, but heartfelt mercy. You have shined your light upon us, illuminating our darkness and chasing away the shadow of death.
May I live in the reality of your tender mercy. May your compassion for me move me to love you more, honoring you with every part of my life. As your mercy animates me, may I show heartfelt mercy to others.
All praise, glory, and honor be to you, mighty and merciful God. Amen.
It’s not a secret: sometimes it’s hard to find Jesus in church. Some of us have gotten used to the routine and the way things unfold in our weekly church services, and we just can’t seem to move beyond going through the motions. Others of us have been disappointed or we’ve become disenchanted, and we’ve decided to look for Jesus outside the church building. Others have gotten bored with the whole thing, and no longer expect to find Jesus in either the church or the Church. And then, there are those of us who find great comfort and deep meaning in both the church building and the Church of God.
Jesus built the church on Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of Living God. Jesus pronounced that not even the gates of hell would prevail against it. Christ’s grace is at work in the church. And in the Church. In Advent Church, let’s celebrate the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and let the Church say, “Amen.”