Carla and I have been rewatching Game of Thrones. We’ve both read all the books and seen all the episodes, but are moving back through the series before the final season airs next year. The series is about kings and lords and attempts at claiming the Iron Throne.
Both the book and television series begin with a deserter of the Night’s Watch. Deserting carried a penalty of death, so the Lord of Winterfell must pass judgement.
The Lord of Winterfell is Eddard Stark. When presented, the deserter pleads for mercy. Mercy is showing forgiveness or compassion to someone who you have the power to harm. Eddard Stark can opt to carry out the sentence of death or provide mercy and spare the man.
The Stark family motto is “Winter is Coming.” Winter brings cold and darkness, so acknowledging its impending arrival calls the Stark family to be prepared.
We don’t spend a lot of time in “winter” here in Orlando. Our low temperature hit 40 earlier this week, but that’s about as close to cold as it gets. However, we can relate to the concept of “winter” the Stark family prepares for.
Darkness creeps into our lives and into our world more and more every day. Turn on the news and it’s nothing but negative stories, violence, and hatred. In our own lives we face adversity, friends turning their back on us, and often worse. Here at the church we are constantly dealing with shrinking budgets and a changing and fearful culture. And let’s not forget celebrity pastors who preach hate as if it were gospel, making it that much harder to share the true message of love and hope that Jesus brought the world.
Winter is coming, darkness is spreading, and we’re here crying out for mercy.
In the Gospel of Luke, shortly before the Angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her about the pregnancy with Jesus, Gabriel visited Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, and her husband Zechariah. In his visit, Gabriel informed Zechariah and Elizabeth they would soon become pregnant and birth a son.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and Zechariah received the angel’s news with skepticism. Because of his lack of faith, the Angel Gabriel rendered Zechariah mute for the entire duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
When Elizabeth gave birth to their son, who would be cousin to the not yet born Jesus, Zechariah was overcome with joy. Instead of speaking after months of silence, he sings. Our scripture tonight in the Gospel of Luke is Zachariah’s song, praising God for the birth of his son, John.
We’re going to focus on the last few verses of the song Zachariah sings to celebrate John’s birth.
”You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
You will tell his people how to be saved
through the forgiveness of their sins.
Because of our God’s deep compassion,
the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide us on the path of peace.” Luke 1:76–79 (CEB)
Zachariah is overcome with joy and is extremely grateful to God for not just John’s birth, but the person John will become. The prophecy explained John would prepare the way for the Lord. John would grow up to baptize people and baptize Jesus, sending him out into ministry.
As I was doing some research on this scripture, I discovered Rev. Rob McCoy’s blog post on Zachariah’s song. In it, he explains while Zachariah sings of the love for his son, we must understand that God sings the same song for us. God rejoices with us and sings of his love and joy for you and me.
Just as John would prepare the way for the Lord, Rev. McCoy explains we must also prepare the way for Christ in our daily lives. We must show others they are loved by Christ and God rejoices for them as well. This is a powerful message of hope and joy delivered in a time of darkness and constant reminders that winter is coming.
Advent is the season we prepare for Christ’s birth. It’s a time for us to slow down and look at our lives as we await the hope of the world represented in the birth of a child.
Humanity is flawed. We make mistakes. Our leaders make choices that cause darkness to spread. Our culture has gotten really good at making people sit in darkness where the shadow of death looms large.
Right now there are thousands of people sitting in tents and under tarps south of San Diego, waiting for a chance at a better life. Our individual views on immigration and asylum aside, there are populations of people sitting in darkness, devoid of hope in what is supposed to be a season of hope and joy.
Humanity is great at causing people to sit in darkness. We’re great at saying “winter is coming” and preparing for the worst while crying out for mercy, wondering why the darkness is so prevalent.
Zechariah’s song is filled with hope and put’s God’s mercy on full display: “The dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
In the least likely place we’d look, the birth of a baby, God brought light into the world. God showed us how to care for others, how to love others without condition. Through the birth of a child, God showed us how to bring the dawn of heaven to those sitting in darkness.
We can sit back and declare winter is coming, or we can focus on the hope our Lord provides and, instead, declare dawn is breaking.
A youth pastor friend of mine who lives in San Diego is driving across the boarder daily, delivering blankets and medicine and hygiene kits to migrants stuck at the boarder. He’s declaring the dawn is breaking and bringing light to those sitting in darkness.
Each of us needs to ask ourselves how we can declare the coming dawn this Advent season. How can we proclaim the true gospel of love and hope that is represented by the birth of a child?
Winter may be coming, but our Lord brings light and warmth. Our Lord brings the dawn and with it the light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.