Daily Reading for June 24 • The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
As children of God we are part of God’s ultimate purposes wherever we are. It is a beautiful thing when we as individuals, like Joseph and Zechariah, catch a glimpse of ourselves in the divine picture, seeing our life experiences as part of God’s plan. This perspective is often encountered when reading the autobiographical accounts of those who have undergone great suffering, such as Nelson Mandela, who endured the struggles of apartheid and imprisonment; Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust; and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who withstood Stalin’s Gulag and exile. Knowing we are involved in God’s purposes enables us to see the deeper meaning of life’s challenges, nurturing a more holistic perspective.
This experience can be likened to finding yourself in a large group photograph taken many years ago. At first, identifying yourself can be difficult. However, when you do locate your face, the memories come back in full force. Seeing the person sitting next to you, and the one three rows in front, you realize how interconnected all our lives were. Every one of us is intricately related to the working out of God’s ultimate purposes. And catching an awareness of how our lives are involved in God’s bigger purposes can provide tremendous meaning and hope in the midst of the hardships life presents.
Zechariah sings that the greatest surprise for him was to see that he was playing a part in the ongoing history of God’s redemptive work in the world. In so doing, he gives us encouragement as to the why and how of all this: it is all “because of the tender mercy of our God.” Again he focuses on the mercy of God, yet now he personalizes this trait of God, referring to it as “tender.” Prior to Zechariah’s song, Luke too placed the event of John’s birth firmly in this context, writing of Elizabeth that “the Lord had shown her great mercy.” And in Zechariah’s song, mercy continues as the foundation of God’s activity in the world—not just to the people of Israel, but also specifically to Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth. God chose to fulfill the divine ultimate purpose—sending the Messiah—by providing a discouraged couple the greatest encouragement ever. In doing so, our Creator is exemplifying the preeminent divine character traits of mercy and compassion.
From Songs in Waiting: Spiritual Reflections on the Middle Eastern Songs Surrounding Christ’s Birth by Paul-Gordon Chandler. Copyright © 2009. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org