… 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.” (Part of Zechariah’s song, Luke 1:78-79 NIV)
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Simeon, when he saw the child Jesus, Luke 2:30-32 NIV)
Zechariah was rather old when his first and only son, John, was born. John’s birth was unusual in many ways, not least because Zechariah spent the whole of his wife’s pregnancy unable to speak. When the baby did eventually come Zechariah started speaking again, and the “song” of relief and joy that burst forth was recorded and has been known ever since. It is a song about God, a song which blesses God – hence its Latin name, the “Benedictus.” It is a song about John, the baby that Elizabeth bore: “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.” (Luke 1:76 NLT)
But it is also a song about Jesus, who was the “Lord” that John was to prepare the way for. Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit (in other words, speaking the words of God), describes Jesus as “the rising sun from heaven” who will “shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
So here in Luke’s introduction, we are given a tantalising glimpse of this man Jesus as one who would bring light in the darkness. And not just for the Jews, who would be the focus of John the Baptist’s ministry, but for the whole world, as the old man Simeon proclaims when he sees the baby Jesus in the Jerusalem temple a week after his birth: “a light for revelation to the Gentiles…”
We live in a world of darkness and the shadow of death. We long for a pathway to peace. Daily our news services report acts of terror, death and destruction from around the world. Although natural disasters, which are out of our control, occur and also cause much suffering, the thing that really horrifies is human induced terror, over which surely we as humans should have some control. Humans are certainly capable of much good, but why do so many seem to take such delight in oppressing others, in taking from them by force what they have no right to? Where does our aggression, our self obsession, our self-righteous violence come from? What is it that makes us abuse and kill one another?
It is fashionable these days to hold God accountable for such things, or if not God, then religion. As well as being capable of incredible evil we humans also have an amazing ability to lay the blame for these atrocities on others, often God himself. We point to passages in the Old Testament where God sanctioned, or even commanded the slaughter not just of his opponents but of innocents who were connected to those opponents in some way. We see such accounts as evidence that God is as bad, or worse, than we are. We think that we would never do such evil things on our own, but do so because God has commanded it.
Nowadays, of course, it is unfashionable to believe even in the existence of God, but that is in some ways inconvenient because it gives us no-one but ourselves to blame. We are forced to resort to explanations such as psychiatric illness to understand the horrors we read about in the papers on a daily basis. Normal, healthy people, we are sure, could never do such things. The solutions we suggest for the evils we see in the world are education, social reform, medical treatment, rehabilitation, legal action, and in some extreme cases military action.
Luke does not launch into any sort of discussion about the sources of evil. He does not offer suggestions as to why the world is so dark. He simply acknowledges the fact, and then and now this darkness is something that no-one could or can deny. We live in darkness and in the shadow of death. It is a simple fact.
What Luke does suggest in these opening chapters is that Jesus is the solution. That is what his book will be about. These words of the Holy Spirit, spoken through Zechariah and Simeon (among others), introduce the idea, and the book that follows, which Luke writes as history, will explore and discuss and support the hypothesis. In sending Jesus to us, God was sending light into the darkness, the “rising sun” to shine on us. In this light we would be able to find the path to peace. This light which would be the glory of Israel, would reveal God to the Gentiles. Jesus, according to God’s plan, would be the universal solution. Not religion but Jesus is the solution. Religion is a human construct, a system developed around a worldview, or a set of beliefs and values. But religion is not the solution, and as many have observed, may indeed be the source of problems. Jesus, on the other hand, who is a person and not just an idea or a concept, is the solution.
As we read Luke’s account, and the other records collected in the New Testament, have the opportunity, as we reflect on the pages that follow, to test this hypothesis, to examine this Jesus who Luke was so excited about and see for ourselves whether he measures up to the claims that Luke was making about him. Could Jesus really be the answer? If so, how?