121205 Luke 1:78,79

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 December 2012 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Luke 1:78,79

Theme: Oh, Come, O Dayspring From On High

Shannon and I were new parents, and when Claire was only a few months old we went to visit her godmother. Since we hadn't seen our friend in awhile, and since she lived a couple hours away, we thought that it would be a good idea to stay overnight. So we packed up the pack-n-play and headed north for New London.

Everything seemed to be working out well until a cry broke the silence in the middle of the night. Claire was used to sleeping in her crib, and she decided that if she wasn't going to sleep there she wasn't going to sleep at all.

In the interest of full disclosure my wife was the one who usually pulled the late night baby duty, but on this night the responsibility fell to me. I picked up Claire and sat down with her in the living room and we rocked...and we rocked...we rocked back and forth in that chair until morning.

That experience gave me a deeper appreciation for what the psalmist meant when he wrote: "My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning..." (Psalm 130:6). Waiting for the morning light, wanting morning to come to put an end to a long sleepless night, for those few hours that was what I wanted more than anything else in the world.

It's kind of funny because most of the time we don't look forward to sunrise. We have warm and cozy places to sleep, and we have plenty of lights in the house if we need them. In fact, it's probably accurate to say that most days we wish that morning would come a little later so we can stay in bed a little longer.
But what if the only light we had was the light that came from the sun. What if after sunset there was nothing but darkness until the next morning. What if the day meant life and safety while the night meant danger and death.

That hypothetical possibility was an everyday reality for people who lived long ago. They didn't have fluorescent and incandescent lights. They couldn't break the darkness with the flip of a switch. They operated with that idea of day and night—where life and safety depended on the day.

The same idea was in the ancient hymn writer's mind when he penned the third stanza of Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel. He wrote: Oh, come, O Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by your drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death's dark shadows put to flight.

We can't go any farther in this devotion without answering the question you might have been asking yourself already: What in the world is a dayspring? We use that word every time we sing this hymn, but do any of us have any idea what it means?

"Dayspring" is an old-fashioned word for sunrise. The King James Version of the Bible used the word "dayspring" to translate the Greek word for "dawn," which was also the word the ancients used for the compass direction "east."

Think about that. The rising sun in the east, the first light of dawn that turns darkness into day, that is a dayspring. And whenever we sing those words (and we will sing them again in a few minutes) we are recognizing that Jesus is a light who brings life and safety.

Equating the Lord with light is something that should be familiar to us. You might remember that Jesus did that when he declared. "I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

Jesus described himself as the light that was essential for life. And the very last name our Savior used to describe himself in Revelation, at the end of the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, can you remember what that name was? Jesus said: "I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star" (22:16). When Jesus tells us who he is, when he promises us that he will return, he wants us to think of him as the rising sun who chases the darkness away.

Zechariah appreciated that word picture. When his son John the Baptist was born, the one who was chosen by God to pave the way for the promised Messiah, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied (Luke 1:67-79). And his prophecy about his son John and his Savior Jesus became a song that the Christian church has incorporated into its worship. In fact, it was the hymn we sang right before the sermon.

The Song of Zechariah is called the "Benedictus," and in that song Zechariah described the coming Savior as "the Dayspring from on high (KJV)...to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Luke 1:78, 79). The Savior whose coming we celebrate this Advent, the Savior whose second coming on the Last Day we anticipate this Advent, is a Sunrise who will put death's dark shadows to flight!

And death is the deepest, darkest shade of night there is. We all go through dark times in our lives, times when things aren't going so well, times when people aren't treating us so well, when relationships we thought were strong crumble because others have done us wrong or because we have done wrong to others.

Those dark times can be difficult. Those dark periods in our lives can last for a long time, but somehow we know that we will eventually get through them. We know that with the Lord's help, with God's leading and guiding, things will eventually lighten up. But what about the dark shadows of death? That kind of darkness seems so permanent. Who or what can overcome that?

Death overshadows me when a loved one dies, and I can't stop thinking about the helpful things I could have done for them or the reassuring things I could have said to them. But I didn't, and now it's too late.

Death descends upon me like darkness when I go to a funeral, and seeing the lifeless body reminds me that someday that person in the casket will be me. Death is a dark cloud. Death is a dark shroud. Death is an enemy that claims every living person as its victim. Death is the well-deserved wages of our sin.

Sin isn't a very popular subject. I don't like to talk about it anymore than you do. But it's important to talk about it. It's important for us to understand it so we can fight against it. Sin is any violation of God's Word or God's will. We sin when we do what God forbids. We sin when we fail to do what God commands. We do sinful things with our hands. Sinful words come from our lips, but every sinful word we say and every sinful deed we do comes from a sinful heart.

Deep down we think we know what's best for us. Deep down sometimes we think we know better than God. We want to believe that we are so smart. We fool ourselves into believing that we are so enlightened, when we are really groping around in the dark.

In spite of our sinfulness, even though we deserve to be cast out into outer darkness, there is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. That light is the Dayspring from on high. It is the Emmanuel to whom we sing, "Oh, come, oh, come." It is the Babe of Bethlehem who grew up to be the Man of Sorrows, who carried our sins to Calvary along with his cross, who buried our sins with his body in the tomb, who rose from dead to declare victory over death.

Because Jesus lives death will not be the end for us. It is a new beginning. Because Jesus lives death is no longer an insurmountable obstacle for us. It is the doorway to eternal life. Because Jesus has defeated death! Because Jesus has put death's dark shadows to flight!

There is a story about Benjamin Franklin and a colleague in the Continental Congress who were discussing the issues facing the newly formed union. Franklin's friend was pessimistic about the future of the United States. He told Franklin that the dismal future of the country was symbolized by the setting sun that had been carved into the back of a chair in the meeting room. Franklin looked carefully at the same piece of woodwork and said to his friend: "You see a setting sun. I see a sun that is rising. And it makes all the difference."

Brothers and sisters, there is only one Sun who can chase away the shadows of death and brighten your walk through life. He is the Sun of Righteousness. He is the Dayspring from on high. He has risen for you, and he is coming for you. May God bless you as you prepare to meet him. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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