Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18
In the name of the living God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today as we continue to observe the season of Advent, I want us to think about the words we will shortly use as the introduction to smiling and waving the peace. Turn to page 7 of your service book to see what they are:- In the tender mercy of our God, the dayspring from on high shall break upon us, to give light to those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet in the way of peace.
These are very familiar words, I am going to share some thoughts about what they mean. This is actually a verse from Luke’s gospel (1:78), even though it sounds like a bit of Isaiah. Its context is in the words of Zechariah as he spoke for the first time in a while after the birth of John the Baptist. Zechariah was an elderly priest who served at the temple, and his wife was Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. If you use New Daylight Bible reading notes, we are in the middle of 2 weeks of thinking about Zechariah. When John is born, Zechariah praises God – he has been mute since he had an angel encounter prophesying John’s birth. Zechariah says that John will serve as a prophet and give knowledge of salvation “through the tender mercy of our God”, and that John would also point to the coming of the Messiah as the Dayspring from on high. This makes this another title given to Jesus, like Son of God, Son of Man, Emmanuel, Key of David and King of the nations.
The words are hugely familiar to me because daily in morning prayer I say a version of these words as the gospel canticle, also known as the Benedictus. These are the words of Zechariah from Luke’s gospel again, but the translation I routinely use is rather different and the notion of dayspring has been worded differently
What I say day by day in morning prayer is: – In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. Similar but sufficiently different. The astute amongst you will have noticed that the dayspring had been translated as dawn too. Though dawn can be spectacular with the rising of the sun implicit within it, it does not quite have the same notion as a dayspring to me
So investigating the word dayspring it is a more poetic and atmospheric way of speaking of the dawn or new light. It was used specifically to refer to Jesus as the Messiah who was and is the light to those who sit in darkness. It is more literally the rising of the sun from the east with a new light and a new dawn indicating something more of the ground-breaking nature of the coming of Jesus.
The evolution of the language we have used to translate this phrase is interesting, because though we used this phrase day spring in our oldest translations – King James and the prayer book since then we have rendered this phrase rather differently – as the rising Sun or the Sunrise from on high or the dawn. The rising Sun (with a U) is an interesting play on what was to happen with the rising Son (with an O) later in Jesus’ story. The translation of the underlying phrase here in the Greek is a rising light in the east. The light brought by the Messiah provides the light of truth and forgiveness especially to those blinded by the darkness of their sins. Somehow to me there is more refreshment in this light and more too it than just dawn!
We also understand the word spring today in a couple of different ways. Springing as a verb is very active and energetic, something happening with great passion and joy too – perhaps a springing lamb or spaniel comes to mind!! Through Isaiah God says – I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. There is an element to a dayspring that is active and passionate. Spring is also a noun, which tends to bring to mind pure water bubbling to the surface which is cooling, refreshing and invigorating and essential to life. Jesus said but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
This week I have had another couple of days not drinking the water from the tap in Common Road due to some essential water works. Even this minor inconvenience, has made me more aware of how much water is the stuff of life and how difficult things are when the flow is interrupted. We need to understand the spring in the day spring in this essential to life way too. But there is also another meaning of the noun Spring as the season of new life and growth we associate with the buds bursting forth, the bulbs flowering and so forth. In Jeremiah it says Ask rain from the Lord in the season of the spring rain, from the Lord who makes the storm clouds, who gives showers of rain to you, the vegetation in the field to everyone. We need to bring this growth and new life welling up and bursting forth to our understanding of the spring in day spring.
God is always doing something new and creative with us and within us, making us more Christlike on our journeys of faith day by day on God’s walk with us. So we bring to the word day spring a lot of understanding of the word spring, but we also should reflect on the day part of the word too. As we look to the celebration of the coming of Christ which happened over 2000 years ago we get into this confusing world of the Bible. Reading stuff looking forward to the Messiah in the Old Testament scriptures and looking back on it from the New Testament perspective. Though we are linear and time limited, God and his workings through Jesus and the power of the spirit are not. Though Jesus was on earth and walked amongst us for a season, since then we have lived in the day, in the moment.
In the light of Jesus’ presence through the Holy Spirit with us – we do not know what it is to live without that day by day and we should not underestimate that reality. In our own way we are looking back at the history of Jesus birth, where after a long period with its lessons of human sin and helplessness the approach of the covenant, the law and God’s chosen people had run its course. As Vine says (this phrase is not very pc!) “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” The world was ripe for God’s intervention and at this time in history God intervened.
As Jesus was born and as we remember that a strange stillness had come over the world. Things were never to be the same again. The dayspring of Jesus was overturning the deepest darkest times and opening the way of love and the power of God to all our hearts and homes. There is part of me that feels we are also at a low point in our approach to our beautiful world, with the challenges the pandemic has brought and the way our society has lost sight of truthfulness. Day by day, we again see lessons of human sin and helplessness and have more than a bit of Man’s extremity being God’s opportunity. It is beholden on us as God’s messengers on earth today – to share the good news of Jesus Christ in our context today vigorously and our values of love for God, and love for our neighbours near and far.
Our paramount need is to work together for the common good and having light and hope in our hearts and lives. We need to share this with some significant urgency in a world that so needs it. We need to get beyond the individual approach and reach out with God’s love to those around us. In a way we need to be daysprings in every meaning of it and of God’s love – just as much as Jesus was and bring God’s hope, meaning, purpose and peace to those around us.
I am going to end these thoughts with a verse of a very familiar advent hymn which uses the dayspring from on high as a title for Jesus
O Come Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Dispense the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
With God’s love in our hearts this Christmas, let’s help dispense the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows for our community by sharing the love of Jesus however we can. Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
Peace – Text copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2021
CCLI – Song reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton
New Daylight – September to December 2021 – Zechariah – Amy Boucher Pye