"And you, child, will be called the prophet of
the Most High; for you will go before the
Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn
from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and
in the shadow of death, to guide our feet
unto the path of peace."
   Luke 1:76-79

  The word "darkness" is perhaps not strong enough to describe most of the events of the past year. Wars, famine and drought have left their mark. The powers of death have been at work. It appears that humanity is condemning itself to a descent into hell. Through brutal and dead-end policies those in the most prominent positions of power render the darkness even more impenetrable.

 Salvation, forgiveness, light. This is what John, Jesus' precursor, was to proclaim. He was charged with the task of inaugurating the end of the reign of darkness.

 But how is this possible? By God's goodness, by the tender mercy of God. At the transition point between the first and second testaments, a key aspect of the old covenant sheds light on the meaning of the new. Jesus' coming does not, as all too often has been claimed, inaugurate an era of grace by abolishing that of the law. The defining characteristic of Jesus' coming is God's love, the same love evoked throughout the Scriptures of his people, the leitmotif of the commandments, the Psalms and the prophetic promises. This goodness, this mercy is the essential element of the relationship God wants to have with his children.

 One of the words used to describe this merciful goodness is none other than the word designating the uterus, the secret place where all human life finds its source. The love spoken of here is none other than the maternal love of God, unconditional, profound and steadfast, for the humanity which he has birthed. John's mission is to bring the people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins. God's mercy is the source of this forgiveness. God's mercy alone can bring about the transition from darkness to light.

 The ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus prove that this unconditional love has nothing to do with cheap grace. Both confronted their contemporaries with the truth and were unequivocal in exposing violence and hypocrisy. Yet the message of John as well as Jesus is a message of forgiveness and deliverance.

 Zechariah's song links all these terms - mercy, forgiveness, light. These are the materials used to construct God's path, the path which leads to genuine peace.

 The peace that we wish for in this Advent season is not superficial harmony, a shallow sense of well-being. It is the peace of the merciful God who held and continues to hold us in a maternal embrace and who uses us as his agents wherever his mercy is held in contempt. For, that which he gives to his people he desires this people to live out and pass on to the world.

 Dawn is breaking, the light will come. We will be witnesses to its presence.