I sat in the pre-dawn dark, watched the gathering glow in the east and heard the first bird break the stillness with song. Soon others joined in the gathering light until they filled the air with a chorus celebrating the break of day. It was as if the birds had waited through the long hours of darkness wondering if the sun would return, and, once it did, they were delirious with joy.
We sometimes feel that way, when the darkness closes in on us, as it has this Christmas season with the slaughter of innocent children in Connecticut. We sometimes wonder, as the birds seem to do, if the dawn of light and goodness will ever again dispel the darkness of violence and pain.
I have watched the sun rise over the snow-covered hills of Minnesota, painting the landscape with crimson and gold, its light sparking like diamonds on ice covered limbs. I have watched the sun stain the eastern horizon with purple and gray before penetrating the breaking clouds with shafts of gold. I have watched the day dawn over the mountains of Montana and Switzerland. I have seen it transform the sea into pink and purple waves. I watched the sunrise on the first day of the new millennium, bursting above the horizon as a brilliant ball of light in a clear blue sky.
The sunrise is the perfect symbol for God’s intervention into our world.
When Jesus’ cousin, John, was born, his father, Zechariah understood the importance of his son’s birth. For nine months he had reflected on the angel’s announcement to him in the temple that he would have a son in his old age. He had been mute throughout Elizabeth’s pregnancy. But when John was born, his tongue was loosed and he burst into praise. He said, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which 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.” (Luke 1:76-79).
In every generation, those who have faith have seen the sunrise of God. Darkness cannot conquer it. Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoffer saw it during the dark days of Hitler’s holocaust. Louis Zamparini discovered it after surviving the Japanese POW camps. Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall bore witness to it during the massacre at Columbine. The Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania gave testimony to it after their daughters were gunned down in a one-room school. And thousands have borne witness this week in Connecticut to that light that refuses to be extinguished.
This is what John meant when he wrote, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:4-14).