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2. Tender Mercy
JESUS THE LORD COMES BECAUSE OF HIS TENDER MERCY – v78a
What motivates the Lord to come? Is he motivated by our good deeds, our brilliance, our rubbishness? No: “because of the tender mercy of our God” or “because of the heart of mercy of our God”.
The language here is immediately warm and positive isn’t it? He comes not to give us what we deserve – but with mercy. And not just a cold let off but with tenderness, with a heart of mercy. This is a depth of compassion and love for us. It’s the tenderness of a parent comforting a child, not harsh, not dismissive, not cold, but gentle, restoring, enfolding. Pleading our cause, and ultimately the baby born at Christmas gives his life in our place.
This is how God comes in the person of Jesus whose life and death display the tender heart of God. In tender mercy comes “from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” -- to those who “sit in darkness” and in “the shadow of death” – it’s the language of life in the valley of the shadow of death in the famous Psalm 23. To those in danger & gloom, under curse & oppression, knowing injustice and despair.
Those he comes to are not those whose lives are easy and straightforward and full of confidence and success. Some say, scornfully, that Christianity is a crutch for the weak. Only those who think they’re strong and victorious make such accusations but the Lord’s heart is mercy for those who are poor and oppressed, struggling and suffering.
Christianity isn’t for the middle classes and the respectable – people like that tended to dismiss Jesus. Christianity is for the orphan, the fatherless, the weak, the sick. It is to such people, that God comes, to whom Jesus the Son of God is sent. And he comes with tender mercy for us to receive..
SALVATION, TENDER MERCY AND:
THE SUN RISES IN OUR DARKNESS – v78b-79
He comes to us at our lowest and darkest as the sunrise, v78b. On the night that Zach was born Em was in labour all night – I wont give you any more detail than that - at 4am I was advised that there were still several hours to go, I went out to get some air. It was cold and dark – it was mid March. I sat in the car and fell asleep for an hour. I awoke in the darkness – initially in fear, have a missed the birth and then with a massive shiver. I don’t think I’ve ever been as cold as I reached for my phone to check what the time was. I had to stick my head under the Resuscitaire heater in the delivery room to warm myself up. It’s cold in the darkness.
When the sun begins to rise, at first it doesn’t seem to make much difference but slowly but surely the darkness is chased away and the cold is replaced with a growing warmth. As the sun warms the birds they begin to sing and before you know it the day has come and it’s hard to believe that it was ever cold and dark. It’s this daily experience - accessible to all of us - that God chooses here to describe both our experience and the effect of his visit to humanity.
The Bible evokes the rising of the sun repeatedly to speak of the coming of God’s favour, of his benevolent rule, of the coming of life, of unstoppable progress, of wrongs exposed and of comfort and warmth. The claim is bold – though it may feel like 4am in the middle of winter, the morning comes. For people in this city, for people in this room.
What will this mean for you and for me? The cold and darkness is with us in different ways. For some life has been the 4am darkness and you can’t imagine it ever being anything else. Perhaps in:
• Hardship and difficulty has come into your life – and perhaps it was self-inflicted, you made a mistake, and that makes it doubly hard because you know that it didn’t have be this way, you could have done it differently but now there isn’t a way out.
• Or perhaps it’s not self-inflicted, the circumstances, or someone else overcame you and got you into this cold darkness.
• For others the darkness is that of avoiding God, one way or another.
And now the preacher says – the sun rises and shines into your cold darkness. Hope for us doesn’t come from within us but from outside us. We cannot chase our darkness away, but with a tender heart of mercy God comes to us. “Christmas is for people in dark places. There is darkness all-around but a light dawns.” The message of Christmas is not to find cause to be festive in ourselves but to look to that light – to the sun rising.
This brings us comfort and warmth and lifts us from ourselves to truly enjoy the good gifts of Christmas, to feast and celebrate even in the midst of our darkness. Christianity doesn’t tell us to search for the hero inside or in our circumstances – but to look to the Saviour who is the sun rising in the dark.
Jesus came to those whose lives had not turned out the way they planned, to the sick and the grieving, and to those who were his enemies. He came to warm us in our shivering coldness of our circumstance and of our hearts with his tender mercy. When God comes he does not come as our accuser or our enemy. The feeling that he is against you is a lie.
The coming of Jesus is good news: he is full of mercy and his coming is the sunrise. He has come to us and for us, but we’re faced with a choice – hide under the duvet and stay alone, or welcome the new morning and know that Jesus is the proof that God is both with you and for you. God did not come into the world with an answer or a system of beliefs, but in flesh and blood to live with us, to bring light to the darkness, and v79, to lead us into the way of peace.
Biblically, peace is about setting right what is out of place, a returning of us to relationship with our Father in heaven, with one another, and with the world. That means: an end to striving and an end to fear. Not to say that in Christian homes there are no family stresses at Christmas – but that there is a freedom from needing to religiously host the perfect Christmas, freedom from raging against God and freedom from having to go it alone.
Ultimately, the sunrise that begins at Christmas speaks of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, of the moment on the third day after his death, a group of women went at dawn expecting to find a dead body, their hopes dashed, and their spirits broken… As the sun rose that Sunday morning they were faced with an empty tomb, and a living person. The Sunrise speaks to us daily of Jesus who drew near to his people and said that it was necessary for him to come and to die and then to rise so that forgiveness of sins could be announced to people in all nations, even here.
Those who first heard this, whose story is told at the end of Luke’s account, spoke of their hearts burning within them – very different to the experience of shivering in the darkness. So as the sun rises on your Christmas day - feel the warmth of God’s tender heart of mercy to us in the salvation that comes to us in our darkness in the person of the Son, Jesus.