Sermon preached on Luke 1:76-79 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Christmas Eve Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/24/2022 in Petaluma, CA.
When it comes to celebrating Christmas, I must admit I usually have a preference to reading many of the classic Christmas Scriptures in the now historic King James Version. For example, I love how Luke’s gospel describes that when the shepherds saw the angels in the field that they were “sore afraid”. So too, in this Song of Zechariah, I love how it describes Jesus as the “Dayspring from on high”. I love that now archaic translation of Dayspring. Modern translations give us the sense from the original Greek in various ways. The English Standard Version translates it to call Jesus the “sunrise”. The NIV has “the rising sun”. The New Living Translation has “morning light”. The RSV speaks of the day that “shall dawn upon us”. But I like the word dayspring. That’s the same language used in the beloved carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel which closely follows Luke’s gospel there. That carol sings “O come, thou Dayspring from on high and cheer us by thy drawing night, disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.”
Surely, Zechariah’s song here draws from the prophets of old and their predictions of the coming of the Messiah. Malachi 4:2, for example, spoke of “the sun [“S-U-N”] of righteousness” that “shall rise with healing in its wings.” Isaiah 9:2 foretold how, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Zechariah announces the impending fulfillment of these and other prophecies with the soon coming of the Dayspring from on high.
So then, let us this Christmas Eve think a little about Jesus being the Dayspring from on high. Zechariah’s song here says that his son John the Baptist would be preparing the way for Jesus to come by giving people knowledge about how Jesus would come from God as the Dayspring from on high. So too, may we all have more knowledge this evening on what it means for Jesus to be such a Dayspring.
So then, in case it is not yet clear, this language of dayspring refers to when the sun rises at the beginning of the dawn of a day. And as the sun rises at dawn, it breaks its light into the world, dispelling the darkness. So, in classic Christmas metaphor, when Jesus is described here as the rising sun, Jesus is being likened to light. And yet here is not just Jesus as the light, but Jesus as the light of a new day. And so Zechariah’s song goes on to describe three benefits of Jesus being such a light. One, to give light to them that sit in darkness. Two, to give light to them that are in the shadow of death. And three, to give light to guide our feet into the way of peace. Think with me on each for a moment.
So, Jesus as the Dayspring gives light to them that sit in darkness. This is the most basic description of the benefit of Jesus bringing light. It’s basic because it gives the contrast with the darkness. Imagine if you are camping and you woke up too early and can’t get back to bed. You are just waiting for the sunrise so you can get up and get your day started. Otherwise, you won’t be able to see until the sunrises. Until then, you just wait in the darkness.
Well, people apart from being saved in Christ Jesus are in darkness. William Hendriksen described such people in the darkness of delusion, depravity, and despondency. They are in the darkness of delusion, where they are spiritually blind, not recognizing the danger of God’s impending judgment that they are under. They live their lives without a sober fear of God and they live for the day, not seeing how they are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of God’s judgment. In such blindness, they do not see how to be saved from that judgment through Christ.
As for the darkness of depravity, Such people are also not living in accordance with God’s standard of righteousness but as seems best to themselves. Since their fallen hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked, they live in sin, hating God, inventing new forms of evil, and not only do they sin themselves but they commend others who do as well.
As for the darkness of despondency. Such people do not have an ultimate hope beyond this life, and so they are truly by definition hopeless. When you live in a world marred by evils of various sorts, with no hope that things will get better, you will fall into despair. Such hopelessness leads ultimately to a life of dejection, discouragement, and gloom.
So then, this darkness of delusion, depravity, and despondency is the state where each person sits who has not been saved by Jesus. If that is you today, there is good news, because Jesus is the light that has risen to shine into your state of darkness. Listen to how Acts 26:18 encourages any who sit in such darkness. It says that the gospel of Jesus is preached to them, “To open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith.” In other words, Acts says there that the dawning light of Jesus dispels our delusion by opening our eyes, and that it turns us away from our depravity through a repentance that finds the forgiveness of sins and sanctification, and that our despondency is replaced with the hope of eternal life. So then, Jesus as the Dayspring gives light to them that sit in darkness. Glory be to the Dayspring from on high!
The second benefit of Jesus as the Dayspring is that it says Jesus gives light to them that are in the shadow of death. Hear that language of shadow – shadow of death. Contrast the shadow of death with the rising sunlight of life in Jesus. See the contrast there between day and night. It says that death belongs to the darkness of night. Jesus brings life in the light of a new day. Stepping back then, think of how the day-night cycle becomes a picture of life and death. At the break of day, the sun is on the rise and you have your whole day ahead of you, just like how at your birth you have your whole life ahead of you. During the day, people work and play throughout the day, like you do throughout our life. But then the day starts to wane as the shadows of twilight begin to fall upon you, even as you do in your old age of life and you know your death is nearing. Then the dark of night comes even as you then die at the end of your life. The cycle of a day into the night is a picture of life to death.
We can think of a similar analogy with the four seasons in a year. The year begins with spring and the newness of life that comes with it. Then you come into the heyday and heart of year with summer. But then things start to wind down and wane in fall and the harvest of life finishes, only to then come to the and at the death of winter. So, the four seasons can be a picture of one’s life. And a single day can be a picture of one’s life.
My point is that when this song speaks of Jesus as the Dayspring that gives light to those in the shadow of death, it is to think of that analogy of the day-to-night cycle as the picture of birth, life, and then death. But then realize what it is saying about Jesus. Jesus is the sunrise for the next day. He’s the dawn of a new day. He brings new life out of death. He brings us a new birth from above and a new life fashioned for the unending day of the glory to come. Indeed, think of how Revelation picks up this and says that in glory there won’t be a night. Likewise, there won’t be any death; this new day in Jesus will never end in Jesus. Glory be to the Dayspring from on high!
The third benefit this song tells us of Jesus as the Dayspring, is that Jesus gives light to guide our feet into the way of peace. I’ve done a few night hikes. If there is enough of the moon out and a level path you can get away with it. But any serious night hiking that I’ve done, I’ve used headlamp. Yet, still, a headlamp only helps so much, and so you have to take extra caution in such circumstances. My point is that when are walking on some path, you need to be able to see where you are going. You need light in all circumstances. Zechariah’s song says that Jesus is the light we need to see and guide us down the path of peace.
Think about this idea of way or path of peace. When you have a trail, there is the start of the trail, and then there is the trail itself, and then there is a destination where the trail leads to. Jesus has a way that brings us to the destination of peace. And we can appreciate how he guides us into such peace from those three vantage points, from the start, through the journey, and to the destination. From the start of our spiritual journey, the light of Jesus first guides us into peace by reconciling us in our relationship to God. Our sin had caused God’s wrath, not his peace, to be upon us. But Jesus shines to open our eyes and turn us to faith in him, so that we are forgiven of our sins and made at peace with God. That’s our justification. Then along the way, Jesus takes us along the path guiding us how to walk as Christians in this life. That’s our sanctification. Ultimately, Jesus’ light shines the way until our pilgrimage is complete and we arrive in the peace of glory. There, we will enjoy peace in the fullest sense, a place of joy, happiness, rest, blessing, bounty, and overall wellbeing, forever and ever. That’s our glorification.
Let me speak a little further about that final destination of peace in glory by quoting from the prophet Isaiah. Isa. 60:19-20 speaks of this destination using this same dayspring imagery. Isaiah prophesies there of glory, saying, “The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.” This prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in Jesus as the Dayspring from on high. Jesus is the light we need to guide us from start to finish into such peace. Again, you cannot make this journey with the light to guide you. But that light has come in Christ and that is what we celebrate when we remember his birth. Glory be to the Dayspring from on high!
In conclusion, this song of Zechariah spoke of the Dayspring in advance. Zechariah had in mind how his son John the Baptist would help prepare people for the coming of this new day with Christ’s birth. John was the forerunner to the Dayspring. Well, I have the privilege to proclaim the Dayspring now after the fact. The light of the new day has come in Jesus. May his light of new life shine upon you this Christmas Eve as we continue to herald his coming. No one has to be in darkness anymore. May his light shine upon you before the darkness of death comes, that you would be a child of light in the Lord. May we each walk as such children of light even as we know he is coming again soon to user us into that eternal day of glory.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.