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The Way of Peace

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.

These words are read every day in the Anglican service of Morning Prayer.  They speak of the coming of Jesus at Christmas, as foretold by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  They speak of the hope that we hold, that there can be light in the darkness, peace in troubled times.   And today, many times, they have been spoken by Christians around the world.

Yet there are times when to profess religion seems to make a mockery of life.  There are times when speaking of the tender compassion of our God sounds like a cruel joke.  There are times when each day dawns darker than the one before, the shadow of death overwhelms us, and the way of peace has vanished into quicksand.  What does it mean, in those times, to continue to say these words?

It means nothing if they are merely an incantation, as if by saying them we can make everything all right.  It means little if we throw them at those who are suffering, expecting them to find comfort.  It means more, perhaps, if we find comfort and strength ourselves, to carry on in difficult times. 

But it can mean everything if, through Jesus, we find ourselves showing tender compassion to those facing death.  If we commit ourselves to the way of peace, even when that means loving those who are completely other to ourselves.  If, somehow, we can hold the light of common humanity against the darkness of all the forces dividing us.

And the dawn from high shall break upon us.

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