The Hope of Daybreak: An Easter Meditation

Darkness came with a bite of fruit. It traveled on to the murder of a brother, the stealing of a brother’s birthright, and the selling of a brother as a slave. The darkness was there when a king, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and murder. It’s always been there hovering over our heads, staining our hands, and nipping at our heels. It’s the shadow that follows us when we do good and bad.

It’s fitting then that the Light of the World had to experience the full breadth of darkness. The darkness of misunderstanding, of mocking, of sickness and fatigue. The darkness of manipulation, betrayal, and abuse. The darkness of abandonment and denial. And finally, “when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:33-34). Jesus experienced a darkness we never have: the full wrath of God for the sins of the world.

As his body lay limp and lifeless, Jesus was then laid in a tomb. He experienced the darkness of the grave. The cold, the damp, closed up, shut in, and trapped in the void. Jesus can feel our pain, he can feel our darkness. He knows our sadness, our burdens, our wounds. Until we’ve walked through the depth of night, we can’t understand how glorious it is to be bathed in the white light of day.

A wind came up out of the sea,

And said, “O mists, make room for me.”

It hailed the ships, and cried, “Sail on,

Ye mariners, the night is gone.”

And hurried landward far away,

Crying, “Awake! it is the day.”

When the sun rose on that third day after Jesus’ death, it ushered in the hope of resurrection. The light of life could not stay in darkness; he vanquished it. It was like every other day, but so unlike every other day. Every sunrise gives us new hope and mercies for each day–a new start, a new beginning. The rays piercing through the horizon are a sign of victory: darkness is not permanent; the light of the sun has not left us forever. This was like the sunrise of the first Easter Sunday, and yet, it was more. The sunrise on this day was a testament of the divinity of Jesus and his power over eternal death.

It said unto the forest, “Shout!

Hang all your leafy banners out!”

It touched the wood-bird’s folded wing,

And said, “O bird, awake and sing.”

And o’er the farms, “O chanticleer,

Your clarion blow; the day is near.”

It whispered to the fields of corn,

“Bow down, and hail the coming morn.”

The physical reality of the hope in a sunrise is now a spiritual reality in the person of Jesus Christ. We know for sure that God has power over darkness. No pit is too deep, no grave too wide, no night too dark. Like David said, “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Ps.139:8b) And he continues, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” (Ps.139:11-12).

It shouted through the belfry-tower,

“Awake, O bell! proclaim the hour.”

It crossed the churchyard with a sigh,

And said, “Not yet! in quiet lie.”

Daybreak, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And yet we wait. We wait to see the full revelation of these resurrection truths. Though our souls will be with him, our bodies have yet to be raised as his. But at that final daybreak, that last sunrise of hope, our bodies will escape the cold, damp darkness of earth forever and be raised to life and power. Not yet. But Christ’s resurrection tells us the sun will come back. Of this, we can be certain.


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Sorrow and Joy at Christmas Time

Many Christmas songs are solely exalting, rejoicing, and celebrating – full of holly and jolly, fa la la la la’s, and jingle bells. But this Latin hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, doesn’t give us a one-sided view of life; it holds a beautiful tension between sorrowing and rejoicing. The song reminds us that we are in the already, but not yet of God’s redemptive plan. Our Savior has come, but he is coming again, so we wait and long. He has paid the penalty for our sin, but the effects of sin are still active in our hearts and in our world.

The hymn itself is mournful and dark sounding, because of its lower, richer tones. The beat is slow and methodical. The lyrics open with the people of Israel waiting in “lonely exile”. Scripture is clear about their exile in Egypt and then in Babylon, but their physical exile was, and still is, a picture of their spiritual exile. God allowed them to be taken captive, because he was punishing them. The Israelites needed to repent, but they never seemed to learn their lesson. They were like sheep without a Shepherd; wandering and lost. Their physical exile was meant to point them to a deeper need in their hearts; a need to be ransomed from their dark inner captivity.

Today, we are not like the Israelites, in the sense that our Emmanuel (meaning “God with us”) has already come. We already have the hope that the Israelites longed to see. The Son of God has appeared to us. He was with us in bodily form on this earth and crushed his body on a tree to redeem our whole being. Though he cried out, “It is finished!” it’s clearly evident that things still aren’t perfect. So we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Our Emmanuel has come and fully secured our eternal salvation. But we still wait for our final deliverance: for everything to be made right, for our sin and tears to be gone, for the banishment of suffering and pain, for our bodies to be resurrected, for the earth to be made new.

We can still cry out with the Israelites in our own earthly exile, because we still wait for the day when we’ll see him face to face and be with him forever. We wait for “death’s dark shadow to be put to flight” completely and finally. We yearn for the day when “our sad divisions cease” and the King of Peace will complete his full plan of redemption. We have reason to lift up our eyes and rejoice, because he will come. He did it once, and he’ll do it again.

This translation of an anonymous Latin hymn doubles as a prayer for the first and second coming of Christ. It takes us into the mind of old Israel, longing for the first coming of the Messiah. And it goes beyond that longing by voicing the yearning of the church of Christ for the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to consummate the history of redemption. – John Piper

This is one of the short devotional meditations found in the free e-book Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season