Are you an “early morning riser” or a “late night owl”?
Even if we typically like seeing the strike of midnight, I’m sure many of us, at some point – whether because of a trip, or job – have had the wonderful experience of witnessing the beauty of a pre-dawn sky – the dark stillness, the cool dampness, and then the dark blue horizon ever so slowly giving way to a spreading, brightening light. And then, as the sun finally breaks over the eastern horizon, it suddenly bathes in brilliant light what had been, just moments before, buried in dark shadows.
What a breath-taking, beautiful moment!
Throughout the ages, and among many religious traditions, the dawn has often represented a spiritually invigorating time of day, easily conducive to prayer, meditation, and connection with the Holy One.
I recall what the aboriginal Navajo peoples of southwestern United States say about the dawn. They’ll say that the reason for all the problems and trouble in the world is because not enough people get up early, and look out to the eastern sky, and pause, just to behold the dawning of a new day.
I think what makes the dawn such a remarkable part of the day, is the realization that the dawn comes entirely of its own accord. Whether we want it or not, regardless of what we do or not do, and we being completely powerless in face of its entrance, the dawn simply comes. Regularly. Dependably. And yet, completely out of our control.
The dawn reminds me of the kind of God we have.
A God who, continually, and regularly breaks into our world, shining grace and mercy upon all people, refreshing our lives, healing our hurts, surprising us with softened, warmed hearts.
God, whose character and nature wants always to shine grace and mercy, regardless of who we are or what we do.
God whose love and faithfulness is absolutely dependable and trustworthy.
Catching us off guard, filling us with awe and wonder, God comes to us.
In the Old Testament reading, 2 Samuel 23, we also hear beautiful poetic descriptions of the dawn.
But, in this passage, it’s not just about the dawn’s beauty. It’s about comparing the beauty of dawn to right relationships.
Verse 3: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like “the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”
What is truly beautiful? Well, yes, the dawn. But more importantly, whenever there is justice, fairness and truth in the land, whenever people deal honestly and forthrightly with each other, whenever relationships are based on truth, and trust and care, there is immeasurable awe and beauty, like the dawn.
Even Pontius Pilate in the Gospel reading, I think, is awe-struck by something unusually good, or “beautiful” about Jesus standing before him.
We could imagine the normally unpleasant parts of Pilate’s job – regularly interrogating and condemning criminals to death, constantly burdened by the politics of maintaining a fragile peace between the Jewish religious leadership and Roman authorities, dealing with difficult personalities and egos.
I’d like to think, that in that moment in the course of Pilate’s busy day, when Jesus enters Pilate’s room, from Pilate’s point of view, this is an unexpected, unusually profound encounter with someone good, someone of inner beauty. Pilate was probably expecting a hardened criminal, but is surprised instead to realize that there is absolutely nothing even remotely violent or dangerous or sinister about Jesus. Pilate is bewildered, caught off guard, at a loss as to what to do.
We don’t know whether Pilate knew of Jesus’ work and ministry: restoring sight to the blind, feeding hungry people, speaking with and befriending the outcast and despised, healing illness and disease, setting people free. We don’t know whether Pilate knew this goodness and beauty about Jesus.
But what we do know, is that Pilate is completely bewildered, caught off guard, by something very different, something very good about Jesus.
When Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you a king?” Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
And here, Jesus draws a line in the sand, contrasting his kingdom, with the kingdom of the world. Two very different realities.
Where the world gets caught up in ugly and destructive power politics, ego struggles, and the ruthless and heartless treatment of the disadvantaged, the kingdom of Jesus is different.
It comes about by the surprising and unexpected entrance of God, the Holy One, breaking into our world, breaking upon us like the dawn, shining light on us, renewing us, so that we are empowered to shine light on others.
Author James Martin tells of such a moment of surprising goodness and beauty.
It was at an inner-city synagogue in Los Angeles.
Every Friday evening, as part of a familiar Jewish custom, the congregation would sing a traditional song that “welcomed the Sabbath queen” – signifying the beginning of the weekly Sabbath festival. The congregation would rise and face the rear doors, in a liturgically dramatic fashion, to “welcome” and “greet” her, after which they’d turn back around and continue with the service.
But on this particular Friday evening, as they rose and turned toward the rear, the door flung open, and standing there, was a gray-haired, older woman – disheveled, weary-looking, carrying all of her meagre possessions in some bags strapped around her shoulders. Everyone, including her, stood in collective amazement.
This woman, in fact, was a regular attendee in the synagogue, but who happened that evening to be arriving late for worship. She was well known and loved by the congregation, and often in worship would be seen sitting next to some of the wealthiest and most influential persons in the city.
There was something of deep goodness and beauty in that unexpected moment. The Rabbi and others later mused of how it was like a divine encounter.
How will we notice God coming to us today? Or tomorrow, or the next day?
Will it be in worship, or at home, or as we volunteer in the Out of the Cold program, talk to our neighbour, or a co-worker in the office?
Where will God surprise us with grace and truth?
May God break into our lives and world, causing in our hearts something good, something beautiful, stirring in us the courage and resolve to live out the loving and compassionate ways of Jesus, our King, our Friend and Saviour.