Sitting in the Shadow of Death

Shaft of light and an unruly lamb. York, PA

Shaft of light and an unruly lamb. York, PA

Let’s talk about John the Baptist. My thoughts flit to him from time to time because his feast day is June 24. (That’s also known as my birthday.) When I was ten or eleven I discovered the story of his beheading and was mildly fascinated. He wore skins, ate locusts and honey, lived in the desert, and seems a little like some of my friends. That’s not a diss. He was the cousin of Jesus Christ, recognized the presence of God as a baby yet in the womb, and baptized the Messiah.

John was a completely unplanned pregnancy (Luke 1). When his father Zacharias heard from the angel Gabriel that Elizabeth his wife was pregnant, he didn’t believe. In a human capacity it was impossible because of their age. (Maybe he forgot his forefather’s experience. *coughAbrahamandSarahcough*) Because of his unbelief, Zacharias was struck with the inability to speak until the baby was born. At that time he demonstrated obedience by naming the baby “John” as God had commanded. John’s birth caused waves in the hearts of everyone who heard the circumstances of his birth. They wondered, “What kind of child will this be?” (Luke 1:66) Everyone knew John would be extraordinary.

His father knew it, too. Last night I learned that Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied over his newborn son. (Luke 1:67-80) His prophecy began by praising the most Holy God and ended by saying his son would be a prophet who would go before the very face of God. John would “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” and “guide our feet into the way of peace.” (v. 79)

Reading this yesterday I suddenly saw my job differently. You all know that I work with One Mission Society as a HOPE61 trainer, and that HOPE61 is about the prevention of human trafficking. Our job is to raise awareness and equip the Church, globally, to bring the vulnerable people in their country into the community of Jesus. Why? Because Jesus gives us eternal freedom, and a hope on earth that changes everything…even vulnerability. In reading this prophecy about John the Baptist I saw those vulnerable people in a new way.

They are those sitting in darkness, in the shadow of death. Because there are more ways to die than your organs shutting down and your breath fading. There is the death of having your own most private place of the body invaded with violence, like sexually trafficked men, women, and children experience every day.  Or the death when your heart is denied the freedom of learning and living, like the people who this very hour are being trafficked for literally back-breaking labor. There is death of peace, like the trafficker who has given his or her heart to evil. And there is death that comes in giving your money away, for a look at or a physical moment with a person whose body is not yours to claim. Their soul isn’t yours to touch. Their emotions are not yours to scoop up and toss into the wind. Sitting in the shadow of death.

But then – there’s Him! The Dayspring from on high.

It’s time for them to know.
So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” (v. 80)

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