Eric, Fergal and Zechariah

Earlier this week I was reading this familiar passage from Luke 1 v. 68 – 79, as I often do during the advent season:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, 
   because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 
69 He has raised up a horn[c] of salvation for us 
   in the house of his servant David 
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 
71 salvation from our enemies 
   and from the hand of all who hate us— 
72 to show mercy to our ancestors 
   and to remember his holy covenant, 
 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, 
   and to enable us to serve him without fear 
 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

 76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; 
   for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation 
   through the forgiveness of their sins, 
78 because of the tender mercy of our God, 
   by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 
79 to shine on those living in darkness 
   and in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Oddly, I had forgotten that this was a father singing to his child – which happened rarely in scripture and happens even less frequently now. A little over four years ago, we started a ‘dads and toddlers’ group at the church where I work. Known as ‘who let the dads out‘ it meets on  Saturday morning, and has quadrupled in size since it started. Dads come along to chat to each other whilst their children play, and the staff round off each session with the singing of nursery rhymes. Its fascinating to watch new dads gradually overcome their embarrassment at singing with their children.

Maybe we are simply unaccustomed to men expressing tenderness to their children in this way.Whenever I teach people about preaching, we look at Fergal Keane’s ‘Letter to Daniel’, (you can read full text here.) Here a toughened war correspondent talks about the joys and sorrows of fatherhood, and listeners voted it their favourite out of forty years’ worth of From Our Own Correspondent. Read it, and you will probably see why.

Maybe the most famous contemporary example of a father singing to his child is Eric Clapton’s masterful ‘tears in heaven’ (below). In it he mourns the loss of his son Conor, who fell from a balcony in New York, aged four.

Years ago I wrote a sermon on Zechariah’s months of silence, and tried to imagine how it was when his voice came back:

‘And his old cracked voice found its depths again.  Like a bird long asleep, it spread its wings, shook them and took to the skies.  Every other babbling sound in the house was hushed as his deep and beautiful voice scaled the heights of praise.  In a song that seemed as old as Moses the lawgiver and as new as tomorrow’s unformed dew, he told of the goodness of God.  “The tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven.’

Hmm, I wonder? – You can read the rest of Zechariah’s story here.