Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 1:57-80) transports me to Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY, October 23, 1987, where Kim and I sat in the nosebleed section with Kevin and Holli Rainwater and Russell and Jeanine Siler Jones to sing along with Bono and U2 on their Joshua Tree tour. It was a fantastic concert, mostly comprised of songs from the new album, but near the end they included their first big Billboard/MTV hit, New Year’s Day from the War album. I loved the song, but didn’t know until Bono introduced it that night that it was a protest song, a tribute to Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland. As has so often happened in my life, music became my entree into the world of politics, and when I got back home I started reading and learning more about the rise of the union movement in Poland’s shipyards, how the workers had organized so effectively that almost a third of the nation was part of Solidarity. In December of 1981, the Polish government struck back, banned the unions, did away with collective bargaining, instilled martial law, and imprisoned hundreds of the union leaders, including Walesa. It was during this time that Bono penned the love song/protest song in tribute to the Polish workers. After New Year’s Day debuted in early December, 1982 as part of the pre-release album tour, the Polish government suspended martial law, in a quirk of timing, on New Year’s Eve. Six months later they terminated it for good, and the Solidarity movement was on its way to creating a new Poland.
Zechariah was no Bono; he didn’t have a big arena stage from which to wail. But he did create quite a stir among the hill people of Judea when, after months of being mute, he opened his mouth and broke into his love song/protest song. His tongue was set free to sing a tribute to his child, and to proclaim the hopes of a new Jerusalem, liberated from the occupying oppressors who hated them. God was going to do a mighty work through his son, John, the prophet who would go before the Messiah, preparing the way. God was going to rescue the children of Israel from the hands of the enemies. The solidarity Zechariah proclaimed and sang about was one of salvation, redemption, and liberation from Roman rule. Like those Polish shipyard workers, though, he may not have entirely understood what it was going to take for that liberation to occur. Like the prophetic leader Lech Walesa, Zechariah’s son John would be imprisoned for his organizing work. Unlike Walesa, John would not be released; the rulers would have his head on a platter. And neither would the Messiah John had prepared the way for rescue them from Roman rule, at least not directly. The liberator would die on a Roman cross. Redemption and salvation and liberation would have a different meaning than Zechariah could have envisioned as he sang his tribute song.
The work of salvation and redemption and liberation from oppressive rule continues in our world, 30 years after Bono sang about the hope of New Year’s Day. U2′s words still ring true – we’re told this is the golden age, and gold is the reason for the wars we wage. His words still inspire hope – we can break through, though torn into, we can be one. Maybe the time is right. Maybe tonight. We’ll see. We’ll keep singing Bono’s song, even as our divided world fights over gold, even as the prospects for peace on this New Year’s eve don’t seem particularly close at hand, even as unions across our land are being dismantled and solidarity seems like a pipe dream. The work continues, 2000+ years later we’ll keep singing Zechariah’s song, trusting in Jesus in spite of all the evidence to the contrary to give people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.