Tender Mercies or a Western reflection on the Second Sunday of Advent

Because of God's tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.
- Luke 1.78-79 (NLT)

My dad raised me on the Bible and western movies.  That tends to explain a lot.

I see Old Doc Luke sitting in the corner of the saloon, slow-nursing a drink, turning a pocket watch over and over in his left hand. Piano music is circus-like but soft to the side.  The place is full, people are talking, drinking, carrying on.  A coupla young cowboys are getting loud; unfortunately they're boys and just getting started.  A center-piece table holds the card game for the evening.

The years of practice have passed for the old physician.  He's taken to writing as there are some things he feels compelled to record. He's seen a great deal.

She descends the stairs with unspoken authority.  Everyone knows her word is the last word.  She pauses for a moment beside Doc's table, standing close enough he can feel her presence.  She raises her hands to adjust her hair as she speaks.

Looks bright tonight, doesn't it Doc?  

Looks are deceiving, May.

Yes, plenty of shadows to go 'round in here.  Sometimes I think the merciful thing would be for the earth to open up and choke us all down.

Me too.  But the mercy is tender, May.  Tender.

Tender.  Its a word she hears Doc use often these days, a word rare in this hardscrabble town so it stands out.  She's gonna have to rein in those cowboys a little, get her bluff in early.  But before walking away, she places a hand on Doc's shoulder with a gentle squeeze.  For a split second she sees the dream she has on occasion, the one about a different life, one of tending a home and baking bread in the mornings as dawn spills over the hills and greeting Doc every evening on his return.  She chokes down the vision and steps into the light-filled shadows of a busy night.

Doc sees young Tim Sanders through the window, motioning for him to come outside.  It must be his little sister, Ann; her fever's been high two days now.  Doc pockets the watch and rises to his life's call.  A tender mercy's work is never done.           


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