'Because of the tender mercy of our God, the Dawn from on high will visit us, to shine on those who sit in the darkenss and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace' (Luke 1,78-79).  In his famous Spirit-inspired hymn Zachary praises God, first, for sending a savior to His People.  At first blush, this is a military figure who will defeat Israel's enemies, with purpose and result that Israel might worship God in holiness and justice all the days of her life.  Then Zachary changes imagery; the figure of might give place to a figure of light.  Light in no longer a person of power; rather, he is a person of warmth and illumination - characteristics of the Dawn.  Light, unlike military power, is silent, but o so powerful.  Whoever is this light is not described as saving from enemies; rather, he is described as showing Israel the way to peace.  For Israel, there can be only one meaning of peace: it is peace with God.  The Dawn will lead Israel to union with God, and there will no more separation from the creature from his Creator.  It is perhaps jarring that the creature is described as 'in the dark' and 'in the shadow of death'.  These terms are meant to describe the essential, fundamental existential situation of every human being.  No matter one's 'feeling good', or being 'in top form', or joyful and happy - the truth is that by himself the human being is in the dark; in biblical terms, this means that one by himself unable to see the truth about life and hence the truth about how to conduct his life.  Traditionally for the Old Testment, the gentiles were quintessentially 'in the dark', for they did not know the bedrock of all reality: the true God.  Other meanings are included in 'darkness': ignorance, sin, humiliation, self-destruction.  Further, one is, without the light, in the shadow of death.  This means that death is so near that its shadow is upon every human being.  This death is physical, which meant for Israel the entry into at best a shadowy existence with the hope of someday the resurrection from the dead and eventual happiness (or punishment).  In this shadowy existence there is not the happiness that each human being knows he or she should have.  Death is another form of darkness, a separation from what a person senses to be the Truth, but cannot see or find it.  One comes to the end of this life with no knowledge of how to reach Truth.  And so, it is with great joy that Zachary announces the plan of God: that God would send that warmth illumination which will heal doubt and  overcome the effects of death.  Jesus is this Radiant Joy, for who coming we wait in darkness and in the shadow of death.