LIGHTING THE CANDLE
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time, he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time, he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined… For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:1-2, 6
C. S. Lewis’ fantasy novel, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, tells of the imaginary kingdom of Narnia, where it is “always winter, but never Christmas.” There is only darkness in the kingdom.
In today’s scripture the prophet Isaiah writes during an especially dark time for his people Israel. They are locked down, under a fearful siege by the cruel Assyrian armies. They have rebelled against their God, and now other nations are rising up to trample them. Isaiah closes out the previous chapter saying that his people “see only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish” (Isaiah 8:22). There is seemingly no hope for God’s people!
Theologian Karl Barth said that one of the greatest words in the Bible is the little conjunctive word, “but”, as it turns around everything on a dime. That is exactly what happens in today’s text: the word “but” changes everything! Isaiah promises: “But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.” The deep darkness covering the land will be pierced by a great light!
God’s promise of what He will do for His people is so certain that Isaiah writes of it in the past tense: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” As God once commanded a world covered with darkness, “Let there be light, and there was light”, so God commands light for His people.
Notice how God will speak light into the darkness! God’s light will come into the world through a child: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us…”. God shines light, not from His high and lofty heaven, but from a tiny Baby.
The prophet Isaiah is precise in language about a “child” who is BORN for us, and a “son” who is GIVEN to us. He wants us to know that, as a human being, Jesus’ life began in a Bethlehem stable. But as God’s eternal Son, He was given to us on that night. Thus, the Child born for us, and the Son given to us, is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
And who is this God-Man? The first book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, tells us that it is Jesus of Nazareth! Jesus begins the Good News in the very region that was first oppressed by the Assyrians: Zebulun and Naphtali! God wants those who were in such great darkness to be the first to see His Light!
Jesus left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that that which had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:13-16).
This is God’s hope for anyone in darkness!
PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP
Faithful God. We thank you that you always keep your promise. Thank you that even when we forsake you, like Zebulun and Naphtali, you do not give up on us. Shine your light on us today. Lighten the darkness in us, shine in every corner of our lives. Surprise us today with your goodness! Amen.