Deep Darkness, Greater Light (Isaiah 9:2-7)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation upon this holy night comes from our Old Testament text, especially where Isaiah prophesies, “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
On such a joyous night as this, still I can’t help but think that we’re at somewhat of a disadvantage. All that we gathered here have ever known is the post-Christmas hope, the joy of knowing that the Christ Child was born in Bethlehem to the young teenaged girl and her compassionate carpenter betrothed. We’ve never known anything other than this; in a way, we’ve only ever basked in the warm glow of that first Christmas, the hope and joy born this night. Have you ever considered … what existed prior? It’s difficult for us to comprehend. Can you imagine a world … so aimless, so bleak? Teetering on the edge of something that can’t be explained, knowing that the other shoe is soon to drop, but unaware of what it could be? A world that wants to hope, but doesn’t know what to hope in? A world of darkness … before the Light of the incarnate Son of God shone in that stable in Bethlehem, as he filled His holy lungs with air for the first time?
Now, I want to be clear. It’s not as if hope did not exist before the second person of the Trinity took on human flesh, but mankind, on the whole, had forgotten. That’s one of the side-effects of sin: it deadens our perception of what is good, what is meet, right and salutary, and it only gets worse as time goes on. It makes us forget. Even in the wake of the Fall into sin, as the whole of creation was freshly reeling from the fallout of Man’s iniquitous decision, there was still hope to be had by the man and woman. Yes, there was now toil in work. Yes, there was now pain in childbearing. Yes, death was now a thing. But both Adam and Eve had heard the promise of God with their own ears. It was spoken to the serpent, but it was a message of great joy for the man and woman, “Because you have done this … I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Hope … was kindled because the Creator had declared that misery and woe and agony had an end date.
Years and decades and centuries passed, as God worked through His means and methods to ensure His promise would be fulfilled according to His timing … but again, as sinners are wont to do, Man … forgot. In the absence of instant gratification, when God didn’t act according to our timing, Man fell into the abyss of despair, and he flailed about for any type of relief or reprieve. He forgot the promises and the hope, turning away from the truth to the likes of worthless idols and false gods, metal and wood fashioned with human hands, seeking in them solace and comfort and hope. Even the designated people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, called by the true God to be the people through whom He would heal the world … fell away and forgot. They indulged in vanity and idolatry, preferring emptiness, the darkness of the shadow of death. … This is not what God wanted for His people. That’s one reason among many why the prophets were needed. In the midst of such darkness, of despair and self-imposed damnation … the light of the promise yet shone.
In spite of man’s forgetting … God NEVER forgot. He remembered His promises, and He was (and is) faithful in fulfilling them. Centuries before taking on human flesh, God spoke to His people through His servant, Isaiah, to remind His people of what they had forgotten. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
After being in the midst of such deep darkness, perhaps it seems too good to be true – after all, when one has sat in darkness for a long time, light is blinding, even painful. That doesn’t make it false. No, the reality is, by the time Isaiah spoke these words to the Messianic people, God’s plan was mere centuries away from being fulfilled. Isaiah was reminding them of the promise, long since forgotten: the transience of this world, the pain and misery, the toil and the evil, it all has an end date. There will be a time when all such brokenness is undone, when the deep darkness will be banished by the light, and it all starts with a child of promise.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
So great was the zeal of the Lord of hosts for His people, that He Himself stepped into the deep darkness of His creation and became the Child born, and the Son given unto us. What we celebrate on this most holy, auspicious night is the culmination of decades, centuries, millennia of waiting and hoping, the answer to the prophets’ prayers, the nunc dimittis of God’s faithful people. This holy Child, held by His virgin mother, adored by His earthly father, proclaimed by the angelic hosts and lowly shepherds, was the singular light shining in the darkness of this broken world. YHWH had remembered His promises, and He was about the business of fulfilling them.
However, this Child’s miraculous birth was neither the first step, nor the last, of God’s promise to Adam and his sinful descendants. No, this was merely the beginning. This Child, destined to be called Wonderful Counselor, would grow into a man who would walk about Judea as a well-known Rabbi, performing miracles, gaining disciples, and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God to all. He would garner followers … but also the attention of jealous religious authorities. Yes, He who is the Prince of Peace … led a life of contention and conflict, challenging the status quo, questioning the pietistic, the moralistic, the legalist false religion that God’s people had bought into. Some heard and believed this truth that the Everlasting Father spoke, but many hardened their hearts against Him, as they had done through the centuries with His prophets. Eventually, this all led to the Mighty God … being arrest, tried and convicted, beaten and scourged, crucified and killed … exactly as He had planned.
The birth of our Lord Jesus, which we celebrate this holy night, was the fulfillment of God’s Word of promise. His light shone as the beacon of hope through the darkness of Bethlehem and the whole of this broken creation. However, the greatness of His light was not merely in His being born, but in the reason why He took on human flesh in the first place: to live, to die, and to rise again from the dead for us, to win for us the forgiveness of our sins and give to us the promise of life everlasting. This world is still dark. It’s still broken by sin – all you need do is flip on the TV and you will see what I mean. However, the light of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, still shines as brightly as when He first entered our world. Perhaps we’re not at a disadvantage after all; though we may not know what life was like before the light of Jesus of Nazareth entered our darkness, we have still seen His light, heard His Word of forgiveness and promise, and by His Holy Spirit, believe and confess Him to be, not only the Babe of Bethlehem, but the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, the Savior of the world. A very merry Christmas to you all.
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.