“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
The term “great light” here in Isaiah seems strange to twenty-first century ears. We are used to an analytical and artificial understanding of light. We talk about the nature of light waves and particles. We bath in artificial light streaming from tablets, phones, LED’s, and millions of bulbs and tubes. In Isaiah’s world, without much in the way of artificial light, the imagery jumps off the page. The people have seen a great light! When is a light a great light?
The light is great when it is contrasted with deep darkness and shadow. צלמות (tsalmâveth) Hebrew for “the shadow of death” speaks of a curtain of gloom, deception and decay that has been drawn across the minds of a people in exile, a people under occupation, a people who are blinded and darkened by the lies of their culture. A culture of death and violence. A culture in which the religious professionals of the day were locked, as many are today, in compromise and “peacemaking” with the idols and idolatries of the times. Treaties were signed with the false seal of tolerance and expediency. In such dark times the light is warmer, the light is more welcome, the light is more winsome as it shines upon us with the power of the Spirit and with the certainty of revelation. A weary people embrace the light even while the elite shrink from the light’s moral clarity.
The light is great when it shows the way to joy, deliverance, harvest and peace. The prophet speaks of a day beyond the return of the people from exile in Babylon, and even a day beyond the advent of Jesus and his light giving presence in the region of Galilee. This is a day beyond our wildest dreams, our deepest aspirations, our most fervent hopes. This is a day of victory, a day of justice, a day of abundant harvest, a day of liberation from the yoke of oppression and persecution. This is the dawn of the final age when the light bursts forth never to be extinguished! The King and the Lamb become the center and source of light in such a perfect and powerful way that even the faithful Sun is no longer needed to light the way! O Christian, join me in longing for, in laboring for, in leading forth, toward that glorious day when in his light we shall see light.
The light is great when it is embodied in the Person of Jesus Christ. “I am the light of the world.” Jesus says in John 9. This greater light was lit when “to us a child was born” who would reign as Messiah and Lord. This great light was cast in all it’s brilliance across the cattle stall of Bethlehem and across the shores of Galilee of the Gentiles and across the hill of Golgotha and the across the stage of human history forever altered by “the Living One; who was dead, and now look, is alive for ever and ever!” (Revelation 1:18). People of God, let us adopt the attitude of John the Baptizer who did not confuse himself with the light but who witnessed to the light! Let us reflect this flesh embodied light in all that we say, think, and dream; own, buy, and sell; write, pray, and think; treasure, give, and keep. Without him all is darkness, but with him “all is calm, all is bright.”
Father of Lights, multiply your light in us and through us for the sake of a world walking in deep darkness. Grant that we may be a shining witness to the true Light who is coming into the world, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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