The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
Although Christmas is a time of celebration and happiness, the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the coming of Christ were often born out of depressing times. When Israel needed some glimmer of hope because of oppressing conquering armies, God had the prophets remind them that He had not forgotten His promise to them.
I have chosen as the subject for this article a passage from Isaiah that is quoted in the New Testament upon the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. Isaiah 9:2 says, ”The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” This reference is to the land of Galilee where Jesus grew up and spent most of His time preaching, healing, and giving hope to a sin darkened people.
At the time of Isaiah’s writing some seven hundred years before Christ, this area of Israel had been overrun by the Assyrian army and the people were living in a war-torn nation. There was great anguish and distress as we might well expect when people were completely helpless to remedy their ills. The northern kingdom of Israel had been warned by the prophets for many years what would happen if the people did not return to God. God would have protected them from these armies if they would repent, but they did not, and so now they were reaping the just reward of their sins.
However, we must remember they were God’s chosen people and despite their sin, God was gracious to promise restoration. Verses 6 and 7 promised the coming of the Messiah who would deliver Israel from their oppression. These two verses form a sweeping prophecy that encompass both the first and second advents of Christ. A child would be born—this is the first advent—and this child would bring the light of the gospel to Galilee. This is why we find verse 2 quoted in Matthew chapter 4. The prophecy then moves forward more than two thousand years to a date still in the future when Christ shall return the second time to begin a kingdom upon the earth. At this time, the promise to Israel will be fulfilled that a king shall sit on the throne of David forever. King Jesus will be ruler of a kingdom no longer gripped in the throes of war, but one in which peace reigns over the whole earth. Israel’s oppression will be forever ended and God’s people will always dwell in peace and safety.
This is a wonderful promise given by the prophet. It speaks of a loving and gracious God who is willing to forgive sin and restore the penitent to His divine favor. Though these verses are primarily a promise for Israel, we must remember that God has promised to make Gentiles a part of His kingdom. The light has also shined upon us and this is why we celebrate Christmas today.
This is good news for us all because in our deepest despair when there seems to be no hope we can find refuge in the merciful and gracious Saviour. Our hope and prayer today is that you have met your King and surrendered your life to Him. Christmas is far more festive when you truly know the one for whom it is named.
Pastor V. Mark Smith