Have you ever played the game, Would You Rather? Each participant must choose between two options, neither likely to be appealing. Let’s play. ;=)
Would you rather: walk alone — without the aid of a flashlight, lamp, torch, candle, not even light from your phone! — in an underground cave …OR … through a deep, thick woods in the dead of night?
It’s a tough one, right?
This fall we visited two cave systems; one in Virginia, another in Kentucky. As you might imagine, caves are super cool. Until the guide hit a switch and we were plunged into the depths of darkness! I could not see my own hand in front of my face. I panicked, then fumbled for the Hubs’ arm, comforted to know he was still there.
Darkness like that could really mess me up. All things considered, I’ll take the deep, thick woods, thank you very much. What about you?
This second week of Advent, we’re looking at a prophecy given seven hundred years before the infant Savior’s birth. Isaiah spoke of deep darkness — like the cave but ever so much worse. Thankfully, He also spoke of a great light.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone. Isaiah 9:2
There are many reasons why the darkness was so deep, including:
God was silent for a long time. Malachi was the last prophet on record. If there were prophets in the land after him, they were unusually shy or off-record. God’s people blundered about for four centuries in a desert of their own making, disobedient to the point of their own demise. There was darkness in the vacuum.
God’s people were at odds. Religious divisiveness threatened to unravel the fabric of the nation. They battled in word and deed for meaningless control. His Word was hostage to their strife; its light dimmed as they failed to hold it close and heed its council.
God’s people were oppressed. They’d long since lost the privilege of independent nationhood. The Israelites had been conquered and sometimes exiled by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Hasmoneans. The Romans were the latest and the worst offenders.
Caesar Augustus ruled the Roman Empire. His soldiers patrolled the streets of the City of David. He taxed heavily, imposing poverty and other injustices on his subjects. It was Caesar who ordered the census that sent Joseph and Mary on a dark and harrowing 100-mile journey to Bethlehem.
Judea was under the thumb of a wicked client-king, Herod the Great. He betrayed his Jewish heritage and bowed to Rome. Grandiose ambition and jealous paranoia drove him to dark depths of evil. He murdered three of his own sons to protect his throne. It was Herod who ordered the massacre of the innocents upon learning of an infant King’s birth.
So, yeah; it seems Isaiah got it right. The people walked in deep darkness, untethered from hope… until the day of the great light of which Isaiah spoke. Then the brightest star of the centuries appeared! As we will discover in weeks to follow, the unusual star-sign was a first glimpse of light in the darkness. This was God’s launch party for reconciliation.
Remember our first week of advent and the marvelous light of creation? Imagine with me, if you will: God on the fourth day, spinning out stars and planets, setting up them up “for signs and for seasons” (Genesis 1:14). In my mind’s eye, God fussed a bit over one arrangement. It might have been a star or a planet or some combination of elements. He had special plans for this bit, impeccably positioned to align with the ages. One day God would use this unusual sign to announce His Son’s birth. Then let the Light show begin!
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.
John 1: 3-5 MSG
The light of which Isaiah speaks is the same light of which John speaks. On that first Christmas, the Light of the world broke through the depths or darkness. God’s Son defeated darkness in every form. Sin. Sickness. Despair. Death. Check it all. It is finished, my friend. Jesus came and conquered! We need never walk alone or in darkness again.
Our world seems dark, caught in the throes of a pandemic that has circumnavigated the globe. Waves of cases continue to rise and crest. Perhaps this year (more than most) we relate to the ancients walking in deep darkness. Divisiveness certainly has taken hold, inside and outside the Church. God’s people are oppressed worldwide as persecution is also on the rise. We may feel desolate and untethered from hope, too
God not only sent his Son to live among us but his Spirit to live in us. Jesus is the reason for the light show on the first Christmas. He is the blazing life-light and source of great light through the centuries. Take heart, my friend. That great, blazing light of which Isaiah and John spoke of is our Light, too!