For my morning devotions I have been meditating on Isaiah’s famous “to us a child is born” prophecy. I wanted to read the prophecy in its context and see what fresh light might be cast over these well-trodden verses. So often we take the familiar words of the Old Testament and transplant them directly into their New Testament application without giving thought to the context in which they first applied. Our application of the words may be correct, but we miss something of their full meaning by pulling them out of the soil in which they existed.
As I read the verses preceding Isaiah´s messianic prophecy, what struck me was the theme of darkness and light; of being lost and of finding your way. Right before he offers hope, Isaiah rebukes his own people for looking for light in all the wrong places, that is, in the murky realm of the dead.
“Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” Isaiah asks, “Consult God’s instruction…If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” (Isaiah 8:19-20) Isaiah warns that those who seek answers and guidance among the dead are damned to remain among the dead.
God’s chosen people had largely rejected him and turned from his revelation to their own. They had become, as Isaiah memorably put it, “a people walking in darkness…those living in the land of deep darkness.” (Isaiah 9:1)
Human attempts to make sense of our warped existence always fall short and leave us wandering in a lightless land. Only the true and never failing word of God can point us toward the light. That is the good news of Christmas, just as it is the good news of Isaiah’s prophecy – a people doomed to gloom have seen a great light!
Isaiah not only tells us the light is coming, but he details the circumstances in which we ought to expect that light to appear. The first thing we notice is the defeat of the great enemy. With descriptive prose, Isaiah calls to mind Israel’s past victory over their arch-enemy Midian and in this way points us forward to a day when all oppressive enemies of God will be shattered and burned.
After Isaiah has described for us the great victory to come, a victory of light over darkness, the prophet gives us further details about who exactly will bring about this victory – it will be a son, a descendent of David, a rightful heir to the throne.
That is not surprising – after all God had promised such things to David many years before – but what is surprising is the exalted names attributed to this son of David. He is called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. There will be something extraordinary about this promised king. In some way he can be identified with God himself and death will not overcome him because, as Isaiah says: “of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:7)
This is the true revelation that God’s people needed. The certainty of a future king who would bring everlasting peace to the earth is the “great light” to a “people walking in darkness.”
God’s people had been tempted to haunt the halls of mediums and soothsayers, seeking out a vision of the future that might illuminate their dim present. Isaiah interupts and calls out to his people, and to all people for that matter, that the light of true hope is only found in the revelatory word of God.
We today are also tempted to seek out the way forward by human revelation, be it from psychics, scientists, gurus; even our own feelings. What Christmas reminds us of is that a true light has already broken into our darkness and shows us the way of life.
Jesus is the epitome of God’s revelatory word and one night in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago that Word entered our world as an infant. Jesus came to walk with us in our land of deep darkness, beckoning all to come and follow him to the light of dawn, to a new day of everlasting peace and rightousness.
That’s good news of great and wonderous joy, and just what Isaiah was pointing us toward.