A Christmas Reading...
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light….."
This famous line from the book of Isaiah is often heard in our Christmas readings but what does it really mean and what is the darkness Isaiah is referring to?
In the context when Isaiah was writing the prophecy, many years before Christ was born, those in darkness would have been those without faith in their lives, without the knowledge of God. The Jews had knowledge of Him but many had strayed and were worshipping idols or living without God in their lives, effectively in Spiritual darkness. Many of the gentiles of the region, which was later called Nazareth where Jesus lived, were also in darkness. Many never having heard of Israel’s God. Matthew tells us the prophecy is fulfilled as Jesus lives in the territory of the gentiles.
Isaiah was promising a great light – in fact the greatest light on God imaginable as God was coming among them to live in human form. What better way to show his character and nature than becoming man and living among us. The same light now shines on those today living in Spiritual darkness i.e. without the light of Jesus in their lives.
The second part of the verse says “on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” So who is or was living in the shadow of death? To those with no faith in God there was no hope beyond death so death cast it shadow over them. With hope in Christ though what he has done for us the shadow is lifted.
Christ is the antidote in both these situations – in life and in death. In life His presence brings meaning and a purpose. Indeed he says he came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly. Putting Him at the centre of our lives does not necessarily mean we have an easy life but we have support and encouragement and the re-assurance that He is with us in the good times and the bad.
In death he is conqueror. We can have peace here in the knowledge of a certain future even beyond the grave. With Christ we no longer die alone but enter into eternity with him. He reassured his disciples of this in John 14.” Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you….”
So as we hear again the Christmas story and this reading is read out in many Churches across the country this year let us remember the incredible gift of Jesus and the difference he can make in our lives both now and in the world to come.