Light in the Darkness audio (4MB)
“2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.” What do you think of when you hear those words? Do you think in metaphorical terms? The darkness is a spiritual thing, relieved only be the coming of the light of the truth of God? That’s the main point isn’t it? But then in the Christmas stories we find God providing a literal fulfilment of these prophecies as the events unwind. The shepherds are certainly living in literal darkness out on the hills at night. Suddenly they see a bright light shining all around them. So bright in fact that they’re terrified.
It’s ironic isn’t it? It’s usually the darkness that scares us; but here it’s the sudden onset of light. In fact there’s no need to be terrified. If anything it’s the opposite. The angel that’s caused the brightness assures them that he’s come to bring really great news: not just for them but for all the people. A baby’s been born who’s both a saviour and the Messiah, the Lord. You see the light brought by the angel heralds a relief from the darkness of the days they were living in.
I’m sure the people of those days would have agreed that they were living in dark days. They’d only just recovered from the Greeks desecrating the Temple when the Romans took over. So Israel was now under the rule of the Roman army. Any form of rebellion was quickly squashed with crucifixions common. Their king, Herod, who wasn’t the nicest of men, as we discover in the account of the wise men coming, had come to an agreement with the Romans to maintain his power at the cost of Roman rule.
But as we read on in Luke’s Gospel we discover that there were some like Simeon and Anna who were waiting for God to fulfil his promises made through prophets like Isaiah to rescue his people, to deliver them from their oppressors. And they must have been wondering whether it would happen in their lifetime: a bit like us, perhaps, wondering whether Jesus will return in our lifetime.
But now the time has come. The Messiah has been born: a Messiah who would indeed rescue his people, though not from the Roman occupation. No, his salvation would be far more significant than that: a far-reaching salvation that would rescue us from the darkness of sin and bring us to the light of God’s kingdom; a salvation that would bring us peace.
This is a message that’s as relevant now as it was then. Who doesn’t think that we need peace at the moment? The siege in Sydney last week brought out an amazing outpouring of emotion that showed, I think, just how on edge people are about the situation in the world today. We long for peace of mind. We long for security. And the angel promises just that, though not necessarily in this world, unfortunately.
No the peace that Jesus brings is peace with God in the first instance. Peace because his death and resurrection allow us to be forgiven for our disobedience, healed of our sinfulness. But then that peace we have with God should spread out to bring peace with our brothers and sisters. In fact if the message of the gospel were to spread to the whole world we might actually find ourselves at peace in the present world.
But let’s get back to this idea of light in the darkness. Isaiah says more about that in chapter 60 of his prophecy. There we read: “1Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.” It’s the same idea of darkness covering the earth and its peoples, then the light of the glory of God appearing to banish the darkness. But then he adds: “3Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” What does that remind you of? It makes me think of the wise men coming to find this child, born to be king? Their coming is a reminder that Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s salvation is far broader than just the salvation of Israel. When God promises salvation in Isaiah it’s a salvation that not only saves his people Israel but that attracts the attention of the nations around about, so they’re drawn to him like moths to a lamp.
The peace that we enjoy with God that then spreads to our relationships within the church, is meant to attract those around about us so they too are brought in to discover and enjoy peace with God.
But there’s more to it than just peace with God. In the Isaiah 9 prophecy we discover how this peace will come about. We’re told that “4the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.” The picture is one of the end of warfare, the end of terrorism even.
And then he says more about this child that’s to be born: “6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.”
Here is a king like no other. First of all authority rests on his shoulders. That is, he’s born for it. You only have to glance at him to see that there’s something different about him. This is what kingly authority looks like.
But he’s far more than just a king with authority. He’s named wonderful counsellor. Normally it’s the king who has a counsellor standing by his side to advise him. But this king is the one who does the counselling. So who does he counsel? Jesus tells his disciples in John 14 that he’ll ask the Father and they’ll send a counsellor to be with us to lead us and guide us. God gives us his own Spirit to be our counsellor. That fits of course with the next titles he’s given: Mighty God and Everlasting Father. This child is both son and father at the same time.
And finally he’s the Prince of Peace. And the peace that Jesus brings is an endless peace because his authority shall grow continually. Sometimes we might wonder about that last statement. Looking around our world today it doesn’t look like Jesus’ authority is growing. I was thinking about the idea of the bright light frightening the shepherds and I realised that there are many people in the world today who appear frightened of the thought of the Christian gospel spreading. Why is that? Is it because the light of the gospel shows up their evil deeds, as John points out in John 3? Whatever the reason there seems to be a great opposition to Jesus’ authority in Australia at the moment doesn’t there?
But you know, what’s visible to our human eyes isn’t always the whole truth.
That’s seen most clearly in this Christmas scene as the shepherds hurry off to Bethlehem to find this Messiah they’ve been told about, lying in a manger in a dirty stable; as the wise men travel from the east to find a king, looking for him in the palace, in the capital city but eventually finding him in the backblocks village of Bethlehem. God is at work even when we don’t realise it, in the smallest places, in sometimes unnoticed events; as well as in the rise and fall of empires. Jesus reign has begun and continues unhindered by all those who would oppose it. And we’re witnesses to the truth of his power and authority in the world
And so our response is to join with the angels in heaven and cry: 4"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!"